The plaintiff, McAvoy, was a customer at a barber shop owned by the defendant, Medina, when he found and claimed a pocket-book seen lying on a table. The plaintiff showed it to the defendant, who proceeded to count the money inside. The plaintiff then instructed the defendant to take and advertise it as lost so that the true owner may have an opportunity to come forward. The defendant promised to act accordingly, yet the true owner was not located. The plaintiff made three demands for the money, but the defendant neglected to claim it until the final demand. Both parties agreed that the pocket-book was left on the table by a transient customer, first seen/found by the plaintiff, and, lastly, that the true owner was not found. The plaintiff brought action against the defendant seeking to recover a sum of money.
The prior court issued a verdict in favor of the defendant, ruling that the plaintiff could not maintain his action. The plaintiff now appeals alleging exceptions.
Does a customer who finds lost property in a shop obtain a more valid claim/right to the property than the shop owner if the true owner cannot be found?
The finder of lost property acquires possessory rights and a valid claim to the property against all the world except the true owner.
Per Justice Dewey, the finder of lost property is traditionally granted superior rights to it over all but the true owner, regardless of where it is found. However, the pocket-book in this instance was deemed to not be ‘lost property’ in the sense that it is subject to the aforementioned rule. The transient customer voluntarily placed the pocket book on the barber’s table, accidentally left it there, and failed to claim it. The plaintiff, also a customer of the shop, might have found it, but inevitably did not acquire any right to it. The defendant, on the other hand, exercised his lawful duty to use reasonable care in his attempts to advertise the pocket book and find the true owner. Similar to Lawrence v. The State, 1 Humph. (Tenn.) 228, a pocket book simply forgotten in a shop is not analogous to property lost. Therefore, the exception alleged by the plaintiff does not apply in this instance.
The court held that the plaintiff never acquired an original right to the property and the defendant’s actions in receiving and holding the property did not bestow any upon him. Thus, the court issued a judgment in favor of the defendant.