Let’s say you own a dog named Oliver. You love this dog very much but move away for school, so you ask a friend to keep him. Your friend agrees. When you return from school two years later, you ask for Oliver back, but your friend refuses to return Oliver to you. Whose dog is it?
This fact situation is actually quite common in our society. The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently decided this very issue in the case Zephier v. Agate. The question turned on whether Oliver was “abandoned” property in the legal sense. As a general rule, property is considered abandoned if (1) six months have passed; and (2) the person with possession gives the original owner 30 days of notice to retrieve the property. The notice must be by personal service or certified mail. If the original owner fails to retrieve the property within those 30 days, she loses all legal right to the property.
Applying the correct legal framework to the facts above, the Court of Appeals ordered the friend to return Oliver to his original owner because the friend never gave the required notice to the original owner after 6 months. This meant the dog was not “abandoned” in the legal sense.
The case might have come out differently if there was a claim that the original owner “gave” Oliver to the friend, say as a gift. As with most legal challenges, there needs to be a case-by-case analysis to see whether the same result might occur in your situation. It is highly recommended that you seek legal counsel if you find yourself in a situation similar to the Zephier case.
This webpage contains general information and not legal advice, nor is it an exhaustive representation of its subject matter. It is based on Minnesota law in effect at the time of writing. An attorney at Farrish Johnson can advise you about how the law applies to your specific situation.