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Ganter v. Kapiloff

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiffs sued Defendant for replevin, seeking declaratory judgment announcing that Plaintiffs are the true owners of a stamp collection the purchased for $154,400. The trial court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The finder of lost property holds the property against all but the rightful owner.

    Facts.

    In 1976, brothers Leonard and Bernard Kapiloff (Plaintiffs) purchased a valuable stamp collection for $150,400. Unknown to the brothers, the collection was inadvertently transferred to Robert L. Ganter (Defendant) between 1979 and 1980, when Defendant found the collection in a dresser he purchased from a used furniture store. In 1982, Defendant took the collection to J. & H. Stolow (Defendant), a stamp dealer, for appraisal and sale. On February 1, 1983, Bernard Kapiloff saw an advertisement listing the collection for sale. Plaintiffs contacted Defendant and demanded the return of the collection. Defendant refused. Plaintiffs sued for replevin against Defendant and J. & H. Stolow in the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City. Defendant later removed the case to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, where Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment, announcing Plaintiffs as the true owners of the collection. The circuit court found that Plaintiffs were the true owners and granted Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment.

    Issue.

    Whether the finder of lost property holds the property against all but the true owner.

    Held.

    Yes. The trial court’s ruling is affirmed. The finder of lost property holds the property against all but the rightful owner.

    Discussion.

    The finder of lost property has the right to possess and keep it. However, the finder’s right to the property is subject to the claim of the rightful owner. In Armory v. Delamirie, 1 Strange 505 (1722), a chimney sweep who found a jewel took it to a goldsmith. The goldsmith’s apprentice removed the jewel from its socket. Keeping the jewel, the apprentice paid the sweep a minimal sum for the socket. The sweep sued the goldsmith and recovered the value of the jewel. The court stated that although the sweep did not have absolute ownership of the jewel, his right to the jewel was superior to the claims of all but the rightful owner. Similarly, when Defendant found the stamp collection in the dresser, he acquired a claim to it that was superior to the claims of all but the true owner. Once the circuit court deemed Plaintiffs to be the true owners of the collection, Defendant’s claim to the collection was extinguished. Thus, the collection rightfully belongs to Plaintiffs. Defendant argues that the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment was improper because genuine issues of material fact remained. Defendant suggests that Plaintiffs ownership of the collection is in question because: (1) one of the brothers may have secretly sold the stamps; (2) the stamps may not be the same stamps Plaintiffs owned; or (3) Plaintiffs failed to insure the collection as a true owner ought. But there is no basis to believe that either of the brothers sold the collection or that the stamps in question are not the same stamps owned by Plaintiffs. Furthermore, the failure to insure the collection has no bearing on the issue of ownership. Defendant also suggests that because he owned the collection for several years, this court ought to infer his ownership. This claim is contradictory to the law discussed in this opinion. Accordingly, there were no genuine issues of material fact and the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs was proper.


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