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Chapin v. Freeland

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Bloomberg Law

Brief Fact Summary.

Two counters belonging to Defendant were put in a shop built by Warner and mortgaged to DeWitt. DeWitt foreclosed and sold the premises to Plaintiff, and Defendant came and retrieved the counters.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A purchaser is entitled to stand in as good a position as that of the seller in determining whether the remedy of replevin has passed by terms of the statute of limitations.


Two counters belonged to Defendant in 1867. Warner built a shop, installed the counters, and nailed them to the floor. Then, in 1871, Warner mortgaged the property to one DeWitt. In 1879 Dewitt’s executors foreclosed on the premises and sold the shop to Plaintiff. In 1881 Defendant took the counters from Plaintiff. Plaintiff then sued in replevin and the trial court ruled in favor of Defendant. Plaintiff filed a bill of exceptions.


Should Plaintiff be dispossessed of the counters when the statute of limitations for replevin had passed under the previous shop owner?


No. Exceptions sustained. (New trial ordered).
The Court first explained that the lower court’s decision was based on the principle that although the six year statute of limitations had run in favor of either Warner or DeWitt, the transfer of the shop to Plaintiff began a new period of time under the statue (tolling of the statute). Thus, the lower court held that the Defendant could lawfully take back the counters, and Plaintiff could not sue the Defendant so long as Defendant was the original owner. The Court held this to be an erroneous statement of the law.
Whenever the statute of limitations bars a proceeding to recover property, the right to assert the statute as a defense to recovery passes to any subsequent owner of the property. Once Defendant lost the right to replevy the counters (which would have been in 1873), Defendant lost any right to take the counters back with his own hand. The right of replevin, once lost, cannot be revitalized by a transfer of the property to a third party.
One who purchases property from a seller against whom the remedy of replevin has passed under the statute of limitations is entitled to stand in as good a position as the seller.


The dissent would strictly construct the language of the statute of limitations to mean that the statute is tolled each time the shop is sold.


This holding in this case embodies a form of adverse possession or “limitation of title.” One should note that there are numerous exceptions to the rule articulated in this case.

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