Whose Horse is it Anyway? Recovering Stolen Property
Equine Legal Solutions received a call earlier this week from a horse owner whose show mare had been stolen some time ago. With the assistance of friends, he was able to locate his mare, now living on the East Coast. The mare's current owner had apparently purchased her without knowing that the mare was stolen and wanted to do the right thing,?but had paid a lot of money for the mare and didn't want to be left empty-handed. The mare's original owner wanted to know who has the best claim to the mare ?him or the current owner.
The short answer is that the original owner has the best right to claim the horse. Under Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code, which governs the sale of goods (and horses are considered goods?, a seller can only transfer the title that he has (under most circumstances). If you steal a horse, you do not have any lawful title to that horse. When you give or sell that horse to someone else, you still do not have any lawful title to that horse, which means that you cannot transfer lawful title to the recipient. If the recipient gives or sells the horse to yet another person, they still do not have any lawful title to transfer. The person from whom you stole the horse still has the best lawful claim of ownership of the horse.
Now, how would a lawful owner go about regaining possession of his horse, assuming that the current owner is not willing to give the horse back?
Step 1: Gather all evidence that you own the horse and that it was stolen from you. For example, you should make a copy of the police report you filed when the horse was stolen, any bill of sale or contract that you signed when you purchased the horse, the horse's registration papers showing you as the registered owner, any canceled check or other evidence that you paid for the horse, and photos showing you and the horse together.
Step 2: Approach local law enforcement in your community and the community in which the horse now resides. Explain the situation and ask for their assistance. Provide them with any documentation that they may require.
Step 3: If law enforcement is not able to assist you, hire a local attorney in the area where the horse now resides to help you file a civil claim against the current owner. A simple letter from your attorney may be enough to help convince the current owner to do the right thing.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes">
A practical suggestion: You may want to offer the current owner a cash reward?for returning your horse. Even a few hundred dollars may help reimburse them for what they paid for the horse and encourage them to return the horse to you. Consider that you will likely spend several thousand dollars in legal fees if you have to take Step 3 above, and if you use some of that money as a reward instead, you may regain possession of your horse much more quickly and less expensively than if you had to sue the current owner.