Friday, February 20, 2009

Proof of Ownership

Harlee, a Pomeranian, is a little dog who has caused a whole lot of trouble – and a heated court case – in Spokane County, Washington State. The Graham family owned Harlee since he was a whelp, but on July 17, 2007, he wandered away from their home. Marcia and Richard Graham immediately began posting signs, placing advertisements and making phone calls to local animal shelters. Their efforts bore no fruit.

Two weeks later, on July 29, Harlee was found and taken to the SpokAnimal Shelter. After the 72-hour requisite waiting period, he was adopted by James Notti. About a month later, through a social grapevine, the Grahams located Harlee.

A huge dispute ensued. Both Graham and Notti held valid claims to Harlee. The Graham family desperately sought out their lost pet. At the same time, Notti, who had legally adopted Harlee, did not want to give him up.

In cases of ownership, many courts say that possession is nine-tenths of the law. But does this apply to animals that can move about freely and wander off on whim?

Our third lesson of You Be the Judge will consider this question – as well as compelling arguments in cases in which both parties present very legitimate – albeit mutually exclusive – claims. Additionally, in cases unlike Harlee, where it is impossible to trace the history of ownership, on whom does the burden of proof rest?

Find out in our third lesson!


  1. Actually, I must respectfully disagree with you. Possession is not 9/10's of the law and ownership of property does not hinge on who actually has possession of the property.

    In this case, the burden of proof rests with Marcia Graham (the original owner). She must prove that the dog was caught in Spokane County. To keep the dog, the dog adopter (James Notti) must convince the judge that it is more likely than not that the person who found the dog (a woman who turned out to have a daughter who was friends with the Graham daughter) caught the dog in the City of Spokane but is now changing her story to try to help the Grahams get the dog back.

  2. The case has gone to trial. The dog returns to the Grahams. It was clearly evident that when testimony was heard, the ruling would favor the Grahams. The animal shelter had internally documented 2 different addresses they guessed to be the correct address where the dog was found. Funny both of these addresses lay in Spokane county as well, not the Spokane city limits. The woman who brought the dog into the shelter never had changed her story. She knew her own Spokane County address and found the dog in her yard chasing her chickens. Due to the lack of accurate record keeping within the shelter and their due diligence to turn the dog over to the Spokane County animal shelter, they had no valid authority to adopt out the dog in the first place. Two parties lost here, the Grahams for loosing out on 3 years of Harlee's life and Notti, the dog adopter, who lost Harlee in the end.