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South Staffordshire Water Co. v. Sharman

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    Bloomberg Law

    Citation. 2 Q.B. 44 (Queen’s Bench 1896).

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiffs hired Defendants to clean a pool situated on Plaintiff’s land, within which, during the cleaning, Defendants found two gold rings and thereafter refused to give the rings to Plaintiffs.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. There is a presumption that whenever something is found on a person’s land, possession of that object is maintained by the landowner.


    Facts. Plaintiffs owned land covered by the Minster Pool, which was in need of cleaning. Plaintiffs hired Defendant pool cleaners who performed the task along with several workmen. During the process, several items were found, including two gold rings. Plaintiff demanded the rings from the Defendant, who refused, and gave the rings over to the police so they could attempt to locate the true owner. Thereafter, the police were unsuccessful in finding the real owner and gave the rings back to Defendant. Plaintiffs sued in detinue for the recovery of the rings. The lower court found for Defendant on the basis of Armory v. Delamirie and Bridges v. Hawkesworth, infra, stating that the person who found the rings had good title against everyone except for the rightful owner. Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. Were the contents of the pool under the control of Plaintiffs such that Defendants could not maintain possession of the rings found in the pool?

    Held. Yes. Judgment for Plaintiffs.
    Plaintiffs, as freeholders of the land upon which the pool was situated, had the right to forbid anyone from coming on to their land, and also, had the right to direct exactly how the pool was to be cleaned. Further, that they had the right to direct the disposition of any item found during the pool’s cleaning.
    The Court found this case to be one in which an item was found upon private property when the property owner was unaware of its existence. This case is decided and distinguished from the decisions of Armory v. Delamirie and Bridges v. Hawkesworth, infra, by the principle that possession of land carries with it a de facto possession of everything that is upon the land, so long as the landowner exercises his general power of ownership over the land and expresses intent to disallow interference from others. Thus, the location of the pool, being private rather than public, was never outside of Plaintiff’s general power of ownership.
    In the case of Bridges v. Hawkesworth, infra, the item in dispute was found in a place that was opened to the public. In this case the pool and the land on which it sat was not opened to the public, but was under the control of Plaintiffs.
    The Court found that where a person has control over land and manifests an intention to prevent interference by others, any objects found on such land shall be presumed to be in the possession of the owner, regardless of whether the item is found by an employee of the owner or by a stranger.
    Concurrence. A decision for Defendant would encourage dishonesty.

    Discussion. As noted in the concurrence, a judgment for Defendant here would create an inducement to theft by servants.


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