Pierson v. Post

Procedural History

Pierson (killer) vs. Post (pursuer)

Post won in the lower court.

Pierson won in the Supreme Court.


Post was hunting a wild fox, on “unpossessed lands”; he found and pursued a fox.  Pierson, fully aware that post was hunting the fox, stepped in and killed and took the fox for himself.
Pierson – Maintained that only killing or actual capture amounted to possession of the animal.

Post – Argued for “probable capture” in that a pursuing hunter with a reasonable chance to capture has possession to create ownership.


Did Post, on pursuit with his hounds in the manner alleged in his declaration, acquired such a right to, or property in, the fox, as will sustain an action against Pierson on for killing and taking the fox away?


NO – Post didn’t have any property rights as to secure the fox for his possession.


What acts, amount to occupancy applied to acquiring a right to a wild animal?

Pursuit alone does not amount to property rights in a wild animal.  One needs to occupy the animal to have legal rights in the animal – in some instances, you don’t need complete occupancy (i.e. mortal wounding, and eminent seizure of the animal suffices possession.)

Court reasoning

Capture is required to vest a legal title for 2 main reasons

  1. Competition and efficient use of property
  2. It is easier to administer capturing a wild animal, versus pursuing a wild animal (i.e. when does pursuit begin? Who pursues first? What amounts to pursuit?)
    1. Having pursuit create occupancy would clog the judicial system and create many unnecessary quarrels over property.


Custom (that hot pursuit was legitimate for property ownership) did not hold water in this case, as it did with Ghen v. Rich.

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