People lose and find property all the time. There are four categories of found property:

  • Lost – unintentionally and involuntarily parting.
  • Mislaid – Voluntarily parted, but unintentionally forgotten.
  • Abandoned – Voluntarily and intentionally parted.
  • Treasure Trove – Concealed long ago.

The main difference between the rule of finding and the rule of capture is that when people find property, it previously had an owner. As a result, there are different protections for each of these categories. The following cases outline these categories.

Armory v. Delamirie

93 Eng. Rep. 664 (1722).

Armory is the plaintiff. This case is about the first possessor.


Who owns the jewel?


The finder of the jewel has a greater right to possession than anyone else, except the rightful owner.


Armory is entitled to payment for the jewel.


Armory was a chimney sweep. He found the jewel and brought it to a goldsmith, who removed the jewel from the source and offered payment. When Armory refused payment and wanted the jewel, the object without the jewel was returned. Thus, Armory sued for the jewel.


Because Armory was the first person to find the jewel, he has rightful possession against anyone else. This leads to other questions such as “what if the previous owner was not the rightful owner?” or “why didn’t the goldsmith have better claim because he was in “present possession” of the jewel?”

Ultimately, the finder is the person who owns the item, not a later possessor.

This is a case of lost property.

Additional Notes

This rule is simply an application of “first possession.” The person who finds the property has possessory rights over everyone else, except the true owner. The possessor would eventually have a higher claim that the true owner through the passage of time (adverse possession). So, the finder is only a possessor until he claims ownership through adverse possession. If the item sold, the new person takes the place of the original finder and the only person who can have a claim would be the true owner.

When a person possesses on object under the authority of another is called a bailment. The possessor (finder) is the bailee while the person who authorizes possession is the bailor. A good example of this is principle is when one party allows another party to watch a pet while they are away. The dog would be the bailment, while the dog sitter is the bailee and the owner is the bailor. A bailee has a duty to care for the possession for the actual owner.

What if the chimneysweep was a thief? Does the law protect their interest over the goldsmith? Yes. The reason for this is that society wants to discourage continual thievery.

Hannah v. Peel

1 K.B. 509 (1945).

Hannah is the plaintiff.


Does the location of the found property matter?


The presumption is that everything attached to the land belongs to the owner of that land. However, if the owner is unaware of the possession and is only brought to be aware by the notice from the finder, then the finder has possessory rights.


Hannah is the finder, he wins.


Peel owned property but never went to that property. Instead, it was used for military purposes. Hannah, a military official, was using the property and discovered a broach. Upon discovery, Hannah turned it over to the police to find the true owner. When the true owner could not be found, the broach was given to Peel, who sold it. Hannah then sued for the total of the sale, being the owner.


See the rule. Because Hannah was the one who gave notice and Peel was never on the land, Hannah can be considered the true owner.

This is the case for lost property.

Additional Notes

Understanding the Facts:

  • The owner of the house if Peel
  • The finder of the property was Hannah
  • Possession of the property is through Hannah

Hannah discovered the item in the window and reported it to the police. When the police couldn’t discover the true owner, they gave the item to Peel, who sold it for a profit.


To figure out who owns the item, the court goes through several cases of precedent. The first was Bridges v. Hawkesworth. In this case, there was a customer in the shop who discovered a parcel, containing money, in the shop. They gave it to the shopkeeper to determine who the true owner was. When the true owner couldn’t be found, both parties questioned who should get the money. Here, the finder won. Things to note in this case was that the shop was open to the public. In the current instance, the court was more open to the public rather than for private use.

Another case was South Staffordshire. In this case, rings were found in a pond on the property of the land. In this case, the rings were given to the owners of the land. The reason for this is because the rings were found by those employed to do the bidding of the owner.

Finally, Elewes, a boat was found embedded into the land. Here, the owner of the land won again because of this embedding.

In the current instance, the item was not attached to the land. Additionally, the land was unoccupied by the owner.


Here, the rule of law is that the property owner is presumed to have a better claim than the finder. However, when the property is unoccupied (or not controlled by the land owner) then the finder has a better claim than the land owner.

Let’s change the facts for hypothetical purposes:

  • If the finder is the trespasser = land owner has possession.
  • If the finder was a social guest on occupied land = land owner has possession.
  • Additionally, if the item was embedded into the land = land owner has possession.
  • Finally, if the item was found in an open, public area = finder has possession.

McAvoy v. Medina

11 Allen 548 (Mass. 1866).

The defendant won in trial court and the plaintiff appealed.


Does things change when the property was misplaced instead of lost?


When the property is misplaced, not lost, the finder acquired no right to the property and it is their job to exercise reasonable care of safekeeping until the owner returns for it.


The wallet belongs to the barber shop. Affirmed.


Here is a case between a barber and his client. A previous client had left their wallet on the table and this customer discovered it later. Upon discovery of the wallet, it was kept by the barber for the true owner to come into possession. When the true owner did not come, the customer demanded the wallet and was refused. So, this lawsuit ensued.


This is different than the previous case because the wallet here was misplaced, not lost. When the wallet is misplaced, the only right to the finder is to protect it until the true owner comes to return. In that case, the barber is in a better position to keep the wallet because the true owner is likely to return to the barber.

Additional Notes

There is a distinction between McAvoy and Hannah. This case seems more factually similar to Bridges mentioned above. The only difference is that the item was lost in Bridges, while here it was mislaid. Mislaid property is property that is voluntarily placed but unintentionally forgotten. This is different than lost property where it was involuntary placed and unintentionally forgotten.

Mislaid property goes to the land owner, not the finder. The purpose of this is to ensure the easiest way of returning to the true owner if they come to reclaim the property.

If the wallet was found on the floor, the finder would have taken it instead of the land owner. However, what if the shop was rented? Would it go to the landlord, the tenant, or the finder? Here, it would go to the tenant, since that is where the true owner would go to look for it.

Benjamin v. Lindner Aviation, Inc.

534 N.W.2d 400 (Iowa 1995).

Benjamin is the plaintiff, he lost possession of all but was awarded a 10% finders fee. He appealed.


Who possess the money, the bank, the plane, or the discoverer?


This is mislaid (the circumstances point to this conclusion), so, law of lost goods does not apply.


Mislaid, goes to the bank, affirmed in part, reversed in part.


The bank had obtained possession of the plane and sent it to Aviation for inspection. Benjamin was an employee who performed the inspection and discovered the money in the wing. He wanted to split it with his supervisor, but the supervisor reported the discovery to aviation. All parties claimed that the money, nearly $19,000, was theirs to possess.

The trial court determined that the property here was not lost but mislaid. As a result, the aviation was in a better position to return the money if the true owner called for it and provided Benjamin with a 10% finders fee, determining that he was a finder.


The tricky part here is to determine if the money was lost, misplaced, or abandoned. The majority agrees with the trial court that it was misplaced and therefore, the money should go to the bank for the true owner to have the best opportunity to find it.

However, the dissent disagrees saying that it would be very difficult for someone to forget about that much money. As a result, it would be considered abandoned and therefore the owner would be the finder. The dissent believes that it is unfair that the category of the money means that the dissent gets nothing.

Additional Notes

Our focus is on the nature of the item and where it was found.

Each the bank (plane owner), the aviation company (plane is on their property), and Benjamin (employee of aviation company and the finder) are making claims on the found money.

Going through each category:

  • Treasure Trove – This is not a treasure trove because the money here was too recent. It was maximum only 30 years old.
  • Lost – This is not lost property because it was easy to tell that the property was found in a nature that looks like it was intentionally there.
  • Abandoned – This is not abandoned property because people would not overlook nearly $19,000 dollars.
  • Mislaid – This was mislaid property because it was intentionally left (why it’s not lost) but likely just not able to recall the location.

So, this goes to the bank. Why? Because it was found in the plane and the bank was the owner of the bank. The actual owner would likely come to the bank because that is where the plane was.


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.

Categories: 1L Spring, Property

Will Laursen

Show Your Support


Table of Contents