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Cowen v. Pressprich

    Brief Fact Summary.

    The plaintiffs sued the defendants for conversion after the defendants mistakenly gave the wrong messenger a bond.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    An involuntary bailee has an absolute duty to return goods delivered by mistake.

    Facts.

    Plaintiffs Stock-exchange brokers agreed to sell and deliver an Oregon Short Line Railroad bond to Defendants another group of brokers. However, a third party gave the plaintiffs an Oregon & California Railroad bond by mistake. The mistake was not realized until after it was delivered to the defendants. An employee of the buyers handed the bond to an unidentified messenger, mistakenly believing him to be the plaintiffs’. The plaintiffs sued the defendants for conversion. A lower court ruled for the plaintiffs. The New York Supreme Court Appellate Term affirmed. The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division reversed.

    Issue.

    Whether an involuntary bailee has an absolute duty to return goods delivered by mistake.

    Held.

    Yes. The lower court’s judgment is affirmed.

    Dissent.

    The defendants had no obligation to receive the bond. The defendants did not accept the bond. The defendants did not claim title to or the right to possess the bond. It was not unreasonable of the defendants to believe that the Messenger was plaintiffs’. The judgment should be reversed.

    Concurrence.

    Defendants became responsible for redelivery once the bond was received and took it into their possession.

    Discussion.

    In this case, the defendants could have notified or return the bond to the plaintiffs by using one of their own messengers. Instead, the defendants’ assumed the risk of handing the bond to a messenger they did not see deliver the bond.


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