Benjamin v. Lindner Aviation, Inc. – Case Brief
Benjamin v. Lindner Aviation, Inc., 534 N.W.2d 400 (Iowa 1995).
Facts: State Central Bank became the owner of an airplane through repossession. The Bank arranged for routine annual inspection of the airplane with Lindner Aviation (D). The inspection was performed by Benjamin (P) who found $18,000 in cash from the 1950’s behind panels which had never before been removed.
P filed an affidavit that he was the finder. The true owner did not come forward to claim the money and Benjamin filed a declaratory judgment action to establish that he was entitled to the money. The court entered judgment in favor of the Bank, holding that the money was mislaid property and that the statute regarding found money only applied to lost property. P was awarded a 10% finder’s fee and appealed.
Issue: Do the rights of finders of property vary according to the characterization of the property found?
Holding and Rule (Ternus): Yes. The rights of finders of property vary according to the characterization of the property found.
The court held that the common law distinctions between classes of found property were still valid despite the legislature’s enactment of the statute regarding found money, chapter 644, and its predecessors. Chapter 644 only applied if the property were classified as lost.
Property can be classified as abandoned, lost, mislaid, and treasure trove. The place where the property is discovered is an important factor in determining whether the property was lost or merely mislaid. In this case the money was found carefully wrapped and concealed in a location that was accessible only by removing a panel. The location was consistent with a finding that the owner had placed the money there for safekeeping. The circumstances did not meet the antiquity requirement for a determination that the money was a treasure trove because the money was less than 35 years old.
Dissent (Snell): The money had been there for possibly 30 years and no owner claimed it after legal notice was given. Benjamin is entitled to the full amount because the owner voluntarily relinquished his rights and the money is therefore abandoned.