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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Herein of a lost rare stamp, absentee ballots, and Florida voters

What is it about Florida voters? An article today at Yahoo news begins:

A Florida voter may have unwittingly lost hundreds of thousands of dollars by using an extremely rare stamp to mail an absentee ballot in Tuesday's congressional election, a government official said on Friday.

The 1918 Inverted Jenny stamp, which takes its name from an image of a biplane accidentally printed upside-down, turned up on Tuesday night in Fort Lauderdale, where election officials were inspecting ballots from parts of south Florida, Broward County Commissioner John Rodstrom told Reuters.

Only 100 of the stamps have ever been found, making them one of the top prizes of all philately.

Suppose the absent mined absentee voter realizes what he has done and asks for his stamp back? Well, it appears that the quality of mercy is strained after all in Broward County. Mr Rodstrom "said he doubted the stamp would ever be handed over to someone claiming to have mailed it inadvertently. 'It would be hard to prove, I guess you would have to say it was a person who had Alzheimer's,' he said." 

As they say in Florida, finders keepers, losers weepers.

But query? Suppose a voter shows up and can prove that he owned such a stamp and claims to have used it unintentionally? Is this abandoned property? Lost property? How should such a case come out?

Hmmm. I think I see an exam question beginning to take shape!

Rick Duncan

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November 11, 2006 in Personal Property | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Possession as the Root of Title

Over at How Appealing, Howard Bashman reports on a recent 4th Circuit property case (excerpt):

"That possession is nine-tenths of the law is a truism hardly bearing repetition. Statements to this effect have existed almost as long as the common law itself." A unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today issued an opinion that begins, "This case concerns the ownership of papers from the administrations of two governors of South Carolina during the Civil War."

In that opinion, written by Circuit Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, the Fourth Circuit affirms a federal district court's ruling that the State of South Carolina "failed to establish that the papers constituted public property under South Carolina law of the Civil War era." As a result, a man who, according to today's opinion, "found the papers in 1999 or 2000 in a shopping bag in a closet at his late stepmother's home" retains ownership of the documents.

More discussion and more links at How Appealing here. This is the same case Al just posted about.

Rick Duncan

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October 29, 2006 in Personal Property | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rights in Property Created Under Duress

Today's NY Times has an article about Dina Babbit, a holocaust survivor who was directed by Mengele to paint portraits of Gypsy prisoners at Auschwitz.  The paintings now hang in a museum at Auschwitz, and Ms. Babbit and the museum are in a long-running dispute about ownership.  The museum acknowledges that Ms. Babbit created the paintings, but argues that the paintings should be the property of the museum.  Based on the article, the museum seems to have two arguments in support of its claim of ownership.  First, it suggests that because the paintings are of such cultural and historical importance, the rights of the museum should trump those of the creator/original owner.  Second, a spokesperson for the museum suggested that because the paintings were created under duress, the creator has a reduced interest in the work:   “we do not regard these as personal artistic creations but as documentary work done under direct orders from Dr. Mengele and carried out by the artist to ensure her survival.”  I both arguments troubling, but the second argument is appalling.  I don't see how duress reduces the creator's claim to the created object.

Ben Barros

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August 30, 2006 in Personal Property | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Property and Russell Banks's Cloudsplitter

    I've been invited to guest blog for a while, an invitation which I am happy to accept.  I have been reading Cloudsplitter, Russell Banks's enormous and fascinating novel about John Brown and his sons.  Cloudsplitter has been in print for eight years but I'm sometimes slow to catch up.  Read (or re-read) it, as it offers remarkable insights into the nature of property (human slavery, of course, in this instance), the way some things lose their status as property, and the psychological process that produces extreme political violence, usually called terrorism. As to the latter point, Banks's fictional account of the process by which John Brown and his sons turned to radical violence in their moral quest to end slavery in America resonates particularly strongly in this era of global terrorism rooted in religious conviction. As to property, Cloudsplitter raises, at least to a property prof, questions about how things lose their status as property.  As we all know, property is not about the relations of people to things, but about the relations between people with respect to things.  How does (should) society restructure these relationships to "de-propertize" (if that's a word) such relationships?  We use ordinary legal processes to (mostly) increase the range of legal entitlement to intellectual property, and we rely on custom to create socially (if not legally) recognized entitlements to such things as a parking place from which one has cleared the snow, or a seat at a meeting.  These processes work in reverse, in theory, but how often do we actually eliminate property?  Extending the public trust doctrine to provide waterfront access is an example, but such extensions are limited by the takings clause.  Did Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation constitute a taking?  Odious thought, of course.  We start out Property by asking students to figure out where property rights come from in the first instance.  Cloudsplitter caused me to wonder whether we ought to spend a little time also in the beginning asking students to figure out when and how property rights ought to disappear.   

Calvin Massey

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August 17, 2006 in Books, Personal Property, Property Theory, Takings, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)