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Clark v. Maloney - 3 Del. 68 (1840)

Rule:

When the plaintiff has shown a special property, which he never abandoned, and which enables him to keep it against all the world but the rightful owner, he is entitled to a verdict. 

Facts:

Plaintiff Thomas Clark found logs floating and moored them. The logs were subsequently found in the possession of defendants John Maloney an Robert Maloney, who refused to give them up, contending they had found them adrift. Clarke filed an action of trover to recover the value of the logs. Clarke claimed that he had a sufficient property in the logs to maintain trover as against anyone but the original owner, and that by finding and mooring the logs he had full property as against all but the rightful owner, who was unknown. The Maloneys claimed that Clarke lost the logs sometime after mooring them, and upon finding them later, the Maloneys had a sufficient property in the logs as to any but the original owner.

Issue:

Was Clark able to show a special property in the logs?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court held that Clark's possession was good against all but the original owner, and having shown a special property, unabandoned, he was entitled to a verdict in his favor. The court held that possession, while prima facie evidence of property, could be rebutted by evidence of better title. Therefore, a finder acquired such a property right as would enable him to keep it against all but the rightful owner. However, the loss of the chattel did not change Clark's right of property, just as the original loss by the rightful owner did not change his absolute property. Accordingly, the subsequent loss did not divest the special property of Clark.

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