Benjamin v. Linder Aviation, Inc. Case Brief

Summary of Benjamin v. Linder Aviation, Inc., S.Ct of Iowa (1995), 534 N.W. 2d 400

Facts: Appellant (Heath Benjamin) who works for Linder Aviation (appellee) found over $18,000 in currency inside the wing of an airplane while servicing the plane that is owned by State Central Bank (appellee). All three parties claimed the money as against the true owner. Benjamin while conducting a routine servicing of the plane removed a couple of rusty screws holding a panel on the left wing, inside he discovered two packets wrapped in aluminum foil inside was currency with mint dates before the 1960s. Benjamin turned the money over the Linder who turned it over to the police. No one claimed the money within 12 months.

Procedural Posture:

  • The district court held that the currency was mislaid property and belonged to the owner of the plane.
  • The district court held that chapter 644 applies only to “lost" property and the money here was mislaid property. The court awarded the money to the bank, holding that it was entitled to possession of the money to the exclusion of all but the true owner. The court also held that Benjamin was a “finder" within the meaning of chapter 644 and awarded him a ten percent finder’s fee. (Iowa Code §644.13 states a finder of lost property is entitled to ten percent of the value of the lost property as a reward.)
  • Appellant (Benjamin) appealed.

Issue: Was Benjamin the true finder of the currency under the provisions of Iowa Code chapter 644 (1991)? Does Iowa Code § 644 supersede the common law classifications of found property?

Held: No. No.

Reasoning: J. Ternus.

  • The Iowa law has adopted an expansive view on lost property statutes. In 1937 the court ruled that “the old law of treasure trove is not merged in the statutory law of chapter 515 of Iowa’s code." In 1991 Iowa’s Supreme Court held that “the rights of finders of property vary according to the characterization of the property found."
  • The legislature had many opportunities to amend the statute to redefine the courts 1991 opinion if they did not agree with it. However the legislature did not. Thus, when the legislature leaves a statute unchanged after the supreme court has interrupted it, we presume the legislature has acquiesced in our interpretation. (state v sheffey)
  • Therefore, we presume here that the legislature approves of out application of chapter 644 to lost property only. Consequently, we hold that chapter 644 does not abrogate the common law classifications of found property.
  • The rights of a finder of property depend on how the found property is classified.
  • Classifications of found property (4 categories of found property):
    • 1. Abandoned Property– property is abandoned when the owner no longer wants to possess it. Shown by proof that the owner intends to abandon the property and has voluntarily relinquished all right. Abandoned prop belongs to the finder.
    • 2. Lost Property– Prop is lost when the owner unintentionally and involuntarily parts with its possession and does not know where it is. Stolen prop found by someone who did not participate in the theft is lost property.
    • 3. Mislaid Property– Is voluntarily put in a certain place by the owner who then overlooks or forgets where the property is. (Ritz) The finder of mislaid prop acquires no rights to the property.
    • 4. Treasure Trove– Consists of coins or currency concealed by the owner. The prop must have been hidden or concealed for such a length of time that the owner is probably dead or undiscoverable.
  • The currency found by Benjamin was mislaid. The place where money or prop claimed as lost is found is an important factor in the determination of the question of whether it was lost or only mislaid. In this case the money was carefully wrapped and concealed (clearly intentionally placed in its location by its owner) indicating that it was neither lost nor abandoned.
  • Lastly, the trial court was not obligated to decide whether the money was a treasure trove because it was only there for less than 35 years.
  • The importance of the premises of where the money was discovered- Mislaid property is entrusted to the owner of the premises where it is found rather than the finder of the prop because it is assumed that the true owner may eventually recall where he has placed his prop and return there to reclaim it. In this case the true owner would look for the airplane and not the place where it might have been inspected. Thus, Benjamin is the finder and not Linden and the bank as owner of the plane has the right to possession of the prop.

Decision: Affirmed.

Dissent: J. Snell.

  • These facts satisfy the requirement that the prop was voluntarily put in a certain place by the owner. But the second test for determination that the prop is mislaid is that the owner “overlooks or forgets where the prop is." I do not believe that the facts, logic, or common sense lead to a finding that his requirement is met. It is unlikely that one would forget where they placed $18,000.
  • The money found in the plane was abandoned. “Prop is abandoned when the owner no longer wants to posses it." (Ritz)

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