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Property I
St. Johns University School of Law
DiLorenzo, Vincent M.


Spring 2016

Professor DiLorenzo

I. Introduction

What is a property right?

A property right is protection by the state of a claim to valuable resources
A property right may be vested in an individual, a particular group, or in common by people at large

Legal basis upon which individuals acquire property rights in the U.S.:
Human Labor

Property interest is a bundle of rights which includes:
The right to possess

The rest of the world has the duty to not interfere with your right to possession

The right to use
The right to fruits and profits of the original property
The right to alienate

Can transfer the bundle of rights/title to another
If alienation is NOT possible ➝ property is inalienable

The right to destroy

These bundle of rights are:
Exclusive and forever (never ending)
Only belongs to the owner
Property rights are divisible (can own some rights but not all)

Ex: Pennsylvania RR was the owner of an underlying parcel of land and had the exclusive bundle of rights to the land forever.
It leased the land to Midtown Development Corp. for 99 years which built a Hyatt on the land. Midtown Development Corp. has some rights to the land but not all

Has the right to possess for 99 years
Has the right to use
Has the right to fruits and profits of the hotel (money from guests staying there)
Has the right to alienate — can transfer the lease
Does NOT have the right to destroy the lease

Approaches for classifying an object as property:
Formalistic approach:

If ALL of the bundle rights exist = property
If missing 1 or more of the rights = NOT property
Ex: In re Marriage Graham (p. 395) where wife works and supports husband while the husband gets an MBA. When they file for divorce, the wife claims that the money earned from the MBA is her property because she also labored towards his MBA degree and so she owns a part of it.

Court takes a formalistic approach and decides that the holder of the MBA does not have the right to alienate because it is an intellectual achievement that cannot be acquired just through money — and as such, one of the bundle of rights is missing (MBA = NOT property)

Public policy approach: Court should be able to call something property if it sees fit — to better serve society rather than applying formalistic rules

Sociological jurisprudence: When asked what is property — the answer is not determined solely on the rule but the reason behind the rule. What is the purpose that is trying to be served and what outcome best serves that purpose?

3 Common Causes of Action
(NY calls it “action to recover possession”)

Remedy = actual property returned

Happens where:

Plaintiff has property interest including the exclusive right of possession
Defendant has intentionally interfered with the property without authorization by the owner

Remedy = full fair market value of property interest (basically a forced sale giving defendant property rights)

Happens where:

Plaintiff has property interest including the exclusive right of possession
Defendant has intentionally interfered with the property SIGNIFICANTLY without the authorization of the owner (ex: deprived long term of possession or destroyed/sold house)

Remedy = damages for interval of time during which plaintiff didn’t have exclusive rights to the property
Happens where:

Plaintiff has property interest (possession)
Defendant has intentionally interfered with the property without authorization of the owner

II. Property Rights Based on possession

A. wild animals

What is a wild animal (ferae naturae)?

Generally shared public expectation that that type of animal (species) has no owner

Acquisition by Capture

Property rights in a wild animal are acquired by possession ONLY

Once a person has gained possession of a wild animal, he has rig

mal regains its natural liberty by:

Need to have both!

< >Being free from artificial restraint Returns to its natural habitat EXCEPTION to MAJORITY Rule:Animus revertendi (intention to return): captured animals that develop a habit of return continue to belong to the captor when they roam at large (Mullett v. Bradley) & Problems 2-3 p. 34If animal goes back to natural habitat and someone else tries to take it — owner would need to prove that the animal is trained to return Public policy: encourage labor and training of animals to return to owner ➝ if you trained the animal to return then you don’t lose your right to ownership because you spent money & labor training it Rule: Animal doesn’t have to return to specific natural habitat — just has to escape artificial restraint and go somewhere similar where it can do freely as it pleases & regain HABIT of natural libertyMullett v. Bradley: Mullett captured a sea lion by keeping it in an enclosure with both (1) intention and (2) possession and became owner of the sea lion. He tries to sell the sea lion but because it has blemishes, it is rejected by the buyer and Mullett places the sea lion on the Long Island Sound but it escapes to the Jersey Shore where and gets captured by Bradley. Court finds that even though the sea lion didn’t return to its natural habitat, it still escaped from artificial restraint and so Bradley can have it (applies minority rule)BUT, if an animal is found in place that IS NOT its natural habitat, the person finding it should be on notice that someone else has prior claim to it because someone had to have brought it to that place — Bradley should’ve assumed someone else had claim to the sea lion because Atlantic Ocean doesnt have any sea lions