SW Legal studies in Business

Buried Treasure Is Mislaid Property That Belongs to Landowner
Description Appeals court held that gold coins that were buried for decades, and were uncovered by workers are mislaid property that belong to the present landowner. The old rule of "finders keepers" for such treasure is not considered good law.
Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words Treasure Trove; Mislaid Property; Finders Keepers
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Wenner hired Anderson to build a driveway on his ranch near Sun Valley, Idaho. Anderson and his employee, Corliss, were excavating soil when they uncovered a jar containing 96 gold pieces dating 1857 to 1914. Anderson and Corliss first agreed to split the coins but then argued, so Anderson fired Corliss and turned the coins over to Wenner. Corliss sued, contending the coins belonged to him and Anderson as finders. The district court held that the "finders keepers" rule of treasure trove has not been adopted in Idaho and was not a part of the common law of England incorporated into Idaho law at the time of statehood. The coins, having been concealed, were mislaid property. As such, the right of possession goes to the land owner. Corliss appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. As a unique case to Idaho, the law is not settled. The finder of lost property or treasure trove, which includes gold coins so long concealed that the owner is dead or unknown, has "a right to possess the property against the entire world but the rightful owner regardless of the place of finding." On the other hand, the finder of mislaid property, which is personal property the owner intentionally set down but then forgot where he put it, must give the property to the owner of the premises, who has a duty to safeguard the property for its true owner. The modern trend is against the "finders keepers" rule of treasure trove, which goes back to the right of possession to buried Roman treasures discovered in feudal times. "The average Idaho landowner would expect to have a possessory interest in any object uncovered on his or her property. And certainly the notion that a trespassing treasure hunter, or a hired handyman or employee, could or might have greater possessory rights than a landowner in objects uncovered on his or her property runs counter to the reasonable expectations of present-day land ownership." This is mislaid property that belongs to the landowner unless the true owner is identified.

Citation Corliss v. Wenner, 2001 WL 1007928 (Ct. App. Idaho, 2001)

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