Austria aims to dismiss restitution bid cleared by US Supreme Court

Maria Altmann is attempting to reclaim six Klimt paintings looted by the Nazis


Austria is seeking to dismiss on new grounds the lawsuit against it to recover six Nazi-looted paintings by Gustav Klimt which the US Supreme Court said in June could proceed in the US despite Austria’s status as a foreign sovereign State.

The high court returned the proceedings to federal trial court here after rejecting Austria’s sovereign immunity claim in June. The suit is brought by California resident and US citizen Maria V. Altmann, 88, who fled Austria after Nazi annexation in 1938. The Nazis looted the Klimts, now in the collection of the Austrian National Gallery, from Ms Altmann’s uncle, the Czech Jewish sugar magnate Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer.

Austria filed a motion to dismiss the case in the trial court in August, saying the lawsuit cannot proceed because Altmann has not exhausted all possible remedies in Austria. In 2001, the trial court had held that Altmann did first have to exhaust her remedies in Austria, but then determined that Austria was not an “available” forum in Altmann’s case because of high court fees.

Austria is now arguing that the California appeals court reversed that finding, saying that Austria was an adequate forum in which Altmann could bring her suit, and that the US Supreme Court left open the possibility of this requirement in suits against foreign States.

“This motion by Austria has zero chance of success”, Ms Altmann’s lawyer, E. Randol Schoenberg, told The Art Newspaper. “This specific argument has been rejected by all of the courts that have looked at the case. It demonstrates Austria’s desperation that they continue to try to make tired and worn-out procedural arguments rather than deal with the case on the merits where they are certain to lose”, he said. “They are obviously hoping that Ms Altmann will die before the case can get to trial”.

• This article originally ran in The Art Newspaper with the headline: 'If you want the Klimts come and claim them in Austria'