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DURFEE v. JONES.
SUPREME COURT OF RHODE ISLAND. 1877.
(Reported 11 R. I. 588.] ASSUMPSIT, heard by the court, jury trial being waived.
DURFEE, C. J. The facts in this case are briefly these: In April, 1874, the plaintiff bought an old safe, and soon afterwards instructed his agent to sell it again. The agent offered to sell it to the defendant for ten dollars, but the defendant refused to buy it. The agent then left it with the defendant, who was a blacksmith, at his shop for sale for ten dollars, authorizing him to keep his books in it until it was sold or reclaimed. The safe was old-fashioned, of sheet-iron, about three feet square, having a few pigeon-holes and a place for books, and back of the place for books a large crack in the lining. The defendant shortly after the safe was left, upon examining it, found secreted between the sheet-iron exterior and the wooden lining a roll of bills amounting to $165, of the denomination of the national bank bills which have been current for the last ten or twelve years. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant knew the money was there before it was found. The owner of the money is still unknown. The defendant informed the plaintiff's agent that he had found it, and offered it to him for the plaintiff; but the agent declined it, stating that it did not belong to either himself or the plaintiff, and advised the defendant to deposit it where it would be drawing interest until the rightful owner appeared. The plaintiff was then out of the city. Upon his return, being informed of the finding, he immediately called on the defendant and asked for the money, but the defendant refused to give it to him. He then, after taking advice, demanded the return of the safe and its contents, precisely as they esisted when placed in the defendant's hands. The defendant promptly gave up the safe, but retained the money. The plaintiff brings this action to recover it or its equivalent.
The plaintiff does not claim that he acquired, by purchasing the safe, any right to the money in the safe as against the owner; for he bought the safe alone, not the safe and its contents. See Merry v. Green, 7 M. & W. 623. But he claims that as between himself and the defendant his is the better right. The defendant, however, has the possession, and therefore it is for the plaintiff, in order to succeed in his action, to prove his better right.
The plaintiff claims that he is entitled to have the money by the right of prior possession. But the plaintiff never had any possession of the money, except, unwittingly, by having possession of the safe which contained it. Such possession, if possession it can be called, does not of itself confer a right. The case at bar is in this view like Bridges v. Havkesworth, 15 Jur. 1079; 21 L. J. Q. B. 75, A. D. 1851 ; 7 Eng. L. & Eq. 424. In that case, the plaintiff, while in the defendant's shop on business, picked up from the floor a parcel containing bank notes. He gave them to the defendant for the owner if he could be found. The owner could not be found, and it was held that the plaintiff as finder was entitled to them, as against the defendant as owner of the shop in which they were found. - The notes," said the court, “ never were in the custody of the defendant nor within the protection of his house, before they were found, as they would have been if they had been intentionally deposited there.” The same in effect may be said of the notes in the case at bar; for though they were originally deposited in the safe by design, they were not so deposited in the safe, after it became the plaintiff's safe, so as to be in the protection of the safe as his safe, or so as to affect him with any responsibility for them. The case at bar is also in this respect like Tatum v. Sharpless, 6 Phila. 18. There it was held, that a conductor who had found money which had been lost in a railroad car was entitled to it as against the railroad company.
The plaintiff also claims that the money was not lost, but designedly left where it was found, and that therefore as owner of the safe he is entitled to its custody. He refers to cases in which it has been held, that money or other property voluntarily laid down and forgotten is not in legal contemplation lost, and that of such money or property the owner of the shop or place where it is left is the proper custodian rather than the person who happens to discover it first. State v. McCann, 19 Mo. 249; Lawrence v. The State, 1 Humph. 228; McAvoy v. Medina, 11 Allen, 549. It may be questioned whether this distinction has not been pushed to an extreme. See Kincaid v. Eaton, 98 Mass. 139. But however that may be, we think the money here, though designedly left in the safe, was probably not designedly put in the crevice or interspace where it was found, but that, being left in the safe, it probably slipped or was accidentally shoved into the place where it was found without the knowledge of the owner, and so was lost, in the stricter sense of the word. The money was not simply deposited and forgotten, but deposited and lost by reason of a defect or insecurity in the place of deposit.
The plaintiff claims that the finding was a wrongful act on the part of the defendant, and that therefore he is entitled to recover the money or to have it replaced. We do not so regard it. The safe was left with the defendant for sale. As seller he would properly examine it under an implied permission to do so, to qualify him the better to act as seller. Also under the permission to use for his books, he would have the right to inspect it to see if it was a fit depository. And finally, as a possible purchaser he might examine it, for though he had once declined to purchase, he might on closer examination change his mind. And the defendant, having found in the safe something which did not belong there, might, we think, properly remove it. He certainly would not be expected either to sell the safe to another, or to buy it himself without first removing it. It is not pretended that he used any violence or did any harm to the safe. And it is evident that the idea that any trespass or tort had been committed did not even occur to the plaintiff's agent when he was first informed of the finding.
The general rule undoubtedly is, that the finder of lost property is entitled to it as against all the world except the real owner, and that ordinarily the place where it is found does not make any difference. We cannot find anything in the circumstances of the case at bar to take it out of this rule.
We give the defendant judgment for costs. A. J. Cushing, for plaintiff. Francis W. Minor, for defendant."
HAMAKER V. BLANCHARD.
SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA. 1879.
[Reported 90 Pa. 377.] Before SHARSWOOD, C. J., MERCUR, GORDON, Paxson, WOODWARD, TRUNKEY, and STERRETT, JJ.
Error to the Court of Common Pleas of Mifflin County : Of May Term, 1879, No. 57.
Assumpsit by James Blanchard and Sophia, his wife, for the use of the wife, against W. W. Hamaker.
This was an appeal from the judgment of a justice of the peace. The material facts were these : Sophia Blanchard was a domestic servant in a hotel in Lewistown, of which the defendant was the proprietor. While thus employed, she found in the public parlor of the hotel, three twenty-dollar bills. On finding the money, she went with it to Mr. Hamaker, and informed hini of the fact, and upon his remarking that he thought it belonged to a whip-agent, a transient guest of the hotel, she gave it to him, for the purpose of returning it to said agent. It was afterwards ascertained that the money did not belong to the agent, and no claim was made for it by any one. Sophia afterwards demanded the money of defendant, who refused to deliver it to her. Defendant admitted that he still had the custody of the money.
In the general charge the court (BUCHER, P. J.), inter alia, said: “ If you find that this was lost money, Hamaker did not lose it, and that it never belonged to him, but that it belonged to some one else who has not appeared to claim it, then you ought to find for the plaintiff, on the principle that the finder of a lost chattel is entitled to the possession and use of it as against all the world except the true owner.
. . The counsel for the defendant asks us to say that as the defendant was the proprietor of a hotel and the money was found therein, the
1 See Elwes v. Brigg Gas Co., 33 Ch. D. 562.
presumption of law is that it belonged to a guest, who had lost it, and that the defendant has a right to retain it as against this woman, the finder, to await the demand of the true owner. I decline to give you such instructions; but charge you that under the circumstances there is no presumption of law that this money was lost by a guest at the hotel, and that the defendant is entitled to keep it as against this woman for the true owner."
The verdict was for the plaintiffs for $60, with interest, and after judgment thereon, defendant took this writ and assigned for error the foregoing portions of the charge.
H. J. Culbertson, for plaintiff in error.
It seems to be settled law that the finder of lost property has a valid claim to the same against all the world, except the true owner, and generally that the place in which it is found creates no exception to this rule. But property is not lost, in the sense of the rule, if it was intentionally laid on a table, counter or other place, by the owner, who forgot to take it away, and in such case the proprietor of the premises is entitled to retain the custody. Whenever the surroundings evidence that the article was deposited in its place, the finder has no right of possession against the owner of the building. McAvoy v. Medina, 11 Allen (Mass.), 548. An article casually dropped is within the rule. Where one went into a shop, and as he was leaving picked up a parcel of bank notes, which was lying on the floor, and immediately showed them to the shopman, it was held that the facts did not warrant the supposition that the notes had been deposited there intentionally, they being manifestly lost by some one, and there was no circumstance in the case to take it out of the general rule of law, that the finder of a lost article is entitled to it as against all persons, except the real owner. Bridges v. Haukesworth.
The decision in Mathews v. Farsell, 1 E. D. Smith (N. Y.), 393, is not in conflict with the principle, nor is it an exception. Mrs. Mathews, a domestic in the house of Mrs. Barmore, found some Texas notes, which she handed to her mistress, to keep for her. Mrs. Barmore afterwards intrusted the notes to Harsell, for the purpose of ascertaining their value, informing him that she was acting for her servant, for whom she held the notes. Harsell sold them, and appropriated the proceeds; whereupon Mrs. Mathews sued him and recovered their value, with interest from date of sale. Such is that case. True, Woodruff, J., says: “I am by no means prepared to hold that a house-servant who finds lost jewels, money or chattels, in the house of his or her employer, acquires any title even to retain possession against the will of the employer. It will tend much more to promote honesty and justice to require servants in such cases to deliver the property so found to the employer, for the benefit of the true owner.” To that remark, foreign to the case as understood by himself, he added the
antidote: “And yet the court of Queen's Bench in England have recently decided that the place in which a lost article is found, does not form the ground of any exception to the general rule of law, that the finder is entitled to against all persons, except the owner.” His views of what will promote honesty and justice are entitled to respect, yet many may think Mrs. Barmore's method of treating servants far superior.
The assignments of error are to so much of the charge as instructed the jury that, if they found the money in question was lost, the defendant had no right to retain it because found in his hotel, the circumstances raising no presumption that it was lost by a guest, and their verdict ought to be for the plaintiff. That the money was not voluntarily placed where it was found, but accidentally lost, is settled by the verdict. It is admitted that it was found in the parlor, a public place open to all. There is nothing to indicate whether it was lost by a guest, or a boarder, or one who had called with or without business. The pretence that it was the property of a guest, to whom the defendant would be liable, is not founded on an act or circumstance in evidence.
Many authorities were cited, in argument, touching the rights, duties and responsibilities of an inn-keeper in relation to his guests; these are so well settled as to be uncontroverted. In respect to other persons than guests, an innkeeper is as another man. When money is found in his house, on the floor of a room common to all classes of persons, no presumption of ownership arises ; the case is like the finding upon the floor of a shop. The research of counsel failed to discover authority that an innkeeper shall have an article which another finds in a public room of his house, where there is no circumstance pointing to its loss by a guest. In such case the general rule should prevail. If the finder be an honest woman, who immediately informs her employer, and gives him the article on his false pretence that he knows the owner and will restore it, she is entitled to have it back and hold it till the owner
A rule of law ought to apply to all alike. Persons employed in inns will be encouraged to fidelity by protecting them in equality of rights with others. The learned judge was right in his instructions to the jury.
Judgment affirmed. MERCUR, J., dissents.
1 See Tatum v. Sharpless, accord. 6 Phil. 18 (1865).