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Goddard v. Winchell

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Bloomberg Law

Brief Fact Summary.

Replevin action where Plaintiff owned land upon which a meteorite fell and was recovered by a third party accompanied by Plaintiff’s lessee and sold to Defendant.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Whatever is affixed to the soil is a part of the soil and no one may take such items away without the consent of the property owner.


Plaintiff Goddard owned prairie land which was leased to Elickson upon which, during the term of the lease, a meteorite fell. Elickson accompanied Hoagland, a neighboring land owner, who dug up the 66 pound meteorite valued at $101.00. Thereafter, Hoagland sold the meteorite to Defendant Winchell, who was aware that the meteorite had fallen south of Hoagland’s land. Plaintiff filed a Writ of Replevin in the District Court to have the Court order the meteorite returned. The District Court ruled that the meteorite became a part of the soil upon which it fell to a depth of 3 feet and thus belonged to the Plaintiff.


Is the meteorite a part of the land upon which it falls and thus owned by the owner of such land, or is the meteorite a movable object which if unclaimed belongs to any person who might claim it?


The meteorite becomes a part of the soil upon which it falls, and cannot be removed without the permission of the owner of the land. Affirmed.
The Court found favor with the ancient rule “that whatever is affixed to the soil belongs to the soil. The meteorite was deposited on the Plaintiff’s land through natural causes, and became a fixed part of the earth at the time it was so deposited.
The Defendants argued that the Court should accept the rule of “Title by Occupancy,” which states that whenever movables are found on the earth and are unclaimed by any owner such items return to the common stock and may be claimed by anyone. The Court rejected such an argument in this case finding that the meteorite was not a “movable,” due to the fact that it became fixed 3 feet deep into the land of Plaintiff and could not be removed without the help of man. Thus, the District Court’s judgment for Plaintiff was affirmed.


This case involves a situation where Hoagland found the meteorite and dug it up. In a case such as this the Court held that discovery of the meteorite was not sufficient to acquire title. Also, note that due to Hoagland being accompanied by the tenant there was no trespass.

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