Brief Fact Summary.
Miller (Defendant) found an artifact on Favorite’s (Plaintiff) property and claimed ownership.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A landowner has a greater right to an item found on his property than does the individual who trespasses onto his land and finds it.
Where the trial court reaches a correct decision but on mistaken grounds, this court has repeatedly sustained the trial court's action if proper grounds exist to support it.View Full Point of Law
Defendant trespassed onto Plaintiff’s property. While there, he found and removed a valuable portion of a Revolutionary War statue. When Plaintiff sued for its return, Defendant claimed that the property was abandoned by its original owners and that, as the finder, he was entitled to keep it. Plaintiff argued that the artifact was “mislaid” instead of abandoned and that as owner of the premises upon which it was found, the artifact belonged to him. The court found that Plaintiff held superior tile and Defendant appealed.
Does an individual who trespasses onto the land of another and finds property have a greater right to that property than the landowner?
(Bogdanski, J.) No. A landowner has a greater right to an item found on his property than does the individual who trespasses onto his land and finds it. Regardless of whether the property is abandoned or mislaid, as historically categorized, a trespasser cannot hold greater right than the landowner. The trespasser has no legal right to be on the land in the first place, so he cannot benefit from his trespass. Defendant knowingly trespassed and, therefore, Plaintiff is entitled to the property found on his land. Affirmed.
Two lines of authority were merged in this ruling. One provided that a landowner is presumed to own property found on his land, unless the finder of the property can overcome the presumption. The second provided that items found on land are similar to mineral rights, and that the landowner clearly owns all items found on, in, or under his land.