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McAvoy v. Medina

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    Bloomberg Law

    Citation. 93 Mass. 548, 11 Allen 548 (1866)

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff was a customer at Defendant’s barber shop and found a pocket-book on the counter which he left with Defendant to attempt to discover the rightful owner. When the rightful owner was not found, Plaintiff demanded return of the pocket-book, which Defendant refused to give back.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When a customer leaves a pocket-book on the counter of a shop the item is not subject to the historical rules regarding lost property.

    Facts. Plaintiff was a customer at Defendant’s barber shop and found a pocket-book on the counter which he left with Defendant so that Defendant could attempt to discover the rightful owner. When the rightful owner was not found, Plaintiff demanded the pocket-book which Defendant refused to give back. Plaintiff left the pocket-book with Defendant for Defendant to find the rightful owner and to advertise so that the owner might be found. Plaintiff made three demands for return of the pocket-book from Defendant, who denied that he possessed the pocket-book until the last. The parties agreed that the pocket-book was placed on the counter by a customer of Defendant’s barber shop and was accidentally left there, that Plaintiff fist saw the pocket-book and picked it up, and that the rightful owner was not found. Plaintiff sued for the return of the money found in the pocket-book. The lower court ruled for Defendant and Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. Was this property lost in such a manner as to allow the finder of the item to hold a valid claim of ownership against all except the rightful owner?

    Held. No. Exceptions overruled. (Judgment for Defendant affirmed).
    The Court noted the general rule established by the case of Bridges v. Hawkesworth, infra, that the finder of a lost object has a valid claim of ownership against all except the rightful owner regardless of where the object was found. However, the Court distinguished the facts of that case (parcel of money found on the floor of the shop) from this case where the pocket-book was intentionally left on the counter by a customer and not picked up when the customer departed. In the Bridges v. Hawkesworth case the parcel of money had been deposited on the floor of the shop which could not have been an intentional act. The Court held that in this case the property was not lost within the meaning of the lost property rule.
    The Court held that Defendant shop owner had a duty to hold the pocket-book for the rightful owner until the rightful owner came to retrieve the pocket-book.
    The Court noted the decision in Lawrence v. The State, 1 Humph. (Tenn.) 228, where a distinction was drawn between property placed by the rightful owner and neglected to be removed and property which was dropped or lost by the rightful owner. In that case the court ruled that the placement of a pocket-book on a shop table which is then left by the rightful owner was not “lost” in the sense that the law speaks of lost property. This was accepted as the better rule. Therefore, the Plaintiff could not have acquired a right in the pocket-book.

    Discussion. In this type of situation, the rightful owner would naturally seek his pocket-book in the shop where he had been, but he would not even be aware of a person in Plaintiff’s position, let alone be able to make a valid claim to retain the pocketbook from that person. Courts seek to achieve equitable results in cases such as these.


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