The discovery rule provides that, in an appropriate case, a cause of action will not accrue until the injured party discovers, or by exercise of reasonable diligence and intelligence should have discovered, facts which form the basis of a cause of action.
Plaintiff artist sought to recover three paintings from defendant's gallery that she allegedly owned and which were stolen from another gallery. Defendant asserted he was a purchaser for value, had taken title of the paintings by adverse possession, and that the action for replevin was barred by the statute of limitations period. The court indicated that it could not determine who had title on the limited record before it, but proceeded to resolve questions of law that would become relevant on remand. The court held that the discovery rule applied in determining when the statute of limitations began to run in the action for replevin.
Is plaintiff entitled to the benefit of the discovery rule?
The introduction of equitable considerations through the discovery rule provides a more satisfactory response than the doctrine of adverse possession. The discovery rule shifts the emphasis from the conduct of the possessor to the conduct of the owner. The focus of the inquiry will no longer be whether the possessor has met the tests of adverse possession, but whether the owner has acted with due diligence in pursuing his or her personal property. For example, under the discovery rule, if an artist diligently seeks the recovery of a lost or stolen painting, but cannot find it or discover the identity of the possessor, the statute of limitations will not begin to run. The rule permits an artist who uses reasonable efforts to report, investigate, and recover a painting to preserve the rights of title and possession. The court concluded that the discovery rule applies to an action for replevin of a painting under N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1. The artisit's cause of action accrued when she first knew, or reasonably should have known through the exercise of due diligence, of the cause of action, including the identity of the possessor of the paintings.