Property I, Pages 83–88

Popov v. Hayashi

Superior Court of San Fransisco County, California, 2002

Facts:

Barry Bonds hit his 73rd home run of the season, setting a new MLB record. Plaintiff allegedly caught the ball, but fell down before it could be sure, where the ball rolled away. It was then picked up innocently by the defendant and ended up in his possession. A fight ensued, which was recorded by reporter Keppel. Plaintiff then sued defendant for conversion of the ball.

Issues:

  • What level of control is needed to gain possession of a ball that goes into the stands?

  • To whom does a ball belong if one catching it is violently stopped from doing so and another picks up the ball?

Plaintiff's Argument:

Plaintiff stopped the horizontal momentum of the ball and had obvious immediate plans to finish obtaining it. Possession had been recognized with similar previous cases involving wild animals and ship wreckages.

Defendant's Argument:

Plaintiff failed to control ball enough to gain possession of it.

Rules:

  • One must retain control of a ball after an initial contact to obtain possession of it.

  • Page 86If one does significant but incomplete stops to obtain possession of a piece of abandoned personal property and the effort is interrupted by the unlawful acts of others, the actor has a legally cognizable pre-possessory interest in the property which constitutes a qualified right to possession which can support a cause of action for conversion.

Reasoning:

Unlike wild animals or ships, it is possible to physically take control of a ball and one must do so. However, violent acts stopped Popov from doing so. Policy and fairness say that he has enough of an interest to support a conversion. However, Hayashi also has a completely valid right to the ball. Therefore, the two men must share the value of the ball.

Holding:

One must retain control of the ball after an initial contact to obtain possession of it. As Popov was hindered from doing so, he obtains a pre-possessory right to the ball. Hayashi also has right to the ball however, so both men have right to half the value of the ball. The ball is to be sold and the proceeds split between the men.

Note:

Popov had probable possession (minority in Post). Hayashi had actual possession (majority in Post).