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Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff discovered a sunken steamboat with a cargo of lead which Plaintiff planned to salvage, but the Defendants came and salvaged the lead while Plaintiff was elsewhere making repairs to his boat.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. In order for a court to sustain a claim of title by occupancy, the finder must establish that there was actual possession of the object so claimed.
Issue. Did the lower court properly rule that Plaintiff had established his title in the America by virtue of title by occupancy?
Held. No. The judgment is reversed.
The Court found that Plaintiff’s claim of occupancy rested upon the evidence of discovery and further, that such evidence consisted only of the markings on the trees and the placement of a temporary buoy by Plaintiff. The Court found that the lead cargo was in fact abandoned and thus could be claimed by a person who discovered and evidenced by some custody and control of the cargo.
The Court found that Plaintiff did not have to actually have the lead in his hands, but that he did have to take such possession as the nature of the circumstances allowed. In this case, the Plaintiff left for months while the Defendants, independent of Plaintiff, found and began to salvage the cargo. The Court found that Plaintiff would have had to place his boat over the wreck and make persistent efforts to retrieve the cargo in order to show the necessary possession of the abandoned property. Therefore, the judgment granting Plaintiff damages was not proper and was ordered reversed.
Discussion. In cases such as this where property is abandoned in a public location any person may claim ownership of the property provided they find and show some evidence of title by occupancy.