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Benjamin v. Lindner Aviation, Inc.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Heath Benjamin (Plaintiff) was employed by Lindner Aviation (Defendant) when he found $18,000 in the wing of an airplane owned by State Central Bank (Defendant). The court determined that the money belonged to State Central Bank (Defendant) and Plaintiff appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Mislaid property belongs to the owner of the premises upon which the property is found, not to the person finding it.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff was employed as an airplane inspector for Lindner Aviation (Defendant). He was inspecting an airplane owned by State Central Bank (Defendant), when he found foil wrapped packets of twenty-dollar bills minted in the 1950s. The money totaled $18,000. Plaintiff turned the money over to the authorities and then filed an affidavit with the county auditor claiming to be the finder of the money. Iowa Code chapter 644 required published and posted notices regarding the money. Both Defendants filed similar claims to the money. After no other claims to the money after 12 months, Plaintiff filed for declaratory judgment against both Defendants to establish his right to the money. The trial court held that chapter 644 applied only to “lost” money and that this money was instead “mislaid,” thereby belonging to the owner of the plane where it was found, State Central Bank. Plaintiff was awarded only a 10% finder’s fee. Plaintiff and Lindner Aviation (Defendant) appealed.

    Issue.

    Does a person finding mislaid property attain any legal rights to that property?

    Held.

    (Ternus, J.) No. Mislaid property belongs to the owner of the premises upon which the property is found, not to the person finding it. Chapter 644 did not eliminate the common law distinctions between types of found property. “Mislaid” property is property intentionally placed by the owner who then forgets the location of the property. It is not lost property. The money was found in State Central Bank’s airplane, and therefore is entitled to recover the property. Affirmed.

    Dissent.

    (Snell, J.) Plaintiff should recover as the finder of abandoned property. The money was minted more than thirty years before it was discovered, meeting the legal test for abandonment.

    Discussion.

    The money in this case does seem to have been abandoned, not mislaid, due to the amount of time it appeared to have been there. The money was found on the Bank’s airplane, however, not left out in an open area.


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