Hannah v. Peel

Procedural History

Hannah (finder) v. Peel (property owner)


Defendant owned a house, in which he never physically occupied…he bought it in 1938, and in 1940 was requisitioned for quartering soldiers….The plaintiff was a soldier and found a brooch (decorative jewelry worth a lot of money), in which he turned over to the police to find the actual owner of the good. The finder found the good under cobwebs and dirt and in a crevice in his bedroom wall.

No one claimed the good.

– Defendant never possessed the land, was never on the land, and the Plaintiff was a legal occupant in which he found something which was not owned.


Who has the right to the brooch, when neither are the actual owner of the good?

-Lost property, the rights of title and ownership go to the finder even if it is someone else’s property (also take into account the status of the “finder”).


Plaintiff (finder).


Rather than having a black and white rule, the courts tend to look at these cases (when a landowner doesn’t have possession of a good, and a legal occupant finds a lost item) in light of what the reasonable expectations of the landowner are.

  1. Lost property, goes to the finder – prior possessor rule – akin to armory case
  2. Exception to the rule is if an employee finds a good, the good is retained to the employer because the employee is action on behalf of the employer.
  3. Exception – lost property found under the soil or embedded in the soil belongs to the landowner.

Court reasoning

Bridge v. Hawksworth – that a finder of a lost article is entitled to that good against all person except the real owner, and that the place where the goods were found, does not make any legal difference at all (plaintiff/finder’s argument).

South Staffordshire Water Co. v. Sharman – the possessor of land is generally entitled, as against the finder, to chattels found on that land (defendant/landowner argument).

Constructive possession of the good – if this theory is to be applied, literally, and then the owner of the house would retain possession of the good. However, in this case, one must realize that possession of the house was turned over to the government, and the key lies in the expectations of the landowner – once the house was transferred over to the government, the owner of the house’s expectation was greatly diminished.

The plaintiff is a lawful occupant of the property, with broad rights to use and enjoy the land, however if the finder is an employee (a plumber) or for a special purpose (delivering mail) the law will generally side with the owner of the house.

The owner was never physically in possession of the premises at any time, and that he brooch was never his (i.e. didn’t have prior possession) in that the brooch was an item of lose property – furthermore, the plaintiff was a finder in every essence of the word.

  • Neither party was the true owner, so the law sided with the finder because the P was a lawful occupant on premises, and the item was not claimed by anybody.

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