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United States v. Shivers

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
96 F.3d 120 (1996)


The Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA), 16 U.S.C. §§ 470aa-ll, prohibited the unpermitted removal of archaeological resources from federal land. The federal common law of finds (common law) assigned ownership of abandoned property to the finder, regardless of where the property was found. Under an exception to the common law, property found embedded in soil belonged to the owner of the soil. Billy Ray Shivers (defendant) found metal tokens buried in the soil of an abandoned lumber mill located within the Angelina National Forest. The tokens, used as payment for mill workers, were between 50 and 100 years old. The United States government (government) (plaintiff) seized and claimed ownership of the tokens. The district court found that neither ARPA nor the common law gave Shivers ownership of the tokens, and that the government owned the tokens. The district court also denied Shivers’s motion for the return of the tokens. Shivers appealed, arguing that ARPA and the common law gave him ownership of the tokens because (1) section 470kk(b) of ARPA provided that a permit was not required for coin collection undertaken for private purposes if the coins were non-archaeological resources, and § 470bb(1) of ARPA excluded items less than 100 years of age from ARPA’s definition of “archaeological resource”; and (2) the arrowhead exception of 16 U.S.C. § 470ff(a)(3) supported Shivers’s claim of ownership, because the exception eliminated civil and criminal penalties under ARPA for the removal of arrowheads from the surface of federal land.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Jones, J.)

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