The First Department, in a comprehensive opinion by Justice Singh, determined that plaintiffs, heirs of Jewish Viennese art collector, Fritz Grunbaum, who was murdered by the Nazis in 1941, demonstrated they were entitled to certain artworks collected by Grundbaum and alleged to have been looted by the Nazis. The complex history leading to this lawsuit cannot be fairly summarized here:
” A conversion takes place when someone, intentionally and without authority, assumes or exercises control over personal property belonging to someone else, interfering with that person’s right of possession'” … . “Two key elements of conversion are (1) plaintiff’s possessory right or interest in the property; and (2) defendant’s dominion over the property or interference with it, in derogation of plaintiff’s rights” … . Where a party’s interests in property have been sold, there can be no interference with their property rights and a conversion claim may not be maintained … .
To state a cause of action for replevin, a plaintiff must establish a superior possessory right to property in a defendant’s possession … .
Here, we find that plaintiffs have made a prima facie showing of superior title to the Artworks based on evidence that establishes the following: (1) Grunbaum owned the Artworks prior to World War II; and (2) Grunbaum never voluntarily relinquished the Artworks. Reif v Nagy, 2019 NY Slip Op 05504, First Dept 7-9-19