South Staffordshire Water Co. v. Sharman

2 Q.B. 44 (1896)

Quick Summary

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An employee (the defendant) found two gold rings at the bottom of a swimming pool. The employee gave them to the police so they could find their owners, but the police returned the rings as no real owner was found. Staffordshire Water Company (plaintiff) filed a lawsuit to recover the rings.

The lower court ruled that no contract gave the plaintiff clear ownership rights. Plaintiff appealed.

The court of the Queen’s Bench ruled in favor of the plaintiff because where a person has power over land, any objects found on that land are presumed to be in the owner’s possession.

Rule of Law

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There is a presumption that anytime something is discovered on a person’s property; the proprietor retains ownership.

Facts of the Case

Facts of the case Icon

The owner of a property with a pool, South Staffordshire Water Company (plaintiff), hired Sharman (the defendant) to clean the pool. Sharman found two gold rings in the deposit at the bottom of the pool. Plaintiff asked the defendant for the rings, but the defendant refused. The defendant then gave the rings to the police so they could find the real owner.

The police eventually returned the rings to Sharman after failing to identify their owners.

Staffordshire filed a lawsuit to recover the rings. However, the lower court determined that there was no contract that gave Staffordshire clear ownership rights.

The court determined that the precedent established in Bridges v. Hawkesworth, 21 L.J. Q.B. 75 (1851), “finders keepers except to the true owner,” applied to the facts of the case and established Sharman’s sole claim to ownership of the rings. Plaintiff filed an appeal.


Issue Icon

Is the landowner also the legal and complete owner of the items that the worker discovered and claimed as his own?

Holding and Conclusion

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Yes. Judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

The court held that where a person has power over land and desires to prohibit others from meddling, any objects found on that land are presumed to be in the owner’s possession, regardless of whether the object is discovered by an employee of the owner or a stranger.

In this case, the pool and surrounding grounds were not accessible to the public and were in the jurisdiction of the Plaintiffs.

Reasoning and Analysis

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A ruling in favor of the defendant would encourage stealing by servants and employees.

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