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Law School Confidential Property Hypo

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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. 


Damien Tancredi

J D:
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.

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.


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)


--- Quote from: jimmyjohn on April 19, 2006, 08:25:37 PM ---

--- End quote ---

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.


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