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FIRESTONE & PARSON, INC. v. UNION LEAGUE OF PHILAD

April 14, 1987

Firestone & Parson, Inc., et al.
v.
The Union League Of Philadelphia



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FULLAM

 FULLAM, Ch.J.

 For many years, the defendant, the Union League of Philadelphia, was the owner of an oil painting, the Bombardment of Fort Sumter, which was generally regarded in art circles as being a major work of a renowned American landscape artist, Albert Bierstadt. On August 31, 1981, plaintiffs purchased that painting from the defendant for $500,000. At that time, the parties all believed, and the defendant allegedly represented, that the painting was indeed the work of Bierstadt.

 In the spring of 1985, however, some art historians began to express doubts about the accuracy of the attribution. Plaintiffs brought these questions to defendant's attention, but the defendant reiterated its view that the painting was a Bierstadt. Ultimately, in the February 1986 issue of "Antiques" magazine, there appeared an article by a noted art historian, Alfred C. Harrison, Jr., entitled "Bierstadt's Bombardment of Fort Sumter Reattributed", which expressed the writer's firm opinion that a Confederate artist, John Ross Key, and not Bierstadt, was the producer of the painting. This view has now come to be generally accepted among art experts.

 Asserting that the painting, as a genuine Bierstadt, was worth more than the $500,000 purchase price, but, as the work of Key, is worth only about $50,000, plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on October 6, 1986, seeking rescission and damages. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that plaintiff's action is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. That legal issue is now ripe for decision.

 The transaction occurred in Pennsylvania, and the parties' rights are governed by Pennsylvania law. 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 5525 provides:

 
"§ 5525. Four-Year Limitation
 
"The following actions and proceedings must be commenced within four years:
 
"(1) an action upon a contract, under seal or otherwise, for the sale, construction or furnishing of tangible personal property or fixtures;
 
"(2) Any action subject to 13 Pa. C.S. § 2725 (relating to statute of limitations in contracts for sale);
 
"(3) An action upon an express contract not founded upon an instrument in writing."

 The Uniform Commercial Code provision referred to reads:

 
"§ 2725. Statute of Limitations in Contracts for Sale
 
"(a) General Rule - An action for breach of any contract for sale must be commenced within four years after the ...

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