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Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff cut logs without authority on land which was not his and then took the logs to a mill where Defendants (who were strangers) obtained the logs.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Possession of property, even when not rightful, is good against all persons except for the rightful owner.
Issue. Does the bare possession of property, though wrongfully obtained, enable the possessor to establish title sufficient to maintain an action in replevin against a stranger who takes the property from him?
Held. Yes. Order denying Defendant’s motion for new trial affirmed.
The Court cites the rule established by Armory v. Delamirie, infra, as authority on the point. The Court notes that when it is said that the Plaintiff’s possession of an object sought through replevin must be lawful, it only means that such possession must be lawful as against the party from whom replevin in sought.
Defendant argues that possession only raises a presumption of title which is rebuttable. The Court agrees but notes that a defendant who seeks to rebut such a presumption must establish that he has superior title over the plaintiff, or that he is connected with someone who has superior title over the plaintiff. In this case, Defendant had no superior claim of title in the logs, and could not simply take them from Plaintiff without Plaintiff’s, or the rightful owner’s, permission.
The Court noted that giving possession of the logs to Defendant would be to encourage wrongdoing. This is based on the public policy of limiting unlawful seizures and reprisals.
Discussion. Consider the competing equities in this case. One traditional equitable maxim is that he who comes in to a court of equity must come with “clean hands.” Here, Plaintiff’s hands were “cleaner” than Defendant’s.