Proposed bill extends national statute of limitations for Holocaust heirs to recover stolen art

Publication April 12, 2016

A bipartisan group of US senators—Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal and New York Senator Chuck Schumer—introduced a bill that could aid in the restitution of Nazi-confiscated artwork and cultural property.

During World War II, in what has been called the “greatest displacement of art in human history,” it is estimated that around 650,000 works of art were seized during the Holocaust. Numerous attempts have been made by the US and its allies to reunite artwork with their owners but procedural issues and foreign policy have raised difficulties.

The Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, introduced April 7, attempts to further US policies on Nazi-seized art and ensure that claims are not barred by any state’s statute of limitations.

Following a time-of-discovery rather than a time-of-the-act model, the HEAR Act will extend the statute of limitations to six years from the point of discovery.

Further, discovery will not be found to have occurred until both the identity and location of the artwork or cultural property is known as well as information or facts sufficient to indicate that the claimant has a claim for a possessory interest in the artwork or cultural property.

Given these requirements, it will be more difficult for a defendant to prove that a claimant did have the requisite knowledge to start the statute of limitations running at an early date.

This is important as numerous claims have failed in states that follow a time-of-the-act model; effectively, barring claims before WWII had even ended.

If passed, the federal HEAR Act would set a national statute of limitations that would preempt any state law and apply to all pending and future claims, making it much easier for plaintiffs to bring their claims.

Please watch these posts for future developments regarding this important legislation.

Read the full bill.

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