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In stolen art cases, where a court finds that an owner has diligently searched for a painting "but cannot find it or discover the identity of the possessor, the statute of limitations will not begin to run."
The painting was stolen from the defendant original owners and was later sold to the plaintiff purchasers. Plaintiff purchasers instituted an action against defendant original owners seeking declaratory and injunctive relief awarding the purchasers title to and possession of a painting possessed by the original owners. According to the plaintiff purchasers, as bona fide purchasers of the painting, which was entrusted to an art dealer, they acquired good title against the original owners. On the other hand, defendant original owners argued that their efforts to locate the painting were sufficiently reasonable and diligent to toll the statute of limitations.
The court held that a bona fide purchaser of a chattel from a thief received nothing and that a subsequent purchaser could receive no better title. Thus, the court concluded that the original owners were entitled to maintain possession and ownership of the painting. Moreover, the court noted that the defendant original owners made an affirmative, sustained effort to locate the painting. The court also noted that the original owners' reliance on law enforcement agencies constituted the giving of reasonable notice. Finally, the court noted that the balance of equities weighed in favor of the original owners. Therefore, the court concluded that the original owners made reasonable efforts to locate the painting thus tolling the statute of limitations for replevin pursuant to the discovery rule.