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Auctioneers deal in all kinds of property. Week to week, it could be a car, gun, coin, diamond ring, lawn tractor, horse … or even $8,000: the list goes on. Any of these personal property items could be lost, misplaced and/or abandoned. What does all that mean for an auctioneer?

Property is generally deemed to have been …

    Lost if it is found in a place where the true owner likely did not intend to set it down, and where it is not likely to be found by the true owner. At common law, the finder of a lost item could claim the right to possess the item against any person except the true owner or any previous possessors. See Jesse Dukeminier and James E. Krier, Property, Fifth Edition, Aspen Law & Business (New York, 2002), p. 120. ISBN 0-7355-2437-8.

    Mislaid or Misplaced if it is found in a place where the true owner likely did intend to set it, but then simply forgot to pick it up again. For example, a wallet found in a shop lying on a counter near a cash register will likely be deemed misplaced rather than lost. Under common law principles, the finder of a misplaced object has a duty to turn it over to the owner of the premises, on the theory that the true owner is likely to return to that location to search for his misplaced item. If the true owner does not return within a reasonable time (which varies considerably depending on the circumstances,) the property becomes that of the owner of the premises. See McAvoy v. Medina, 93 Mass. (11 Allen) 548, (1866).

    Abandoned if it is found in a place where the true owner likely intended to leave it, but is in such a condition that it is apparent that he or she has no intention of returning to claim it. Abandoned property generally becomes the property of whoever should find it and take possession of it first, although some states have enacted statutes under which certain kinds of abandoned property – usually cars, wrecked ships and wrecked aircraft – escheat, meaning that they become the property of the state. See Eads v. Brazelton, 22 Ark. 499 (Ark. 1861).

When an auction of personal property takes place, and there is property of any kind found there after when most other property is gone and/or had to be gone per the terms and conditions — either lost, misplaced or abandoned — it’s important for auctioneers to recognize the exact circumstances to determine rights of possession and title.

So, in general and brief:

  • Lost is putting something somewhere without intent, without the intent of retrieval.
  • Mislaid or misplaced is putting something somewhere with intent, and with the intent of retrieval.
  • Abandoned is putting something somewhere with intent, without the intent of retrieval.

Lastly, can the (your) auctioneer terms and conditions make lost, misplaced and/or abandoned property yours? It’s certainly possible such a claim holds up in court, or better yet helps you avoid court more importantly. The issue will likely center around intent … considering the intent of the person (currently) in title/possession.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College of Business, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and Faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University.