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O’Keeffe v. Snyder

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O’Keeffe v. Snyder, Supreme Court of NJ, 1980 When did ∏’s cause of action accrue? Was it the time of theft or some time later (when she discovered the cause of action)? Issue
Do transfers (subsequent possessions) restart the SoL?

Reasoning
At issue: Did husband sell, lend, or consign paintings to Frank or someone else without her knowledge?
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Rule
A thief acquires no title to stolen items and can not transfer good title to others regardless of their good faith and ignorance of the theft. A mere possessor does not transfer good title. A person with voidable title may transfer good title to a goodfaith purchaser under some circumstances. Discovery Rule2: Cause of action does not accrue until ∏ discovers or should’ve discovered the basis of her cause of action through: 1. Elements: a. Due diligence i. Consider: value, nature or property b. including Identity of the possessor 3 2. Subsequent possessors a. Relevant to diligence – may frustrate owner’s efforts – should be considered4 b. Do not restart the SoL i. Tacking – as long as privity New Rule: Discovery Rule applies to Personal Property. Did owner act with due diligence in pursuing property? Burden is on owner to show diligence.

Facts
O’Keefe alleged that 3 of her paintings (seaweeds, fragments, Cliffs) were stolen from her husband’s gallery in 1946. She suspected a man named Estick but he was never confronted. The paintings were not insured. The police was not notified. The loss was not publicized to the Art world until 1972. In 1972 she reported the loss to the Art Dealers Association of America which maintains a registry of stolen paintings. The paintings turned out to have been publicly displayed a few times before she reported them stolen. She discovered (not clear how) the whereabouts of the paintings in 1975 and learned that they were sold to Snyder’s gallery in 1976. Snyder refused to return them to her when she demanded so. Snyder said he had title by AP. He brought the paintings from Frank who inherited them from his father. Frank says the paintings belonged to his dad since between 1941-1943. She says: Stolen in 1946 He says: Been in Frank’s family since before alleged theft!

An action of Replevin accrues at the time of theft. Purpose of SoL: stimulate activity and punish negligence.

Court to consider (for discovery rule to be effective): 1. did she use due diligence at the time of theft 2. did she use effective methods to alert art world 3. would registering with the ADAA have put purchasers on constructive notice (alert)  No reasonably available way for owner to record ownership or theft  No reasonably available way for purchaser to ascertain provenance of a painting when it comes to personal property, open/visible/notorious element is problematic: it is movable and concealable. PP: Starting new Rule to help the art world – shifting the emphasis to the conduct of the owner from possessor. PP: Discovery rule adds equitable considerations to SoL PP: encourage good faith purchaser from legitimate art dealers and discourage trafficking.

If buying from private dealer, should inquire whether reported lost or stolen. If buying from dealer5, then acquires good title against true owner.

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What is the effect of theft on SoL? Thief acquires title if AP elements proven? Say SoL is 6 years and DR is 2. If owner really has 8 years to bring cause of action (i.e. before title vests in AP)? 3 Having knowledge that painting is in Zimbabwe somewhere is not enough? Not required to pursue it then? Has to know that X in Zimbabwe has it? 4 What does that mean? Means that the date of “reasonably should have discovered” moves? So, it restarts the clock on the DS but not the SoL. 5 What if dealer takes you to a back room to show you paintings? Does that put the purchaser on notice that he should inquire?

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1e701431-9a0b-4f9e-8044-1b120e4f582a.doc 163 Held Procedure P argues D argues
Not enough facts to determine who has title! Will set out law and reverse and remand for a new trial. Remand for a new trial. Trial court said: Action for Replevin barred by six-yr SoL. Cause of action accrued at time of theft. Appellate division: Cause of action accrued more than 6 yrs before the date of suit if ∆ satisfied elements of AP. Judgment for ∏. Paintings stolen; Snyder did not prove elements of AP. Snyder appeals. Because paintings stolen, SoL had not run. Title remained in ∏. Frank claimed continuous possession for over 30 yrs through his father. Frank had title through AP. Concede paintings stolen.

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