Thursday, July 29, 2004
S.C. to Decide Whether Dispute Over Picasso Painting, Allegedly Stolen by Nazis, May Be Heard in California
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The California Supreme Court yesterday agreed to decide whether state courts can hear a dispute over the ownership of a painting, allegedly stolen from the plaintiff’s grandmother by German authorities during World War II.
The justices, at yesterday’s conference in San Francisco, voted unanimously to review the April 15 decision of Div. Eight of this district’s Court of Appeal in Bennigson v. Alsdorf, B168200. The panel held that bringing property into the state briefly does not subject the owner to the state’s jurisdiction in a suit over title to the property.
The suit was filed by Boalt Hall student Thomas Bennigson against Marilyn Alsdorf, and concerns Pablo Picasso’s 1922 work “Femme En Blanc,” or Women in White.
Bennigson alleges that he is the lawful owner of the painting, which belonged to his grandmother, Carlota Landsberg, and which Bennigson says is now worth $10 million. The complaint alleges that Landsberg sent the painting to a Paris art dealer when she fled Berlin in 1933, but that the Nazis stole it around 1940.
Alsdorf, who lives in Chicago, purchased the painting in New York in 1975 for more than $350,000. In December 2001, Alsdorf sent the painting to Los Angeles to be exhibited by art dealer David Tunkl.
Bennigson said he did not know the painting existed, or that it had belonged to his grandmother, until the summer of 2002. The source of the information, he said, was The Art Loss Register, an international organization which helps to locate and recover Nazi-looted art for Holocaust victims.
The Art Loss Register allegedly told Tunkl around the same time that Bennigson was the rightful owner, but Tunkl allegedly didn’t tell Alsdorf until Dec. 13, 2002. Alsdorf ordered Tunkl to send the painting back to Chicago that same day, the plaintiff claims.
Tunkl ordered the shipping Dec. 18, but the painting didn’t leave until Dec. 20, right before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffee granted Bennigson, who had filed suit the day before, a temporary restraining order.
Bennigson’s lawyer, E. Randol Schoenberg, said that Yaffe insisted on his giving notice, although he had predicted the painting would leave the state as soon as he did. The painting was shipped out at 6:30 a.m. the day of the TRO hearing, Schoenberg told the MetNews.
He said that Alsdorf deliberately moved the painting to sidestep a new California law extending the statute of limitations on cases concerning Nazi-looted art.
Justice Paul Boland, writing for the Court of Appeal, said California lacked long-arm jurisdiction over Alsdorf because the suit primarily concerns events that transpired in New York and in France.
“The painting’s fleeting but fortuitous presence in Los Angeles in December 2002 is insufficient to establish the requisite minimum contacts between this State, the nonresident defendant and this litigation,” Boland wrote in an unpublished opinion.
In other conference action, the justices agreed to decide whether appellate counsel for a child involved in dependency proceedings may dismiss an appeal when counsel believes the dismissal is in the child’s best interests. The Fifth District held in In re Josiah Z., F044121, that counsel has no such authority.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company