The American Textile History Museum is seeking to acquire title to undocumented property found in the possession of the Museum within the past seven years. Below is helpful information regarding potential claims to that property.
Massachusetts Law Regarding Undocumented Property
Pursuant to M.G.L. c. 200B, §5, Acquisition of title by museum to property when identity of lender unknown:
Property in the possession of a museum for which the museum does not know, and has no reasonable means of determining, the identity of the lender or claimant shall become the property of the museum if no person has claimed the property within 7 years after the museum can document the museum’s possession of the property. The museum shall become the owner of the property free from all claims on the day after the 7-year period ends. This section shall not apply to stolen or confiscated property.
Further, pursuant to M.G.L. c. 200B, § 6(b), “No action shall be brought against a museum or the museum’s employees, agents, officers or trustees to recover … undocumented property more than 2 years after the date the museum provides notice to the … claimant of … the museum’s assertion of title to undocumented property.” Accordingly, if a museum gives notice by publication, a claimant would be unable to bring an action to recover the undocumented property more than two (2) years after such notice.
Undocumented Property at ATHM
The American Textile History Museum is in possession of numerous artifacts that have been donated to it by unknown sources (“Potential Claimants”) during the last seven (7) years (“Museum’s Undocumented Property”). Due to a significant financial deficit, the Museum has closed its doors to the public and is seeking to find new homes for its collection. As the Museum is unable to continue in existence long enough for it to acquire title to the Museum’s Undocumented Property pursuant to the above statutes, the Museum petitioned the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to approve a procedure whereby it is able to acquire title to the Museum’s Undocumented Property and then transfer good title to other institutions willing to accept transfer of and care for same. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has, in response to the Museum’s petition, approved a procedure to notify Potential Claimants, by publication pursuant to M.G. L. c. 200B, § 2(c)(1), of the Museum’s Undocumented Property and assertion of title to all of its Undocumented Property, and that any claimant (a) must contact the Museum within six (6) months and advise that the claimant desires to claim any item of the Museum’s Undocumented Property, (b) provide the Museum with evidence establishing the claimant’s ownership of such property, and (c) make arrangements to collect the property.
In addition, the Museum requested that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court enter an order that title to all Undocumented Property in the Museum’s collection for which no claim has been submitted as required by the foregoing notice of publication shall vest in the Museum, free and clear of any and all claims (except for stolen or confiscated property), upon the expiration of six (6) months from said publication, and the Museum may sell, dispose of, and/or transfer good and clear title to said property without delay following the expiration of said six (6) months. The Supreme Judicial Court issued such an order on December 15, 2016 in No. SJ-2016-070.
Claims for Property
The Museum is publishing a notice in The Sun (Lowell, Massachusetts) on February 17, February 24, and March 3, 2017, of its intent to acquire title to its Undocumented Property. Potential claimants must submit claims by completing the Undocumented Property Claim Form which can be downloaded here. Copies are also available by calling the Museum at (978) 441-0400 and providing your name, mailing address and telephone number.
This link provides a comprehensive list of all undocumented property found in the Museum’s collection during the last seven (7) years. Only objects on this list are subject to claims of ownership.
Following receipt of a properly completed and supported Undocumented Property Claim Form, the Museum will complete investigation of the claim within 30 days unless it is clear that it is unsupportable or unsubstantiated. It is the responsibility of the Museum to balance protection of the legitimate intent of the donor with the valid interest of a claimant; therefore, the Museum will consider a claim to be validated if the following forms of evidence are satisfied:
* Identity of the claimant or relationship to the original donor can be verified.
* Original museum documentation or a combination of two of the following is provided:
- Unique identification of the property
- Correspondence relating to the item
- Last will and testament detailing transfer of the item to next of kin
- Oral history
The Museum’s staff will review the evidence and notify the claimant of its determination via certified mail. If the Museum’s staff cannot complete a determination after suitable evidence has been provided and research conducted, final determination will fall to a subcommittee of the Board of Trustees.
If multiple claims to ownership of a particular object are submitted, the Museum will defer a determination until the various claims are resolved by agreement or legal action. If the Museum verifies that multiple claimants are joint owners, the museum will ensure that all parties agree to final disposition of the property before taking action.
If the Museum is satisfied that a claimant(s) is entitled to take possession of the property, the Museum will enter into an agreement regarding disposition. Possession of the property by the claimant(s) must be taken within 6 months of the last publication date unless other arrangements are made.