O'Keeffe v. Snyder

Decision Date17 July 1980
Citation83 N.J. 478,416 A.2d 862
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court
PartiesGeorgia O'KEEFFE, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Barry SNYDER, d/b/a Princeton Gallery of Fine Art, Defendant-Appellant, and Ulrich A. Frank, Third Party Defendant-Appellant.

Joel H. Sterns, Trenton, for defendant-appellant Barry Snyder, d/b/a Princeton Gallery of Fine Art (Sterns, Herbert & Weinroth, Trenton, attorneys; Mark D. Schorr and William J. Bigham, Trenton, on briefs).

Thomas C. Jamieson, Jr., Trenton, for third party defendant-appellant Ulrich A. Frank (Jamieson, McCardell, Moore, Peskin & Spicer, Trenton, attorneys).

Roger A. Lowenstein, Roseland, for plaintiff-respondent (Lowenstein, Sandler, Brochin, Kohl, Fisher & Boylan, Roseland, attorneys; Roger A. Lowenstein and Lee Hilles Wertheim, Roseland, on briefs).

The opinion of the court was delivered by


This is an appeal from an order of the Appellate Division granting summary judgment to plaintiff, Georgia O'Keeffe, against defendant, Barry Snyder, d/b/a Princeton Gallery of Fine Art, for replevin of three small pictures painted by O'Keeffe. O'Keeffe v. Snyder, 170 N.J.Super. 75, 405 A.2d 840 (1979). In her complaint, filed in March, 1976, O'Keeffe alleged she was the owner of the paintings and that they were stolen from a New York art gallery in 1946. Snyder asserted he was a purchaser for value of the paintings, he had title by adverse possession, and O'Keeffe's action was barred by the expiration of the six-year period of limitations provided by N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1 pertaining to an action in replevin. Snyder impleaded third party defendant, Ulrich A. Frank, from whom Snyder purchased the paintings in 1975 for $35,000.

The trial court granted summary judgment for Snyder on the ground that O'Keeffe's action was barred because it was not commenced within six years of the alleged theft. The Appellate Division reversed and entered judgment for O'Keeffe. O'Keeffe, supra, 170 N.J.Super. at 92, 405 A.2d 840. A majority of that court concluded that the paintings were stolen, the defenses of expiration of the statute of limitations and title by adverse possession were identical, and Snyder had not proved the elements of adverse possession. Consequently, the majority ruled that O'Keeffe could still enforce her right to possession of the paintings.

The dissenting judge stated that the appropriate measurement of the period of limitation was not by analogy to adverse possession, but by application of the "discovery rule" pertaining to some statutes of limitation. He concluded that the six-year period of limitations commenced when O'Keeffe knew or should have known who unlawfully possessed the paintings, and that the matter should be remanded to determine if and when that event had occurred. Id. at 96-97, 405 A.2d 840.

We granted certification to consider not only the issues raised in the dissenting opinion, but all other issues. 81 N.J. 406, 408 A.2d 800 (1979). We reverse and remand the matter for a plenary hearing in accordance with this opinion.


The record, limited to pleadings, affidavits, answers to interrogatories, and depositions, is fraught with factual conflict. Apart from the creation of the paintings by O'Keeffe and their discovery in Snyder's gallery in 1976, the parties agree on little else.

O'Keeffe contended the paintings were stolen in 1946 from a gallery, An American Place. The gallery was operated by her late husband, the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

An American Place was a cooperative undertaking of O'Keeffe and some other American artists identified by her as Marin, Hardin, Dove, Andema, and Stevens. In 1946, Stieglitz arranged an exhibit which included an O'Keeffe painting, identified as Cliffs. According to O'Keeffe, one day in March, 1946, she and Stieglitz discovered Cliffs was missing from the wall of the exhibit. O'Keeffe estimates the value of the painting at the time of the alleged theft to have been about $150.

About two weeks later, O'Keeffe noticed that two other paintings, Seaweed and Fragments, were missing from a storage room at An American Place. She did not tell anyone, even Stieglitz, about the missing paintings, since she did not want to upset him.

Before the date when O'Keeffe discovered the disappearance of Seaweed, she had already sold it (apparently for a string of amber beads) to a Mrs. Weiner, now deceased. Following the grant of the motion for summary judgment by the trial court in favor of Snyder, O'Keeffe submitted a release from the legatees of Mrs. Weiner purportedly assigning to O'Keeffe their interest in the sale.

O'Keeffe testified on depositions that at about the same time as the disappearance of her paintings, 12 or 13 miniature paintings by Marin also were stolen from An American Place. According to O'Keeffe, a man named Estrick took the Marin paintings and "maybe a few other things." Estrick distributed the Marin paintings to members of the theater world who, when confronted by Stieglitz, returned them. However, neither Stieglitz nor O'Keeffe confronted Estrick with the loss of any of the O'Keeffe paintings.

There was no evidence of a break and entry at An American Place on the dates when O'Keeffe discovered the disappearance of her paintings. Neither Stieglitz nor O'Keeffe reported them missing to the New York Police Department or any other law enforcement agency. Apparently the paintings were uninsured, and O'Keeffe did not seek reimbursement from an insurance company. Similarly, neither O'Keeffe nor Stieglitz advertised the loss of the paintings in Art News or any other publication. Nonetheless, they discussed it with associates in the art world and later O'Keeffe mentioned the loss to the director of the Art Institute of Chicago, but she did not ask him to do anything because "it wouldn't have been my way." O'Keeffe does not contend that Frank or Snyder had actual knowledge of the alleged theft.

Stieglitz died in the summer of 1946, and O'Keeffe explains she did not pursue her efforts to locate the paintings because she was settling his estate. In 1947, she retained the services of Doris Bry to help settle the estate. Bry urged O'Keeffe to report the loss of the paintings, but O'Keeffe declined because "they never got anything back by reporting it." Finally, in 1972, O'Keeffe authorized Bry to report the theft to the Art Dealers Association of America, Inc., which maintains for its members a registry of stolen paintings. The record does not indicate whether such a registry existed at the time the paintings disappeared.

In September, 1975, O'Keeffe learned that the paintings were in the Andrew Crispo Gallery in New York on consignment from Bernard Danenberg Galleries. On February 11, 1976, O'Keeffe discovered that Ulrich A. Frank had sold the paintings to Barry Snyder, d/b/a Princeton Gallery of Fine Art. She demanded their return and, following Snyder's refusal, instituted this action for replevin.

Frank traces his possession of the paintings to his father, Dr. Frank, who died in 1968. He claims there is a family relationship by marriage between his family and the Stieglitz family, a contention that O'Keeffe disputes. Frank does not know how his father acquired the paintings, but he recalls seeing them in his father's apartment in New Hampshire as early as 1941-1943, a period that precedes the alleged theft. Consequently, Frank's factual contentions are inconsistent with O'Keeffe's allegation of theft. Until 1965, Dr. Frank occasionally lent the paintings to Ulrich Frank. In 1965, Dr. and Mrs. Frank formally gave the paintings to Ulrich Frank, who kept them in his residences in Yardley, Pennsylvania and Princeton, New Jersey. In 1968, he exhibited anonymously Cliffs and Fragments in a one day art show in the Jewish Community Center in Trenton. All of these events precede O'Keeffe's listing of the paintings as stolen with the Art Dealers Association of America, Inc. in 1972.

Frank claims continuous possession of the paintings through his father for over thirty years and admits selling the paintings to Snyder. Snyder and Frank do not trace their provenance, or history of possession of the paintings, back to O'Keeffe.

As indicated, Snyder moved for summary judgment on the theory that O'Keeffe's action was barred by the statute of limitations and title had vested in Frank by adverse possession. For purposes of his motion, Snyder conceded that the paintings had been stolen. On her cross motion, O'Keeffe urged that the paintings were stolen, the statute of limitations had not run, and title to the paintings remained in her.


In general, cross motions for summary judgment do not "obviate a plenary trial of disputed issues of fact, where such exists; nor do cross-motions constitute a waiver by the litigants to such a trial." Rotwein et al. v. General Accident Group & Cas. Co., 103 N.J.Super. 406, 424-425, 247 A.2d 370, 381 (Law Div.1968). Cross motions do not warrant granting summary judgment unless one of the moving parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 6 Moore's Federal Practice (2d ed. 1976), § 56.13 at 341. Cross motions for summary judgment do not preclude the existence of issues of fact. Id. at 345. Although a defendant may assert that, according to his theory of the case, the material facts are undisputed, he must be allowed to show that if plaintiff's theory is adopted there remains a genuine issue of material fact. See Walling v. Richmond Screw Anchor Co., 154 F.2d 780, 784 (2d Cir. 1946), cert. den. 328 U.S. 870, 66 S.Ct. 1383, 90 L.Ed. 1640 (1946). Where there are cross motions for summary judgment, a party may make concessions for the purposes of his motion that do not carry over and support the motion of his adversary. 6 Moore's, supra, § 56.13 at 344. Eagle v. Louisiana and Southern Life Insurance Company, 464 F.2d 607, 608 (10th Cir. 1972); Begnaud v. White, 170 F.2d 323, 327 (6th Cir. 1948).

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