Republic of Austria v. Altmann
124 S.Ct. 2240
In 1998 it evidence was discovered that certain works in the Austrian Gallery archives in Vienna, Austria had not been obtained from their rightful owners. These works were believed to have been seized by the Nazis or expropriated by the Austrian Republic after World War II. Prior to the Nazi invasion of Austria in 1938, the paintings had hung in the Vienna home of Maria Altmann’s uncle, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. Mrs. Altmann claims ownership of the paintings under a will executed by her uncle after he fled Austria in 1938. In the will, he left his estate to Mrs. Altmann, another niece, and a nephew, Robert Bentley. Mrs. Altmann alleges the Gallery obtained the paintings through wrongful conduct in the years during and after World War II. This case was brought before the Supreme Court of the United States.
Does the U.S. courts have the jurisdiction to hear the case and does FSIA (Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976) apply. Yes
The Republic of Austria claims the incident/act occurred before FSIA was enacted. The FSIA standards of soveirgn immunity and its exceptions apply even to conduct that took place before 1976. Specifically cases involving “rights in property taken in violation of international law”.
The law itself states that it does not matter when the act took place, but only that it did occur. A criminal act was committed and the law applies retroactively.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed. It is so ordered. It was determined that Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer was the legal owner of the paintings and that in turn Altmann was the rightful heir of Ferdinand's estate.
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