Jeffries v The Great Western Railway Co

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Citation: Jeffries v The Great Western Railway Co (1856) 119 ER 680.

This information can be found in the Textbook: Edgeworth et all, Sackville and Neave's Property Law Cases and Materials, 8th edition, Lexis Nexis, 2008, pp. 111-2 [2.9]

Contents

Background facts

  • There was a dispute of ownership – both plaintiff and defendant claimed ownership of some trucks per an assignment from a third party [Owen].
  • The defendants seized the trucks in the plaintiff’s possession, whilst Owen was in apparent ownership.
  • The Plaintiff brought an action of trover (in modern terms, conversion).

Arguments

  • The defendants argued that Owen had become bankrupt before the plaintiff took possession, meaning that the trucks' ownership already passed on to Owen's creditors.
  • Therefore, the trucks thus did not pass in ownership to the plaintiffs, and thus the plaintiff cannot bring an action for conversion against the defendants (a jus tertii defence).

Legal issues

Judgement

Lord Campbell CJ:

  • ‘The law is that a person possessed of goods as his property has a good title as against every stranger, and that one who takes them from him, having no title in himself, is a wrongdoer, and cannot defend himself by shewing that there was title in some third person.’
  • Even though the trucks belonged to a third party due to Owen’s bankruptcy, the plaintiff was in their immediate possession.
    • In other words, the mere fact that the plaintiff physically possessed the trucks (even if it was a wrongful possession), gives the plaintiff a requisite level of possession to rely on.
  • Since the defendants were not agents of the creditors, they had no right to claim the trucks at all.
    • The fact that the trucks ‘belonged’ to the creditors doesn't mean anyone can just come in and claim them - the plaintiff (having physical possession) still have a superior right of possession to everyone else bar the creditors.
  • As wrongdoers (coming in and taking possession without a reason), the defendants cannot rely on the jus tertii defence. They may have been able to do so if they were agents of the creditors (because then they would have been the third party with superior party) or if the plaintiff wasn't in physical possession already.

Wightman J:

  • Restating what was said above:
  • The defendants seek to justify their conversion on the basis that the title belonged not to the plaintiff, but to some third party. Even if so, they would still be wrongdoers to the third party.
  • Quoting Wilbraham v Snow: ‘Possession with an assertion of title, or even possession alone, gives the possessor a property as will enable him to maintain this action against a wrong-doer; for possession is prima facie evidence of property.’

References

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