Ghen v. Rich

8 F. 159 (D. Mass. 1881)

 

RULE:

A custom among whalemen in the Arctic seas, that the iron holds the whale, is reasonable and valid to bestow title upon the party who first harpoons a whale. The usage for the first iron, whether attached to the boat or not, to hold the whale, is fully established. 

FACTS:

A  fisherman shot a fin-back whale with a bomb-lance identifiable as belonging to him, which caused it to sink to the bottom of the ocean. A local custom existed in the community that when a whale resurfaced, the fisherman would be notified and the finder would be paid a small salvage fee for his services. In this case, the whale was found on the beach by a third party, who sold it to respondent. The fisherman sued respondent for conversion of the whale.

ISSUE:

Can local custom be valid basis to claim title?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

Custom which embraced an entire business, and had been concurred in for a long time by everyone engaged in the trade can establish lawful ownership.

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