Pierson v. Post

Following is the case brief for Pierson v. Post, New York Court of Appeals, (1805)

Case summary for Pierson v. Post:

  • Post was a fox hunter in pursuit of a specific fox.
  • Before Post was able to mortally injure or physically catch the fox, Pierson began to pursue and eventually catch the same fox.
  • Post brought an action against Pierson for trespass.
  • The New York court of appeals held that the mere pursuit of a wild animal, absent mortally wounding or trapping, is not enough to confer property rights.

Pierson v. Post Case Brief

Statement of the facts:

Lodowick Post was in pursuit of hunting a fox. Pierson, another fox hunter, noticed this and began to pursue the same fox. Pierson was successful in capturing and killing the fox. In response, Post filed a claim for trespass alleging that he had legal possession over the fox at the time Pierson began pursuit of the same fox.

Procedural History:

The trial court found for Post. In response, Pierson appealed.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

Acquiring ownership over wild animals is obtained by at least mortally wounding or capturing them from a distance and physical possession.

Issue and Holding:

Is pursuit of a wild animal alone sufficient to vest property rights in the pursuer? No.

Judgment:

The New York court of appeals reversed the lower court’s judgment.

Reasoning:

The New York court of appeals held that the pursuit of a wild animal does not vest property rights in the hunter. Generally, in order to obtain  property rights, a person must first establish occupancy. What the required steps are to do so is a question of first impression.

The court looks to the opinions of ancient legal philosophers, Fleta, and Bracton of the Justinian’s Institutes. These philosophers agree that pursuit alone is not enough to create property rights, even when the pursuer has mortally wounded the animal because actual possession is necessary.

Philosophers Puffendorf and Bynkershoek agree, but would create an exception for cases in which the animal has been mortally wounded and the hunter remains in hot pursuit.

In analyzing what actually constitutes “possession”, it seems that mortally wounding and pursuing an animal would be sufficient to manifest the party’s intent to “appropriate the animal to his individual use”  in addition to restricting the animal’s freedom and bringing it under their control. The Court also discusses how the philosopher Barbeyrac seems to accept Grotius’s notion that the trapping of an animal in a manner that prevents its escape establishes possession.

Here, Post was merely pursuing the fox. He could not guarantee future possession of the fox and he did not mortally wound the fox. Pierson became the rightful owner when he captured the fox and took possession of it.

Concurring or Dissenting opinion:

Dissenting (Livingston):

The opinions of philosophers were not necessary in deciding the overall issue. Wild animals are acquired as property when the pursuer is within reach or has a reasonable viewpoint of obtaining physical possession.  Since foxes are a nuisances, killing them off serves the public good. If other hunters can intercept a fox just before the kill, hunters will become dissuaded from hunting them.

Significance:

This case set the precedent for property rights to possession over wild animals. Mere pursuit is not enough to acquire property rights over a wild animal.

Student Resources:

http://www.nycourts.gov/history/legal-history-new-york/legal-history-eras-02/history-new-york-legal-eras-pierson-post.html
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/archives/pierson_post.htm

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