DeWeerth v. Baldinger
38 F.3d 1266 (2d Cir.) cert. denied 513 U.S. 1001 (1994)

  • The DeWeerth family owned an expensive Monet oil painting in Germany.  During WWII, the painting was stolen.  The stolen painting was eventually purchased by Baldinger.  In 1982, the DeWeerths noticed that Baldinger had the painting and sued for its return (replevin) in Federal Court (due to diversity jurisdiction)
  • Federal Trial Court found for DeWeerth and ordered the painting returned.  Baldinger appealed.
  • Federal Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate Court held that the DeWeerths did not show reasonable diligence in locating the stolen painting.
    • New York State law said that the Statute of Limitations runs out if you stop looking for your stolen property.
  • Several years later, in a totally different case, the New York Supreme Court held that this Statute of Limitations issue did not apply.
    • In fact, they went as far as to criticize the Federal Appellate Court’s decision in DeWeerth’s case.
  • Based on the New York Supreme Court ruling, DeWeerth asked for the case to be reopened under Federal Rule 60.
  • The Federal Trial Court felt that DeWeerth would have won the case if it had been brought in New York State Court, instead of Federal Court.  Therefore the judgment should be reversed.  Baldinger appealed.
    • Under the Erie Doctrine, they felt this was outcome-determinative. (See Erie Railroad Co. v. Thompkins (304 U.S. 64 (1938))).
  • The Federal Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Federal Appellate Court found that the Erie Doctrine does not stand for the proposition that a plaintiff is entitled to reopen a Federal court case that was been closed for several years in order to gain the benefit of a newly-announced decision of a State Court.
    • The Erie Doctrine just says that Federal Courts are bound to follow State law on any matter of substantive law not governed by Federal Statute.
    • The Court found that the original Federal Appellate Court’s decision was based on how they read New York State law.  As long as the Federal Court acts in good faith and uses due diligence, they satisfy the Erie Doctrine.
      • Just because the New York State Supreme Court later ruled a different way, there is no justification to reopen a closed case.