The Estrays and Lost Property Act (here) is pretty interesting. I stumbled across it last week while doing other research. I quickly dusted off the Black's Law Dictionary for the definition of estray:
estray (e-stray), n. 1. A valuable tame animal found wandering and ownerless; an animal that has escaped from its owner and wanders about. 2. Flotsam.
Then, of course, I had to look up flotsam:
flotsam (flot-səm), n. Goods that float on the water's surface after being abandoned at sea.
This all makes sense because Section 1 of the Act says that "Any horses, mules, asses, cattle, swine, sheep or goats found straying, the owner thereof being unknown, may be taken up as estrays in the same manner as provided for lost goods."
Also, Section 21 of the Act says that "Any raft, timbers or plank found floating adrift on any water course within the limits or upon the borders of this State, the owner thereof being unknown, may be taken up in the same manner as provided for lost goods."
So, if both estrays and flotsam are treated as if they are lost goods, the question becomes how exactly should lost goods be treated. It turns out that the Act effectively outlaws the ancient playground theory of "finders keepers, losers weepers."
Section 27 of the Act provides that "If any person or persons find any lost goods, money, bank notes, or other choses in action, of any description whatsoever, such person or persons shall inform the owner thereof, if known, and shall make restitution of the same, without any compensation whatever, except such compensation as shall be voluntarily given on the part of the owner."
If the owner is not known, and if the value of the lost property is more than $100, the Act requires the finder to file an affidavit in the circuit court that contains a description of the found property. The court shall then enter an order stating a description and the value of the property. That order shall be "transmitted to the county clerk to be recorded in his estray book," and also filed in the office of the county clerk.
After the county clerk receives that order, the county clerk shall publish notice in a public newspaper for three consecutive weeks. If the owner does not claim the property within one year of publication, ownership vests in the finder. A very cumbersome process, but the Act provides liability for double the value of the property if the finder sells, trades, destroys or otherwise disposes of the found property without complying with the Act.
Lastly, I found it odd that Section 27 includes "choses of action" in the list of property that could possibly be found in this state causing them to become subject to the terms of the Act. In order to try to make sense of this, I went back to the Law Dictionary:
chose in action. 1. A proprietary right in personam, such as a debt owed by another person, a share in a joint-stock company, or a claim for damages in tort. 2. The right to bring an action to recover a debt, money, or thing. 3. Personal property that one person owns but another person possesses, the owner being able to regain possession through a lawsuit.Oh ya, that's right. A proprietary right in personam. I can't tell you how many times I have been walking down the street, something catches my eye, and I've said to myself "well look at that...there's a chose in action on the ground."
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