E.A. Stephens & Co. v. Albers
Colorado Supreme Court
256 P. 15 (1927)
Albers (plaintiff) operated a ranch where she raised captive silver foxes, a practice that had grown rapidly in the early twentieth century. Silver foxes were rare, and their pelts were extremely valuable. One of the foxes Albers acquired, which was marked on its ear with its registration number, escaped its enclosure through a gate that had been mistakenly left open. Albers pursued until nightfall interfered. A rancher, observing the escaped fox, killed the animal and provided it to a trapper to sell on commission. The trapper sold the animal to E. A. Stephens & Co. (Stephens) (defendant). The manager of Stephens, who purchased the skin and was experienced in such matters, noted that the animal had been shot several times. It was the only skin observed that season that had been killed in such a manner. The manager claimed not to have examined the animal for any marks of ownership, though the animal skin presented at trial clearly showed the tattoos on the animal’s ears. The manager also knew, at the time of purchase, that the trapper was not the owner and that he had not acquired it from the owner. Albers, upon learning of Stephens’s purchase of the skin, brought an action for replevin in the county court. Both parties argued that the common-law rule of wild animal ownership applied, which provided that a person had a qualified property right in a wild animal as long as the animal existed on the person’s private land. Albers claimed that the animal was domesticated, with a disposition to return to its pen. Stephens disagreed, arguing that Albers lost title to the fox, a wild animal, when it escaped and was subsequently killed by the rancher. The court issued judgment in favor of Albers, and Stephens appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Burke, C.J.)
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