Cassirer Case Stays the Dispute Between The Getty and Armenian Church over the Zeyt'un Gospel Pages

Cultural Heritage Lawyer 25 October 2012
By Rick St Hilaire

The Los Angeles County Superior Court has agreed to follow a joint stipulation filed by the Getty Museum and the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America by ordering a suspension of the court case between the parties.

In June 2010 the Armenian Church sued the J. Paul Getty Museum for the return of seven missing pages from an illuminated Bible created in 1256. The court last year ordered the parties to mediate the dispute. As recently as August 8, the parties told the court that they needed additional time to mediate. The parties earlier informed the court that they were discussing a possible solution to the Zeyt'un Gospel pages controversy, saying that a May 10, 2012 mediation session resulted in "substantial progress . . . toward a potential voluntary resolution of this dispute . . . ."

In their stipulation to stay the proceedings filed on October 19, the litigants both conclude that the case should be placed on hold pending the outcome of Claude Cassirer et al. v. Thyseen-Borne Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation.

Before he died, Cassirer filed a lawsuit in 2005 in the United States District Court for the Central District of California for the return of a painting titled “Rue Saint-Honoré, Afternoon, Rain Effect.” Cassirer's attorneys argue that the painting, now in Spain, was taken unlawfully from his grandmother.

The Cassirer case focuses on the the same statute of limitations relied on by the Armenian Church in its dispute with The Getty, specifically Cal. Code. Civ. Proc. §338(c). Signed into law in 2010, the statute was primarily designed to allow lawsuits for the recovery of Nazi looted art by extending the time period that stolen art claims could be filed--from a six year statue of limitations to a statute of limitations that begins from the time of the actual discovery of the elements of a claim. The federal district court struck down this statute in May 2012 because the law unconstitutionally intrudes upon the federal government’s exclusive power to conduct foreign affairs, according to the reasoning of the lower court. The matter is on appeal in the Ninth Circuit.

Given that "the resolution of that appeal may determine the outcome of this case," the Armenian Church and The Getty have agreed in writing to suspend their court proceedings so as "to avoid potentially unnecessary litigation efforts and expenses pending the outcome of that appeal."

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at
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