- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The Oregon Supreme Court has sent a dustup over an 83-year-old costume from the state’s biggest rodeo back down to circuit court.

The long-running dispute began in 2000 over the fringed leather skirt and vest worn by rodeo queen Lois McIntyre in 1930. She died in 1964.

Her family agreed to display the costume in the Pendleton Round-Up Hall of Fame. Her family discovered the outfit was missing and in the possession of another former rodeo queen who refused to give it up.

The family filed suit in 2007, one year after the statute of limitations ran out on a claim against a person who has deprived another of personal property.

Previous rulings from lower courts held that her family ran out of time to sue.

The court disagreed Thursday, and said that the statute of limitations didn’t start until the family knew its property was in another person’s control. The court sent the matter back to circuit court to determine the costume’s rightful owner.

The lawsuit over the outfit involves two women with close ties to the century-old western extravaganza that draws an estimated 50,000 people to the small northeast Oregon town for a celebration that includes a four-day rodeo, parades and concert.

The lawsuit was filed by Joan Rice, a daughter-in-law of McIntyre who believes the costume is worth $25,000.

Defendant Mary Rabb has the outfit. She was the 1968 Pendleton Round-Up queen.

Rice said her husband inherited the outfit in 1964, when McIntyre died, and the couple agreed to display it in the hall of fame, asking Rabb’s grandmother to take it there.

Rabb said she believes the Rices never had possession and that McIntyre gave it to her grandmother, who in turn lent it to the hall of fame.

Rice’s husband died in 1972. In 2000, court documents said, Rabb retrieved the costume.

Seven years later, the papers said, Joan Rice learned the outfit was gone.

After suing to regain possession, Rice lost in trial court in Wallowa County and again on appeal. She lost again in 2012 when the state Court of Appeals ruled that her lawsuit wasn’t brought within the six-year time limit prescribed under state law.

The court compared the case to one in which a doctor accidentally left a needle in a patient’s abdomen. The patient sued after more than two years, the statute of limitations for most medical malpractice suits.

The doctor claimed the clock on the statute of limitations started ticking at the time of the surgery. The court disagreed, saying the “discovery” of the problem didn’t begin until the patient realized she had a needle in her abdomen.

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