Property I, Pages 71–75

Pierson v. Post

Supreme Court of New York, 1805

Facts:

Plaintiff was hunting a fox with his dogs. After the hunter chased the fox for some while but before he could kill it, the defendant suddenly came and killed it instead right in front of him.

Procedural History:

Trial court found for the plaintiff.

Issue:

When does a hunted animal become the hunter's property?

Plaintiff's Argument:

Hunting the fox for so long and using dogs to do so gave the plaintiff property rights.

Defendant's Argument:

The fox was not dead and hence was no one's property until the defendant killed it.

Rule:

A wild animal is no one's property until its natural liberty is deprived and it is under the control of the hunter.

Reasoning:

The fox was chased, but not yet captured or killed and hence still had it natural liberty. It was therefore a wild animal still and the plaintiff had no rights to it.

Holding:

A wild animal becomes the owner's property when it is killed or captured.

Dissenting Opinion:

Using dogs to hunt shows a strong property interest in the wild animal and thus the plaintiff should have had exclusive right to kill the animal. Ruling otherwise removes motivation for people to hunt these pesky animals. The decision should have been made by a group of hunters who understand hunting etiquette.

Takeaway:

Wild animals become property when captured.

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