From my supplemental packet for Property Law class*:
“The precise legal difference between real and personal property is very confusing; and in an Irish case where the question was whether a dung-heap was real property a lawyer made an admirable argument to show that it was.
Then the farmer was called upon to reply and said:
“I’m puzzled indeed by all these strange words. But the lawyer says – fair play to him – that cows is personal property and that the hay they eat is personal property, and I ask your Honour as one man to another, how, baiting miracles, personal property can go on eating personal property and evacuating (he used a homelier word) real property. Well, your Honour, it’s beyond my understanding.
This was to prepare us for Haslem v. Lockwood
From the case:
“Manure which had accumulated in a frequented place in a public street of a borough, where the fee of the street belonged to the borough, was raked into heaps by the plaintiff in the evening, and left in that condition, to be carried away by him the next evening.
The gist: the plaintiff collected all of the horse-poop on a public highway into piles. The plaintiff then left to find a way of carting off the poop heaps (for fertilizer, or revenge on an ex… we don’t know).
Then comes the defendant, who sees the poop-mounds and snatches them.
Plaintiff sues for his poop back, and the court says that unless the city (the default owner) really wants the poop, then the poop belongs to the plaintiff.
The plaintiff had a reasonable time (24 hours) to return and pick up the poop.
The court uses a non-poop analogy (no pun, I swear):
Suppose a teamster with a load of grain, while traveling the highway, discovers a rent in one of his bags, and finds that his grain is scattered upon the road for the distance of a mile. He considers the labor of collecting his corn of more value than the property itself, and he therefore abandons it, and pursues his way.
A afterwards finds the grain in this condition and gathers it kernel by kernel into heaps by the side of the road, and leaves it a reasonable time to procure the means necessary for its removal. While he is gone for his bag, B discovers the grain thus conveniently collected in heaps and appropriates it to his own use. Has A any remedy?
If he has not, the law in this instance is open to just reproach. We think under such circumstances A would have a reasonable time to remove the property, and during such reasonable time his right to it would be protected. If this is so, then the principle applies to the case under consideration.
Excerpt from The Oxford Book of Legal Anecdotes (Oxford 1986), p 239
Haslem v. Lockwood, 37 Conn. 500 (Conn. 1871) — (Or Westlaw: 1871 WL 1608 )