In 1990, Scientific Search Associates, a group of salvors searching for Spanish galleons, located the wreck of a Navy Devastator TBD-1 torpedo bomber (Opinion 1). The TBD was historically significant, as it was the only bomber of its kind to survive the war. In order for the court to determine the rightful owner of the plane, it first had to determine whether the bomber was misplaced, lost, or abandoned. Once the status of the plane was determined, it led to speculations on the reason for the difference in property ownership laws, as well as the rights of individuals or organizations in the recovery of federal property.
According to the United States Supreme Court, there are three distinct types of personal property that can be found by others. These types include misplaced, lost, and abandoned property. Property is mislaid when its owner voluntarily places the property somewhere and then inadvertently forgets it (Cheeseman, 2006). Property is considered to be lost when a property owner leaves property somewhere because of negligence, carelessness, or inadvertence (Cheeseman, 2006). Abandoned property has been discarded by the owner with the intent to relinquish his or her rights in it and mislaid or lost property that the owner has given up further attempts to locate (Cheeseman, 2006). If the Navy TBD-1 Devastator was not federal property, the fact that there was no indication that any efforts were made to locate the plane would qualify the Navys actions as abandonment (Finders, 2000). Any and all attempts to retrieve the property were ended long before the plane was found by the research team.
Doug Champlin invested $130,000 into salvaging the abandoned Navy Torpedo Bomber (TBD). He did so after receiving a letter from the Navy in February of 1991 that stated that there was no intention to compensate him for retrieving the plane. Further, the Department of the Navy, and its Museum (NMNA), [had] not given anyone the authority, either expressly or impliedly, to extract from the Atlantic Ocean, part or all of the TBD Devastator (Opinion 1). Although the plane was stricken from the active service records and attempts to locate the TBD had ended, the Navy claims that this does not denote or imply a final disposition of such aircraft (Opinion 1). According to Dr. William Dudley, the director of Naval History for the U.S. Navy, the title to an aircraft can only be abandoned by asking Congress to pass specific legislation (Opinion 1). Congress did not authorize the abandonment of the federal property, so it was not, in fact, abandoned property. Despite these facts, Mr. Champlin used the location sold to him by the Scientific Search Association and recovered the wreck in April of 1991 (Finders, 2000). He apparently did not know the specific laws concerning the ownership of federal property.
Following litigation over the dispute, the Court ultimately held that, according to the International Aircraft Recovery, L.L.C....