OPINION OF THE COURT
More than half a century ago, Nazis confiscated Jewishowned artwork throughout Europe. Much of this artwork vanished during the war, but ultimately found its way into museums around the world; other pieces became part of private collections.
In this case we must determine whether Arts and Cultural Affairs Law § 12.03, which protects the artwork of nonresident lenders from "any kind of seizure" while on exhibit in New York State, encompasses a subpoena duces tecum requiring production of two paintings by Egon Schiele on loan to the Museum of Modern Art in New York from the Leopold Foundation in Vienna. The subpoena was issued by the New York County District Attorney's office pursuant to a Grand Jury investigation into the theft of those paintings during the German annexation of Austria. The statute's language and history lead us to conclude that the protection of section 12.03— which in the past has been used in the context of civil actions— applies under the circumstances of this case.
In October 1997, the Leopold Foundation in Vienna loaned more than 150 works by Egon Schiele, the renowned Austrian expressionist, to the Museum of Modern Art for a three-month exhibit. "Portrait of Wally" and "Dead City III" were among the paintings exhibited. For three years prior to the exhibit in New York City, the collection was on a worldwide tour, having been displayed in England, Germany, Switzerland and Japan. After the Museum's exhibit ended, the collection was scheduled for exhibition in Spain.
In the second letter, Kathleen E. Reif and Rita Reif, as heirs of Fritz Grunbaum, stated that "Dead City III" was taken from Grunbaum's collection by Nazi agents or collaborators after his arrest following the Nazi annexation of Austria. Mr. Grunbaum subsequently died in the Dachau concentration camp. The Reifs indicated that they never consented to the sale or transfer of the painting, and that they, as Mr. Grunbaum's heirs, were the lawful owners of the painting. The Reifs also demanded that the Museum turn "Dead City III" over to the them; take no steps to move the painting to another jurisdiction or transfer title or possession to anyone other than themselves; and inform Dr. Rudolf Leopold or the Leopold Foundation of their claim. The Reifs stated a willingness to discuss other options, but added that the Museum had to provide specific written assurances that "Dead City III" would not be moved or transferred during the pendency of those discussions. The Reifs also indicated that they reserved the right "to pursue alternative remedies, including legal remedies" with regard to this matter.
In response, the Museum sent two letters to each party. In the first letter, dated December 31, 1997, the Museum indicated that, while it was sympathetic to the ownership claims and was eager to see these claims resolved, it had a contractual obligation to return the entire Leopold collection to the lender after the exhibition closed. The letter further stated:
In a follow-up letter dispatched on January 4, 1998, the Museum reiterated its position with regard to its contractual obligations. The letter concluded:
On January 7, 1998 the New York County District Attorney's office served the Museum with a Grand Jury subpoena duces tecum and demanded the production of "Portrait of Wally" and "Dead City III."
The Grand Jury had been convened to investigate whether the paintings were stolen by Nazi agents or collaborators and, if so, whether the stolen property was then possessed in New York County in violation of Penal Law § 165.54 (criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree). On January 22, 1998, the Museum moved to quash the subpoena on the ground that it was invalid pursuant to section 12.03 of the New York Arts and Cultural Affairs Law. The People and the Museum thereafter entered into an agreement whereby the Museum would maintain custody of the paintings until the conclusion of the litigation over the subpoena.
Supreme Court granted the Museum's motion to quash the subpoena, holding that section 12.03 exempted the paintings from Grand Jury process. The Appellate Division reversed (253 A.D.2d 211), holding that the statute applied only to civil disputes and therefore did not limit a Grand Jury's subpoena powers.
This Court granted the Museum's motion for leave to appeal and for a calendar preference pursuant to Rules of the Court of
The issue before us has two distinct facets. We must determine whether section 12.03 of New York's Arts and Cultural Affairs Law is limited to civil proceedings. If not, we must then determine whether the subpoena issued in this case effectuates a seizure of the paintings and is thus prohibited by the statute.
Section 12.03 provides:
While section 12.03 delineates certain types of civil process, the unconditional language preceding and following this clause—"[n]o process" and "or any kind of seizure"—in no way suggests that the Legislature meant the delineated terms to be either exclusive or exhaustive. Indeed, there is no limiting language in section 12.03; the words are unqualified. Hence, on a facial reading of the statute, we are confident that the words—unrestricted as they are—are not limited to civil processes.
The legislative history of section 12.03 amply supports our interpretation.
The statute's intent is twofold: to insulate nonresident lenders from seizures via legal process and, concomitantly, to protect State cultural institutions that depend upon the free flow of art for the benefit of the people of the State of New York. These purposes are also reflected in the Attorney General's Memorandum of Support that the increased fear of harassment of nonresident artists and collectors regarding seizures could reap "incalculable harm" for New York's cultural institutions if the bill did not become law (Attorney General's Mem, Bill Jacket, L 1968, ch 1065).
In response, the Attorney General questioned the wisdom of creating any loopholes in the statute, reasoning that such exemptions would force potential good-faith lenders to seek legal advice before lending artwork to museums, thus defeating the bill's purpose:
It is well settled that legislative intent may be inferred from the omission of proposed substantive changes in the final legislative enactment (Majewski v Broadalbin-Perth Cent. School Dist., 91 N.Y.2d 577, 587). Thus, this history, coupled with the language of the statute, demonstrate a clear mandate from the Legislature. The statute's "no loopholes" approach compels our holding that Arts and Cultural Affairs Law § 12.03 is not limited to civil process.
This determination does not end our inquiry. According to the language of the statute, before the legal process in question runs afoul of the statute, it must constitute or effectuate a "seizure." We interpret "seizure" according to its commonly understood meaning (Tompkins v Hunter, 149 N.Y. 117, 122-123). As we have stated:
"Seizure," as used in everyday parlance, is understood to mean "the action or an act of seizing, or the fact of being seized; confiscation or forcible taking possession" (Oxford English Dictionary [2d ed 1989]). "Seize" in turn is defined as "to put in possession" or "to take possession of (goods) in pursuance of a judicial order" (id.). While this Court has not had occasion to comment upon the meaning of "seizure" in a property context, the commonly understood meaning comports with the United States Supreme Court's definition of "seizure" as "some meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interests in * * * property" (United States v Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113).
Given the facts of this case, we reject the Museum's argument that there are no conceivable circumstances in which a judicial process may abide the statute. In order to afford
What then is the effect of the subpoena in this case? Clearly, a subpoena duces tecum is a process of a court (CPL 610.10 , ). While a subpoena of this kind generally does not authorize the seizure, impoundment or other disruption in possession of property, and is not intended to deprive its custodian of control (Matter of Heisler v Hynes, 42 N.Y.2d 250, 252), nonetheless in the context of this case the subpoena rises to the level of "meaningful interference with [the lender's] possessory interest" for purposes of section 12.03. In the absence of a court ruling limiting the issuer's right to retain the evidence, "the prosecutor may lawfully exercise dominion and control over the evidence" (Matter of Brunswick Hosp. Ctr. v Hynes, 52 N.Y.2d 333, 338; CPL 610.25). No ruling limiting the People's right to retain the paintings has been issued here. The paintings, which were scheduled to leave New York well over a year and a half ago, are still present in this State and an indictment has not been forthcoming. As a practical consequence of the subpoena, the Museum has been and would continue to be precluded indefinitely from returning the paintings to the Leopold Foundation. We conclude that the subpoena here has interfered significantly with the Leopold Foundation's possessory interests in the paintings by compelling their indefinite detention in New York, and thus effectuating a seizure.
The Appellate Division relied on CPL 610.25 (2) in concluding that no seizure has occurred. The statute was enacted in specific response to our invocation for legislative action in light of the absence of a statutory scheme authorizing prosecutors to use a subpoena duces tecum to compel a witness to surrender possession of the property subpoenaed (see, Matter of Heisler v Hynes, supra, at 254). The section provides that the prosecution must give notice to the owner of any subpoenaed property if the property is to be retained (CPL 610.25 ). The People, however, have disavowed this interpretation of the statute and
We need not pass on the scope of this section disputed by the People and embraced by the Appellate Division. The People have taken the position that they are entitled to indefinite, unencumbered control of these paintings as long as the Grand Jury continues to investigate this matter. The People, in essence, seek to impound the paintings until their rightful owners are determined (see, Matter of Heisler v Hynes, 42 N.Y.2d 250, 253 [discussing the "drastic" nature of impoundment]).
Moreover, as Supreme Court correctly noted, Penal Law § 450.10, which provides a mechanism for returning allegedly stolen property to an owner prior to, or during the pendency of, a criminal proceeding, requires proof of title before property in the custody of the People or the court can be returned. Thus, a civil-like proceeding would have to be commenced in this case to return the paintings to the rightful owners under either CPL 610.25 (2) or Penal Law § 450.10—regardless of the outcome of the People's case.
Contrary to our dissenting colleague's view, our holding today will not chill the authority of the People to investigate claims regarding stolen art. Nothing in our decision should be construed as supporting that proposition. The dissent also has hypothesized a number of instances in which the "retention of loaned fine art would be crucial to the resolution of a criminal investigation." While we do not rule out the possibility that such circumstances may justify retention, we need not and do not pass upon these hypotheticals, inasmuch as they are not before us and are not pertinent to the determination of this appeal. Nor should our decision be interpreted as circumscribing the broad, exploratory powers of Grand Juries. The People are not prohibited from continuing the Grand Jury investigation of possible criminal wrongdoing with regard to these two paintings.
The dissent also concludes that our holding "implicates" the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and
This Court has examined a Grand Jury subpoena in the context of the limitations imposed by the Fourth Amendment and article I, § 12 regarding seizures of property (see, Matter of Grand Jury Subpoenas, 72 N.Y.2d 307). However, this case is not about a subpoena that is "too sweeping in its terms to be regarded as reasonable" (Hale v Henkel, 201 U.S. 43, 76), nor is this a dispute about whether a Grand Jury must have probable cause before it can issue a subpoena duces tecum (see, Matter of Hynes v Moskowitz, 44 N.Y.2d 383). The prohibition of the statute is broader than the constitutional concerns of unreasonable seizures. Any seizure is prohibited under the statute. An unreasonable seizure presents a constitutional dilemma, but that analysis does not define if the object has indeed been seized. Thus, although the subpoena may pass constitutional muster, the statute stands in its way.
Lastly, the dissent argues that we have foreclosed every circumstance that may involve the retention of loaned art in a criminal investigation. We disagree with the characterization. Under the circumstances of this case the subpoena at issue does in fact constitute meaningful interference with the Leopold Foundation's possessory interest. None of the mechanisms that may be available to the Museum as designee of the Foundation can effectuate a return of the paintings without an ownership determination. Thus, the cornerstone of the Grand Jury investigation remains ownership of these two paintings. The Legislature rejected a disputed-owner exception to the statute; we cannot now abrogate the clear purpose of the statute by creating a criminal proceeding "loophole."
We fully appreciate the profound and opposing interests presented by this case. The District Attorney has a constitutional responsibility to identify and prosecute criminal activity, while
The People's remaining argument is without merit.
Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division should be reversed, with costs, and the Museum's motion to quash the Grand Jury subpoena duces tecum should be granted.
SMITH, J. (dissenting).
Because Arts and Cultural Affairs Law § 12.03 encompasses only civil processes and because a subpoena duces tecum by the District Attorney in this case was proper, I dissent.
Facts & Procedural History
In 1997, the Leopold Foundation of Vienna loaned the Museum of Modern Art (Museum) 150 paintings by Egon Schiele, an Austrian expressionist painter, for a Schiele retrospective hosted by the Museum. Among the paintings exhibited were "Portrait of Wally" and "Dead City III." Prior to World War II, Lea Jaray Bondi and Fritz Grunbaum owned "Portrait of Wally" and "Dead City III," respectively. During the Nazi annexation of Austria, however, both paintings were allegedly stolen or otherwise misappropriated by Nazi agents or collaborators.
During the last days of the Schiele exhibit in New York, heirs of Bondi and Grunbaum contacted the Museum to inform it that the two paintings were stolen and that neither the Bondi nor the Grunbaum heirs had ever consented to the sale or transfer of the paintings. Both the Bondi and Grunbaum heirs requested that the Museum keep the paintings in the jurisdiction until the matter of true ownership was resolved. While sympathetic to the issues raised by the heirs of both families, the Museum declined to retain the paintings, indicating that it was under a contractual obligation to return them.
In January 1998, just before the Schiele exhibit was scheduled to be shipped to its next place of exhibition, the New York County District Attorney's office (the People) served the
Supreme Court, New York County, granted the Museum's motion, concluding that Arts and Cultural Affairs Law § 12.03 unambiguously prohibits "any kind of seizure" that would interfere with works of art on loan from out-of-State, including the subpoena at issue here. The Appellate Division, First Department, unanimously reversed and denied the Museum's motion.
The Museum argues, and the majority agrees, that the term "seizure," as used in section 12.03, encompasses both civil and criminal proceedings. I disagree and conclude that the statute applies to civil proceedings only.
General principles of statutory construction dictate that when the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, the statute should be construed so as to give effect to the plain meaning of the words (People ex rel. Harris v Sullivan, 74 N.Y.2d 305, 309). However, this Court has recognized that "[f]ew words are so plain that the context or the occasion is without capacity to enlarge or narrow their extension" (Surace v Danna, 248 N.Y. 18, 21). Accordingly, we must examine a "`statute's legislative
Against that backdrop, we must evaluate the relevant terms, "any kind of seizure" and "for any cause whatever," to determine the plain meaning of the terms within the context of section 12.03, reading each word in accordance with the "other operative features of the statute's core overview" to reach a practical, over-all construction (Matter of Long v Adirondack Park Agency, 76 N.Y.2d 416, 420). In addition, we must turn to the relevant legislative history to flesh out the intent of the Legislature.
The Museum argues that the words of section 12.03 bar the People from effectuating a subpoena duces tecum because the word "seizure," as used in the statute, has both criminal and civil implications and that the subpoena issued here was tantamount to a "seizure." However, accepting the Museum's argument would abrogate a basic tenet of statutory construction which prohibits reading a statute in "vacuum-like isolation with absolute literalness" (id., at 420). Indeed, preceding the words "any kind of seizure" are the words "attachment, execution, sequestration, replevin, [and] distress"—terms which are exclusive to civil procedure. Thus, irrespective of whether the statute disallows "any kind of seizure," the terms must be examined within the context of the statute as a whole. Bearing in mind that the rules of statutory construction forbid "the segregation of a few words from their context and from all the rest of the section or rule for purposes of construction" (Matter of Albano v Kirby, 36 N.Y.2d 526, 530), I conclude that the terms "any * * * seizure" include only civil seizures.
Significantly, at one point in the statute, the term "seizure" is sandwiched between the words "attachment" and "levy," words which have no application in criminal law. The Legislature would not have placed a term with dual application in criminal and civil law between two exclusively civil terms if it intended its meaning to be both criminal and civil. It is well settled that "[w]hen a word is susceptible of two or more significations, the meaning to be given must be determined from the context of the statute" (McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book 1, Statutes § 235). Even recognizing that the term "any" imports no limitations (Matter of Beach, 154 N.Y. 242, 247), the conclusion is inescapable; without any other criminally relevant
Furthermore, the legislative history underlying the statute buttresses the conclusion that the Legislature never intended the statute to apply in criminal proceedings. First, the language of section 12.03 parallels a law enacted in 1880, later codified in the Code of Civil Procedure in 1909 (L 1909, ch 65, § 1) under chapter XIII, title II ("Execution against property"). In 1920, the Legislature moved the statute to section 250 of the Personal Property Law (L 1920, ch 934, § 1) in an effort to transfer sections of the Code of Civil Procedure to other appropriate laws (L 1920, ch 934, n 1). While that statute remains in the Personal Property Law and exempts from seizure property of any description at an international exhibition, held under the auspices of the United States in any city or county of New York, the Legislature used section 250 as a model for drafting the current statute, section 12.03 (Attorney General's Mem for Governor, Bill Jacket, at 2, L 1968, ch 1065 [May 20, 1968]). Thus, section 12.03 virtually mirrors the language of the initial statute moved from the Code of Civil Procedure.
Generally, earlier statutes are "properly considered as illuminating the intent of the Legislature in passing later acts, especially where there is doubt as to how the later act should be construed. * * * It is incumbent on the court, in searching
In People v Romero (supra), this Court addressed whether the Attorney General was authorized under Judiciary Law § 476-a (1) to criminally prosecute a defendant. Noting the statute's civil roots, we stated "the derivation of the statute offers a very good explanation as to why section 476-a does not explicitly state that the action to be brought by the Attorney-General is civil and not criminal. As part of the former Civil Practice Act, there was no need to be redundant and denote the action as civil" (id., at 757 [emphasis in original]).
Second, the impetus underlying the enactment of section 12.03 was a civil lawsuit. Specifically, in 1968, a well-known, out-of-State artist loaned a substantial portion of his work to a Buffalo museum for exhibition. His work was subsequently seized under an order of attachment in a lawsuit brought against him by a domestic corporation. Alarmed at the circumstances under which the art was seized, the Legislature responded by mending a gap in the then-existing law that allowed local creditors to seize fine art exhibits under a host of provisional remedies. By exempting from seizure works of fine art of nonresidents, the bill served to "allay the fears of potential [fine art] exhibitors and enable the State of New York to maintain its pre-eminent position in the arts" (Governor's Mem approving L 1968, ch 1065, 1968 NY Legis Ann, at 495 [June 22, 1968]).
Notwithstanding the foregoing, even if section 12.03 could be read as pertaining to both criminal and civil law, the statute would be inapplicable under these circumstances because a subpoena duces tecum "does not authorize the seizure, impoundment or other disruption in possession of * * * property" (Matter of Heisler v Hynes, 42 N.Y.2d 250, 252). Thus, the Museum's contention that the subpoena duces tecum requiring it to produce the paintings was tantamount to a "seizure" lacks merit. A seizure occurs "when there is some meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interests in * * * property" (United States v Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113). We have stated that a subpoena duces tecum "is not intended to deprive its custodian of control [of the evidence] which is compatible with its production" (Matter of Heisler v Hynes, supra, at 252), and a Grand Jury may not hold subpoenaed objects indefinitely (Matter of Hynes v Moskowitz, 44 N.Y.2d 383, 395). The purpose of a subpoena duces tecum is simply to direct a witness to appear and produce specified physical evidence (id.). The materials sought by the Grand Jury are furnished by the subpoenaed person at the time and place prescribed by the court and, on motion to limit possession of subpoenaed materials, the reasonableness of the terms and duration of possession can also be judicially determined (id., at 395-396). A "`subpoena to appear before a grand jury is not a "seizure" in the [constitutional] sense, even though that summons may be inconvenient or burdensome'" (id., at 395, quoting United States v Dionisio, 410 U.S. 1, 9).
The majority concludes that the paintings have been "seized" by the District Attorney, implicating the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article I, § 12 of the New York State Constitution.
There is no question that section 12.03 prevents civil seizures of any kind and that a main objective of the statute is to encourage the free flow of art into New York, enabling the State to maintain its reputation as a preeminent cultural center. However, section 12.03, aimed at benefitting and furthering public interest, should not be read to prevent the District Attorney from zealously investigating potential crimes,
Indeed, the majority's conclusion today creates potentially adverse consequences beyond the parties in this case and conflicts with New York law which "has long protected the right of the owner whose property has been stolen to recover that property" (Guggenheim Found. v Lubell, 77 N.Y.2d 311, 317). Under the majority's ruling, the District Attorney and a Grand Jury will have exceeding difficulty in obtaining a work of fine art loaned by a nonresident to any nonprofit cultural institution, however relevant to a criminal investigation. Certainly, the Legislature could not have intended that New York assist the free flow of stolen art under an umbrella of complete immunity from civil and criminal processes. Such a ruling adversely affects society as a whole, whose "`interest is best served by a thorough and extensive investigation'" into potential crimes (Virag v Hynes, supra, at 443, quoting Wood v Georgia, 370 U.S. 375, 392). And, while the relevancy of holding these paintings in this particular investigation is hotly contested by the parties (despite the difficulty in prospective determinations regarding the propriety of evidence for Grand Jury investigations), one could envision circumstances where retention of loaned fine art would be crucial to the resolution of a criminal investigation (e.g., fingerprints, blood or other samples needed for physical evidence). Such physical evidence would be virtually impossible to gather if, as the majority holds, section 12.03 immunizes loaned art from criminal processes, thereby frustrating the "`public's interest in the fair and expeditious administration of the criminal laws'" (id., at 444, quoting United States v Dionisio, 410 U.S. 1, 17, supra).
In sum, based on the foregoing conclusions, I would affirm the Appellate Division order and deny the Museum's motion to quash the subpoena.
Order reversed, etc.
In 1968 Attorney General Louis J. Lefkowitz sponsored legislation that took immunity principles expressed in Personal Property Law § 250 and applied them to the artwork of nonresident lenders (L 1968, ch 1065, § 1). This section was renumbered and moved several times and is now embodied in Arts and Cultural Affairs Law § 12.03 (L 1984, ch 849, § 1).
In contrast, section 12.03 is clearly more restrictive than the Federal statute. Section 12.03 expressly delineates that "[n]o process of attachment, execution, sequestration, replevin, distress or any kind of seizure shall be served or levied upon any work of fine art." The statute does not offer complete immunity from "any kind of seizure by legal process," as the Museum contends. Instead, it expressly articulates exactly what types of processes are exempt— civil processes.