(CN) – A locomotive historical society waited too long to sue the St. Louis Museum of Transportation for the return of a historic steam engine loaned to the museum, the 8th Circuit ruled.
The court upheld a ruling for St. Louis County, which was sued by the Lackawanna Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society for keeping the now-rare “camelback” engine, so named because the engineer’s cabin controls are in the middle of the boiler. The engine hauled coal in northern Pennsylvania from 1905 to 1938, and was display at the World’s Fair in New York from 1939 to 1940. It has been on display at the St. Louis museum since 1953.
The historical society claimed it first demanded the engine back in 2002, and the museum refused. Under law, the society had five years from the museum’s refusal to sue. It sued that same year, claiming the museum had no right to keep the engine.
But St. Louis County argued that the 2002 lawsuit had been filed too late, because the first demand and refusal occurred in the mid-1990s.
The district court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit, and the federal appeals court in St. Louis affirmed.
“[U]ndisputed facts establish that in 1995 and 1996, the museum took actions inconsistent with the bailment and in derogation and defiance of the bailor’s rights,” the 8th Circuit wrote.
In 1995 the society’s president tried to get the museum director to return the engine or agree to send it to Pennsylvania on a temporary loan. The director responded that the museum “is committed to retaining this engine in its collection and is not interested in any swap for other engines.”
The following year, the museum director sent the society president a letter reiterating that the museum “did not intend to relinquish this important artifact.”
“At this point, the damage was sustained and capable of ascertainment,” the court wrote. “Accordingly an action for replevin (to cover the engine) accrued and expired before Lackawanna filed suit in 2002.”