Friday, December 6, 2013

DeWeerth v. Baldinger (II) case brief

DeWeerth v. Baldinger (II) case brief summary
804 F. Supp. 539 (1992)

Plaintiff owner filed a suit based on diversity jurisdiction to recover a painting by a famous artist which was stolen from her in 1945 in Germany and bought in good faith by defendant bona fide purchaser in New York in 1957 from third-party defendant, a nonbankrupt art gallery in New York City. After a prior judgment for the owner was overturned on appeal, the owner filed a motion for relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(5) and (6).

Applying New York law which held that not even a bona fide purchaser could acquire valid title from one who acquired title from a thief, the district court found in favor of the owner. In reversing this judgment, the court of appeals adopted a new rule under New York law that imposed a duty on the owner of reasonable diligence in attempting to locate the stolen property. Three years later, New York's highest court decided in an unrelated case that no such duty existed under New York law. After the court of appeals declined without an opinion to alter its mandate upon motion, the owner sought relief in the district court.


  • The district court granted relief. 
  • First, the district court held that because of the primacy of the state courts in determining the interpretation of state law under principles of federalism, the decision of New York's highest court was a new development justifying relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6). 
  • Second, the suit was not barred by laches because the owner did not unreasonably delay in prosecuting her claim. 
  • Even if she had delayed, the bona fide purchaser could not show that she was prejudiced.

The district court ruled that the owner was entitled to relief and directed her to submit a proposed judgment.

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