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Tapscott v. Lessee of Cobbs

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Brief Fact Summary. A man moved onto an unoccupied piece of land without any title. The heirs of the deceased owner brought an action of ejectment against him.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. A person who has the right to possess land may successfully bring an action of ejectment against a person who has ousted him or her in order to regain possession.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

According to the case of Tapscott v. Cobb, 11 Grat., 172 , a party in peaceable possession, when entered upon and ousted by one not having title to or authority to enter on the land, may recover the premises in ejectment on his possession merely, and his right to recover cannot be resisted by showing that there is or may be an outstanding title in another, but only by showing that the defendant himself has title or authority to enter under the title; and in such a case the utmost that the verdict could find would not import a greater or more definite and certain estate in the plaintiffs than the present verdict does.

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Facts. Cobbs wrongfully takes property from the true landowner but claims to be the rightful owner. Then, Tapscott enters the land and occupies it. Cobbs brings an action for ejectment to remove Tapscott from the land.

Issue. Even though a person may not have title to property she possesses, can she still successfully regain possession of the land when another person forces himself onto the land?

Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
Neither of the two parties are the true owner of the land. When a dispute arises over possession of the land, the land will be given to the first possessor. The suit is not about who has title, but about who has a right of possession, so the later possessor cannot defend his claim by showing that title belongs to a third person.

Discussion. When two people have an interest in land that is solely possessory, and one has ousted the other, the first possessor will have priority in the land over the subsequent possessor. The idea of title is relative – title may be good against one person (such as a subsequent possessor) but not against another (such as the true owner). Otherwise, people may engage in violence to get possession of land and still be able to defeat the claim of the original posse

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