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Law School Case Brief

Eads v. Brazelton - 22 Ark. 499 (1861)

Rule:

When things that become property from being appropriated are the property of nobody, are in a state of negative community, the first finder may reduce them to possession, which is a good claim, and under the name of title by occupancy is regarded as the foundation of all property. Hence, wild animals, that are not property in their natural condition, may be captured, will belong to the first taker by occupancy, and will so belong while in the keeping of the taker, or person claiming under him, or while in domestication. So, the finder of things that have never been appropriated, or that have been abandoned by a former occupant, may take them into his possession as his own property; and the finder of any thing casually lost is its rightful occupant against all but the real owner.

Facts:

Plaintiff salvager discovered the location of a certain sunken river boat and marked its location by tagging trees on the bank and attaching a buoy to the wreck. However, defendants located the wreck and began removal of its lead cargo before the plaintiff could start his operations. Plaintiff filed an action to enforce a permanent injunction to bar defendants from removing bars of lead from the riverboat. The circuit ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and defendants appealed.

Issue:

Does the plaintiff salvager have the exclusive ownership rights in the wreck?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court reversed the decision of the trial court and found that the original injunction was invalid because the salvager never had exclusive ownership rights in the wreck. The wrecked boat's lead cargo was abandoned property. To obtain ownership of the lead, the salvager had to obtain possession of it. Mere discovery of the location of the wreck was no enough. The salvager's acts of marking the trees and attaching the buoy only indicated a desire to appropriate the property and were not acts of possession.

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