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City of Everett v. Estate of OddmundSumstad

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant purchased a locked, used safe at an auction. After the purchase the defendant took safe to the locksmith who opened the lock and found $32000 in cash. The plaintiff filed a suit to determine who was entitled to the money. The court judged in favor of plaintiff. Defendant appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Title to a safe with a bolted compartment will go from seller to buyer when neither party has knowledge of the safe’s contents.

    Facts.

    Al and Rosemary Mitchell (defendant), proprietors of a little second-hand store, obtained a used safe at an auction. The safe had a bolted compartment and the sale organization did not have the key. It was later discovered that the safe was a part of the Estate of OddmundSumstad (the Estate) (defendant). After they bought the safe, the Mitchells took it to a locksmith who opened the bolted compartment and found over $32,000 in real money. From that point, a debate emerged between the Mitchells and the Estate in regards to the legitimate proprietor of the cash. The City of Everett, Washington (plaintiff) documented an interpleader action against the Mitchells and the Estate to figure out who was qualified for the cash found in the safe. The Mitchells and the Estate documented separate motions for summary judgment. The trial court held for the Estate and requested the cash returned. The Mitchells appealed. The court of appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court and ruled that while the safe had been legitimately sold to the Mitchells, title to the cash discovered in the bolted compartment legally stayed with the Estate. The Supreme Court of Washington granted certiorari to review.

    Issue.

    Will title to a safe with a bolted compartment go from seller to buyer when neither one of the parties knows about the safe’s contents?

    Held.

    Yes. Title to a safe with a bolted compartment will go from seller to buyer when neither party has knowledge of the safe’s contents.

    Dissent.

    N/A

    Concurrence.

    N/A

    Discussion.

    In West Coast Airlines, Inc. v. Miner’s Aircraft & Engine Service, Inc., 66 Wash.2d 513 (1965), 403 P.2d 833 (Wash.1965), the court ruled that ownership of the goods that is not intended for sale cannot pass from the seller to the buyer. In West Coast, two jet engines were included among other scrap that was sent to junk yard to sell. Later it was found that the jet engines were not intended to be a part of the scrap. The content of the locked compartment was not known by the auction house and the sender. The manifest of the auctioneer is an intent to sell all the contents in the compartment and that the Mitchells agreed to purchase the compartment. The judgement of the court of appeals was reversed & the matter remanded for further proceedings.


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