This paper was developed to discuss the legal issues regarding property ownership, when the original owner has lost, misplaced, or abandoned that property. A particular focus will be to contrast the differences between the laws that regulate federal and private property.
The specific concern of this paper, will be the case of the salvaged TBD-1 Devastator, a rare Navy aircraft recovered 20 miles off the coast of Florida, in 500 feet of water, and estimated to have a value of one or two million dollars once restored.
The paper will begin with a definition of lost, misplaced, or abandoned property, and proceed to discuss the history of property ownership law, speculate on the reasons for differences in property ownership laws, the rights of the individual or organization recovering federal property. It will conclude with a summary of the effect on private business when attempting to claim federal property.
What is Abandoned Property?
Massachusetts, like every other state, has a process whereby abandoned property is turned over to the state. The origin of unclaimed property dates back to British common law when abandoned land was returned to the king. Today, states apply this concept to all-intangible property and tangible property, other than real estate. States do not take permanent title of the property but instead act as custodians to safeguard it for the rightful owners or their heirs to claim it. Most states do not have a time limitation for owners or heirs to file a claim.
Abandoned Property Statutes do not apply to federal own assets or property. Per the Missouri statutes:
Sections 447.500 to 447.595 shall not affect property the title to which is vested in a holder by the operation of statute of limitations prior to August 13, 1984, nor to any property held in a fiduciary capacity that was unclaimed property prior to August 13, 1974. This subsection shall not apply to property the title to which is vested in the holder when the holder is a federal, state, or local government or governmental subdivision, agency, entity, officer, or appointee thereof.
Should the federal government have special rules, or should federal property be subject to the same laws/rules/regulations as private property?
As described in the start of this document, found property can come under a few different categories. This particular aircraft would normally come under the heading of abandoned private property, as the owner, the United States Navy, made no further attempts to recover this lost property.
The federal government though, has recognized the need for special rules regarding its mislaid, lost or abandoned property. It has instituted The Naval Air System Command Fact Sheet of May 1987 , which states that Navy aircraft belong to the Government of the United States until the Navy determines their disposition.
This was enacted for several reasons. The first is the governments need to preserve national security. Consider this example, the U.S....