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Author Topic: Law School Confidential Property Hypo  (Read 2612 times)

hotdiggity

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Law School Confidential Property Hypo
« on: April 19, 2006, 10:02:05 PM »
okay guys i'm reading Law School Confidential and they list a hpyo on page 122 when explaining propery class. The question is interesting and I am hoping some experienced student knows the answer. Here it goes.

Who has the "more significant" right to a piece of property that was lost by person A, found by person B, stolen by person C, sold to dealer D, bought by person E, when person A sees person E wearing her "lost" ring and demands its return.

Who would have the right and under what circumstances would that right change, maybe knowledge of receipt of stolen property etc.  It's not important I would just like to know for my own sake. 

Thanks

Damien Tancredi

J D

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Re: Law School Confidential Property Hypo
« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2006, 10:21:37 PM »
The general rule, I believe (anyone correct me if I am wrong), comes from the case of Armory v. Delamirie: a finder has a sufficient interest in a chattel such that his claim to it will prevail over that of anyone else in the whole world, save the true owner.  In plainer English, a finder has superior rights over a subsequent finder, but not over the "true owner" (i.e., the one who had the thing before it came into possession of the finder).  Property rights are generally relative.  The issues mostly turn on who has a BETTER claim to the thing in dispute, not who has the absolute best claim.  The court is not a lost and found department.  If 2 finders (a first finder and a subsequent finder) are before it arguing over who has the right to a thing, they won't confiscate it and try to track down the true owner.  Rather, they will try to determine, AS BETWEEN THE PARTIES, who has a superior claim to the thing.  Generally, there's an old maxim which holds that he who is first in time is first in right.
"I never think of the future.  It comes soon enough."--Albert Einstein

jimmyjohn

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Re: Law School Confidential Property Hypo
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2006, 10:25:37 PM »
Sorry but that is not interesting.  In fact it is quite lame.  I can't believe the author couldn't think of something better than finders' rights to put in his book.

A>B
B>C,D,E

Leaf2001br

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Re: Law School Confidential Property Hypo
« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2006, 11:56:10 PM »
It's also relevant how much time has passed and whether you are talking about a right of possession or a right of ownership.  They are not the same thing.
Note: I am dealing in Lousiana Civil Law which I assume is similar by analogy...

The trouble is that possession carries a presumption of ownership.  This means that whoever possesses the thing is always presumed to be the owner in the eyes of the law, and the burden of proving otherwise falls on whomever is challenging ownership.

With a movable (chattel) this can be next to impossible to prove.  Not only is it hard to prove, but you are not likely to bring a possessory or petitory (ownership) action in court for a movable.  Most just don't have enough value.  However even if you did, you would have to rely on witnesses, etc. and YOU would have the burden of proving that the possessor is not the rightful possessor or owner.  On top of this you would have a limited time to do it.  If you wait too long, the possessor will acquire all rights to the thing.  These proceedings are most often to resolve possession or ownership of immovables (real property?), where you can bring certified title into the fight.  With the exception of vehicles, movables are not accompanied by a title.  So, generally if you have a ring or something that truly is of value you would just get it insured, and hopefully criminal law serves to deter any thieves.

So you see, if someone takes something you are kind of screwed if they don't want to give it back.   They now possess it.  You could always try your luck with criminal theft charges or a conversion suit in tort, but these also present evidentiary issues of proof. 

The possessor's presumption of ownership also has a policy argument supporting it:  If you aren't using it anyway they might as well have it!  Ok, so this is really more relevant to immovables but the lesson is the same.  Keep up with your *&^%! (or get it insured if it would absolutely kill you to lose it)

"What is Legal?  What is Illegal?  What is 'Barely Legal'?"  - Ali G

jacy85

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Re: Law School Confidential Property Hypo
« Reply #4 on: April 20, 2006, 08:13:30 AM »

A>B
B>C,D,E

Yup; A is the true owner.  B is the first finder.  Since C stole it, he has no valid claim on it.  When D gets it from C, C can only transfer what interest in the property he has, which is none.  So when D sells to C, C buys no legitimate interest in the property.

Wouldn't matter in the end though, since A saw E with them.  As the true owner, her right trumps all others, whether B or E has the ring.

jimmyjohn

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Re: Law School Confidential Property Hypo
« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2006, 09:41:48 AM »

A>B
B>C,D,E

Yup; A is the true owner.  B is the first finder.  Since C stole it, he has no valid claim on it.  When D gets it from C, C can only transfer what interest in the property he has, which is none.  So when D sells to C, C buys no legitimate interest in the property.

Wouldn't matter in the end though, since A saw E with them.  As the true owner, her right trumps all others, whether B or E has the ring.

Right.  That's a good explanation of how it would work.  I'm just bitter about finders rights because my property exam consisted of a ridiculous finders hypo.  I personally think it's of little value to study and even less to test on because, as leaf said, it will probably end up at the insurance adjuster's office rather than in the courts. It only makes good exam fodder because judges fall all over themselves when trying to decide if something  is "lost" or "mislaid" so that they can give the chattel to whichever party they prefer.

J D

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Re: Law School Confidential Property Hypo
« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2006, 09:47:30 AM »

A>B
B>C,D,E

Yup; A is the true owner.  B is the first finder.  Since C stole it, he has no valid claim on it.  When D gets it from C, C can only transfer what interest in the property he has, which is none.  So when D sells to C, C buys no legitimate interest in the property.

Wouldn't matter in the end though, since A saw E with them.  As the true owner, her right trumps all others, whether B or E has the ring.

I'd have to check my notes again, but I think the rule of Armory (which has been modified by statute in some states, i.e., in order for the finder to become the true owner he has to make a good faith effort to find the true owner) applies even to tortious "finders."  See Anderson v. Gouldberg, 51 Minn. 294 (1892).

And I'm not quite sure it's accurate to say that C has "no valid claim" to the thing; since property rights are relative, one needs to be more precise.  He has no valid claim to the thing as against the rights of A or B.  But if a thief loses something he stole, or if the thing he stole is subsequently stolen from him, then under the traditional rule, the first thief wins against the subsequent finder/thief.
"I never think of the future.  It comes soon enough."--Albert Einstein

jacy85

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Re: Law School Confidential Property Hypo
« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2006, 07:16:55 PM »
Thief A would have better title than Thief B (assuming Thief B stole it from Thief A)

However, I would argue that if Thief A lost the item, and an innocent finder came upon it, the finder would have better rights than the thief.  A thief has no legitimate property interest, while a finder of lost property does.  Some interest trumps no interest.

Jumboshrimps

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Re: Law School Confidential Property Hypo
« Reply #8 on: April 21, 2006, 04:13:50 PM »

Who has the "more significant" right to a piece of property that was lost by person A, found by person B, stolen by person C, sold to dealer D, bought by person E, when person A sees person E wearing her "lost" ring and demands its return.


Let's do this in steps:

1) B finds the ring
    -Becasue lost property belongs to the finder against all but the true        owner, A, as the true owner has superior title

2)C steals the ring
    -Becasue title can never be gained through theft, A still has the supeior title

3)C sells to D
    -Becasue you can never give greater title than you have, and C has no title at all, A still has the superior title

4) E buys the ring
    -Becasue D received no interest in the ring from C, and you can't give more than you have, E can get no interest in the ring from D

A has the most significant claim to the ring, unless he fails to take steps to get it back within the statutory period for adverse possession. This will depend on whether the statute begins to run upon demand (as in New York), or when A fails to seek out the ring (as in some other jurisdictions). In fact, E might have superior title if A has not been trying to find his ring for five years or so.

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Re: Law School Confidential Property Hypo
« Reply #9 on: April 21, 2006, 04:25:38 PM »
Thief A would have better title than Thief B (assuming Thief B stole it from Thief A)

No.

To clarify...Thief A steals from O; Thief B steals from Thief A.

Thief A and B have equal claims to the chattel--none.

However, if Thief A steals from O and then loses the chattel; Finder B has a claim against all but the rightful owner O.

EDIT:  Absent adverse possession of chattel issue under O'Keefe v. Snyder.  Since there is no time period in the facts, I'll assume it's a non-issue