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Property I
St. Johns University School of Law
Sheff, Jeremy N.


How do we know if something should be called property under United States Law?
The “Bundle of Rights”
The right to possess
I own a watch, since I own the watch I have the right to possess it
The right to use
Since I own the watch, I have the right to use it in any manner I choose.
The right to fruits and profits
Let’s say my watch is old. If I put it in a museum and people pay to go look at it, then I can receive and am entitled to a “fruit and profit”
The right to alienate (transfer your interest)
I can give my watch to someone upon my death in a will
The right to destroy
If I don’t like my watch, I can destroy it if I choose to
Notes on the “bundle of rights:”
The bundle is EXCLUSIVE to the owner, only he has the power to use these rights
The rights are PERPETUAL, meaning they exist forever
Many property interest don’t have the whole bundle
They are CHARACTERISTICS of property and are NOT DETERMINATIVE—it depends on the public policy that needs to be served
JM goes to doctor, told he has leukemi He needs treatment, goes to UCLA medical center. UCLA does blood tests, taking his blood and testing it. UCLA removes his spleen and does additional testing. Say to him “we’re sorry, you have leukemia. We have all sorts of treatments, so we can try to tackle it.” Treatments work, he feels better. UCLA says he needs follow up tests periodically, with more blood tests. JM goes back for follow up tests. UCLA doesn’t tell him that they’ve kept his previous blood samples and his spleen. UCLA determines that JM’s blood cells are special, different from everyone else, researchers believe that when they manipulate JM’s T-cells, the auto-immune response is unpredictable. They want to duplicate his T-cells to cure people’s diseases. UCLA duplicate’s his T-cells, and create a patent on them. Pharmaceutical company learns of this activity, and is willing to pay 3 billion dollars to UCLA to have an exclusive license to use the “MO CELL.” When JM learns of this, he says that the 3 billion is his. JM brings a CONVERSION ACTION. JM must have a property interest, so does JM have a claim to property in the cells?
What might be considered property
MO cell that UCLA created
Process of manipulating immune response
Process that allows you to duplicate T-Cells
How do we characterize the T-Cell?
Could be considered a form of USE, also potentially a FRUIT/PROFIT as an outgrowth of the original T-Cell
If we call the T-Cell property, does JM have a property right in it?
Does it have the full bundle of rights?
JM lacks the right to destroy, he has a partial right of alienation by a gift, but not through the sale.
The right to possess in this case is NOT perpetual, missing here. Also, he cannot destroy the property (suicide is illegal) and the right to Alienation is not here (you can’t sell your body
Theories of Interpretation:
A legal standard exists here, with certain defined terms. So take the fact pattern and apply it to the defined terms, and this is your outcome
“public policy arguments”
Here, we know the legal standard, but why do you need to possess the property? What is the public policy behind this?
Question to ask:
If we rule in favor of the claimant, does it serve the public policy in question? If so, this is the right outcome
Example: In re Marriage of Greene
Couple gets married, one stays in school, the other works full time. Dennis gets his bachelor’s degree, wants his masters. Anne says get the masters, she will work full time to support both. Then they want a divorce, but Anne has been supporting the entire time, she wants the income from his MBA and Bachelors.
Is a professional degree considered to be property that we can divide up between the parties?
Educational degree is not encompassed in the definition of property, it is personal to the holder and not inheritable. It does not have all of the “bundle,” and therefore it cannot be property
Under FORMALISM, the degree does not meet all the criteria, therefore it does not apply
Under SOCIOLOGICAL JURISPRUDENCE, it would be unfair to deny Anne compensation. Her interest would be met by allowing for the divide of the degree. Helping more of a public interest.
Basic categories of Property:
Has its own basis in property rights
Concurrent interest
Joint ownership of personal and real property
Real property
Estates and land
Landlord tenant law
Real estate transactions
Contract and deed
Conveyance of title in real estate deeds
Traditional Property Actions
Main elements
P must have a right of Possession (property right)
D has intentionally interfered with the P’s right of possession
The interference was without authorization by the plaintiff
Main elements
P must have a right of Possession (property right)
D has intentionally interfered with the P’s right of possession
The interference was without authorization by the plaintiff
Brings about a return of the property
Actions can be COMBINED (monetary damages and a return of the property)
Main elements
P must have a right of Possession (property right)
D has intentionally interfered with the P’s right of possession
D’s interference has been serious/significant
The interference was without authorization by the plaintiff
P can be entitled to the FAIR MARKET VALUE of the property
Essentially a “forced sale”

How does one claim a property right in a wild animal?
Pierson v. Post—Post was in pursuit (along with his dogs) of a fox. Pierson, realizing that Post was after the fox,

Mullet v. Bradley-individual captures sea lions with the intent to appropriate rights to them, does all of this on the west coast. Purchaser refuses to purchase, capturer is now the owner. Sea Lion escapes, but capturer doesn’t make any effort to find it. Capturer finds out someone else took it, and now the capturer wants it back, but the new owner says it’s his.   
Court rules against the capturer—said that he lost property rights in the wild animal when it regains its natural liberty (see below)
In personal property, generally indefeasible (you do not lose your rights if you leave your stuff somewhere temporarily. Does this apply to wild animals?
General standard: an owner of wild animals loses their property rights when the animal “regains its natural liberty”
P saysàthis phrase means that the animal must return to its native place (natural habitat)
D saysàthis phrase means that animal has escaped from artificial restraint
**Court in Mullet v. Bradley takes this position, but this is the MINORITY rule, most states do not agree with this**
Property rights are lost when an animal is
free from artificial restraint, and
returns to its natural habitat
When both requirements are met, animal has “regained its natural liberty”
Goes back to the notice requirement that underlines possession. People on notice if they see a wild animal that appears “out of place” (like a sea lion on the Jersey Shore)
Means “the habitat of returning”
Based on the policy of labor, meaning that we want to encourage domestication and training of wild animals because they serve societal interest in general. Encourage this by removing loss of rights when the animal has escaped
Law does not make your rights defeasbile if you train the animal to return
How do you prove this?
Prove that they have left your land before, but because of the training, they always come back
“only to be known by their usual custom of returning” (meaning prior actions)
Underlying Policy
Policy of labor—to encourage training, but this is at odds with the general rule (to provide notice)
If a wild animal is free from restraint and in a natural habitat, how does another person know that you have laid a claim?
HYPO—Casebook pg 33, problem 2