Summary of Morgan v. Wiser (1985), TN Court of Appeals, 711 S.W.2d 220
Procedural history: P’s claim was dismissed by Chancellor. P appeals.
Facts: P alleges D trespassed onto his farm, searched premises with a metal detector, and found a cache of gold buried on P’s land. D filed affidavits stating they had found old, metal coins on property. Coins were between 8 and 20 inches deep in land. It appeared that the container in which they had been buried had decomposed. Chancellor applied rule that ‘finder has title against all except the rightful owner’ and found for defendants.
Issues: Does TN’s larceny statute apply? (Text of statute on p. 66) >No.
Into what category does the found property fall, and does this category of property found give the owner of the real estate a right to treasure found on it?
Holding: Treasure trove falls into the category of lost property, but granted ownership to the owner of the real estate. Presumption is that the possession of the article found is in the owner of the ‘locus in quo.’
Reasoning: Lost property typically is said to be the property of the finder (as opposed to mislaid property, which goes to the owner of the real estate). Court found this rule to be out of step with notions of fair play. Provides an incentive for treasure seekers to trespass with their metal detectors to find treasure on other people’s land, because the law would reward them for it. This is not consistent with current trespassing laws.
We want to ensure the sanctity of property rights and we want treasures to be unearthed.
Lost vs mislaid in Note 3 on page 69