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Republic of Aus. v. Altmann

Supreme Court of the United States

February 25, 2004, Argued ; June 7, 2004, Decided

No. 03-13

Opinion

 [*680]  [**2243]   Justice Stevens delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1998 an Austrian journalist, granted access to the Austrian Gallery's archives, discovered evidence that certain valuable works in the Gallery's collection had not been donated by their rightful owners but had been seized by the *** or expropriated by the Austrian Republic after World War II. The journalist provided some of that evidence to respondent, who in turn filed this action to recover possession of six Gustav Klimt paintings. Prior to the Nazi invasion of Austria, the paintings had hung in the palatial Vienna home of respondent's uncle, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Czechoslovakian [****9]  Jew and patron of the arts. Respondent claims ownership of the paintings under a will executed by her uncle after he fled Austria in 1938. She alleges that the  [*681]  Gallery obtained possession of the paintings through wrongful conduct in the years during and after World War II.

The defendants (petitioners here)--the Republic of Austria and the Austrian Gallery (Gallery), an instrumentality of the Republic--filed a motion to dismiss the complaint asserting, among other defenses, a claim of sovereign immunity. The District Court denied the motion, 142 F. Supp. 2d 1187 (CD Cal. 2001), and the Court of Appeals affirmed, 317 F.3d 954 (CA9 2002), as  [***9]  amended, 327 F.3d 1246 (2003). We granted certiorari limited to the question whether ] the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA or Act), 28 U.S.C. § 1602 et seq [28 USCS §§ 1602 et seq.], which grants foreign states immunity from the jurisdiction of federal and state courts but expressly exempts certain cases, including "cases . . . in which rights in property taken in violation of international law are in issue," § 1605(a)(3), applies to claims that, like respondent's, are based on conduct that [****10]  occurred before the Act's enactment, and even before the United States adopted the so-called "restrictive theory" of sovereign immunity in 1952. 539 U.S. 987, 156 L. Ed. 2d 703, 124 S. Ct. 46 (2003).

Because this case comes to us from the denial of a motion to dismiss on the pleadings, we assume the truth of the following facts alleged in respondent's complaint.

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541 U.S. 677 *; 124 S. Ct. 2240 **; 159 L. Ed. 2d 1 ***; 2004 U.S. LEXIS 4030 ****; 72 U.S.L.W. 4423; 17 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 333

REPUBLIC OF AUSTRIA et al., Petitioners v. MARIA V. ALTMANN

Subsequent History: On remand at, Remanded by Altmann v. Republic of Aus., 377 F.3d 1105, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 15537 (9th Cir. Cal., July 28, 2004)

Prior History: ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

Altmann v. Republic of Aus., 327 F.3d 1246, 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 8068 (9th Cir. Cal., 2003)

Disposition: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS

immunity, courts, retroactivity, sovereign immunity, cases, foreign state, paintings, principles, foreign sovereign immunities, expropriation, the Act, rights, sovereign, retroactive effect, cause of action, henceforth, suggests, international law, district court, instrumentalities, deference, foreign sovereign, expectations, donated, implications, suits, determinations, parties, foreign nation, purposes

International Law, Foreign & International Immunity, Sovereign Immunity, General Overview, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Jurisdiction, Exceptions, International Trade Law, Dispute Resolution, Civil Procedure, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Jurisdiction Over Actions, Governments, Local Governments, Claims By & Against, Torts, Public Entity Liability, Immunities, Judicial Immunity, Administrative Law, Sovereign Immunity, Diversity Jurisdiction, Alienage Jurisdiction, In Personam Jurisdiction, Removal, Specific Cases Removed, Actions Against Foreign States, Preliminary Considerations, Venue, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Construction & Interpretation, Jurisdictional Sources, Statutory Sources, Legislation, Effect & Operation, Prospective Operation, Retrospective Operation, State & Territorial Governments, Types of Statutes, Act of State Doctrine, Constitutional Law, Separation of Powers, Interpretation