Summary of Favorite (P) v. Miller (D), Supreme Court of Connecticut, 1978
D determined that a part of a statue of King George III might be found in the swamp on P’s land. He was informed that he should contact the owners of the property before attempting to locate the part of the statue. He did not comply and instead took his metal detector, went to the swamp, found the piece and uncovered it from within the ground. D turned the piece over to a Museum in NYC while the case was being decided. If it were decided in his favor, the museum would pay him for the find.
Does D have the possessory rights to the piece of the statue?
1. Lost property has traditionally been defined as involving an involuntary parting, where no intent on the part of the loser to part with the ownership of the property.
2. Abandonment, in turn, has been defined as the voluntary relinquishment of ownership of property without reference to any particular person or purpose.
3. Mislaid property is defined as that which is intentionally placed by the owner where he can obtain custody of it, but afterwards forgotten.
4. Locus in quo – the place where the lost property was found.
Typically, if the property was found to be lost or abandoned, the finder would prevail, whereas if the property was characterized as mislaid, the owner or occupier of the land would prevail.
The classification of property into these categories requires the courts to determine the intent or mental state of the unknown party who at some time in the past parted with the ownership or control of the property.
1. Except where the trespass is trivial or merely technical, the fact that the finder is trespassing is sufficient to deprive him of his normal preference over the owner of the place where the property was found.
2. Property, other than treasure trove, which is found embedded in the earth is the property of the owner of the locus in quo.
The defendant’s trespass was neither trivial nor technical because he knew he was trespassing when he entered upon the property and because the property found was embedded in the earth, meaning he had to dig it up before he could claim it.
The lower court is upheld.