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"A penny for your thoughts"

Monday, December 17, 2007

Contractor, Homeowner At Odds Over Fortune Found In Walls

Updated at 18-Feb-08


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Nov2007-Jan2008
Contractor, Homeowner at Odds Over Fortune Found in Bathroom Walls at "The Legal Reader"

Most folks are happy to reach into the pocket of a little-used jacket and find a long-forgotten $10 bill.

Multiply that feeling by 18,200 and you will understand how Lakewood home-improvement contractor Bob Kitts felt when he pulled a giant cache of Depression-era cash from the walls of an 83-year-old Cleveland home he was renovating.

As he was ripping plaster from bathroom-wall studs, Kitts found bundles of bills totaling $182,000 wrapped in pre-World War II Plain Dealer news pages and tucked into boxes. The money is in such good condition, and some of the bills are so rare and collectible, that one currency appraiser valued the treasure at up to $500,000, Kitts said.

But there's a hitch:

The walls from which Kitts pulled the money aren't his walls. The house isn't his house. Nobody knows for certain whose money it is.

Yet Kitts claims it as his own. He and his lawyer have dusted off an obscure, centuries-old legal doctrine called "treasure trove" - a common-law finders-keepers provision - that they believe gives him top claim to the wealth.

Ohio and most other states have no specific statute governing what happens when someone finds a once-hidden treasure, so common-law principles dating to pre-Revolutionary Great Britain come into play, said Cleveland-Marshall's Robertson.

That common law has a fairly definitive "finders-keepers" bent to it.

That's true even when the finding is done on someone else's property, as long as the finder had permission to be there, courts have established.

That doesn't mean Kitts is clearly the winner. Unless the two sides settle, a judge or jury will need to decide whether he found money that was, in a legal sense, "lost" or "mislaid," Robertson and other lawyers say.

Kitts asserts he found lost money, and court rulings in Ohio establish that treasure trove's "finders keepers" law does indeed apply to something that was lost, if there's no reason to believe any owner will reappear to claim it.

But if it was absentmindedly mislaid on private property rather than lost, the owner of the property on which the discovery was made becomes the safekeeper of the lost goods, according to case law and legal texts.

In either case, the holder must make a good-faith effort to find the original owner or heirs before cashing
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Related Case
Losers Keepers, Finders Weepers

While paving Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner’s ranch driveway in Idaho, former handyman Gregory Corliss found a buried jar of gold coins dating between 1857 and 1914. Corliss, claiming their value to be over $1 million sued Wenner on the common law principle of "finders-keepers." A three-judge panel of the Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed a district court ruling that Corliss was not entitled to possession of the coins, ruling the state is not one "that accepts the finders-keepers rule, also known as treasure trove" and the coins were buried in property belonging to the property owner. Chief Judge Alan Schwartzman wrote, "the rule of treasure trove is of dubious heritage and misunderstood application, inconsistent with our values and traditions."

—Source: The Columbus Dispatch

[Posted October 19, 2001]
Via




CLEVELAND (AP)Published Thursday, December 13, 2007 - A contractor who helped discover bundles of Depression-era U.S. currency totaling $182,000 hidden behind bathroom walls said the homeowner should turn the money over to him or at least share it.A fortune that would be worth an inflation-adjusted $2.7 million in today's money

Kitts was hired to renovate Reece’s bathroom and found the money hidden in the wall - probably by the original home owner, Peter Dunne.Dunne died years ago - unmarried and childless.


The dispute began in May 2006 when Bob Kitts found a box containing $25,200 under a medicine cabinet. Kitts, along with homeowner Amanda Reece, eventually found $182,000 in boxes hidden behind the bathroom's walls.





Bob Kitts and Amanda Reece were all smiles when they were tallying up about $182,000 worth of bills that Kitts found in boxes hidden in Reece’s bathroom walls. Their glee has turned to combativeness as the two former high school classmates began feuding over how to divide up the loot.




Kitts, who claims he technically found lost money, is suing Reece in an attempt to recover the cash she has kept. Reece refuses to back down in the face of what she considers a shakedown, Chambers said


John Chambers, an attorney for Reece, said Kitts rejected an offer of a 10 percent finder's fee and demanded 40 percent of the fortune. One currency appraiser said the rare bills are worth up to $500,000, according to Kitts.


Bob Kitts said his feud with the owner of the 83-year house, a former high school classmate, has deteriorated to the point where they speak to each other only through lawyers.


Kitts said his lawyer has drafted a lawsuit that he hopes will force Amanda Reece to turn over the money she has kept.

Most of the currency, issued in 1927 and 1929, is in good condition, and some of the bills are so rare that one currency appraiser valued the treasure at up to $500,000, Kitts said.

Reece accuses Kitts of extortion.

The fight began in May 2006 when Kitts was gutting Reece's bathroom and found a box below the medicine cabinet that contained $25,200.

"I almost passed out," Kitts recalled. "It was the ultimate contractor fantasy."

He called Reece, who rushed home. Together they found another steel box tied to the end of a wire nailed to a stud. Inside was more than $100,000, Kitts said. Two more boxes were filled with a mix of money and religious memorabilia.

"It was insane," Kitts said. "She was in shock - she was a wreck."

The bundles had "P. Dunne" written on them, a likely reference to Peter Dunne, a businessman who owned the home during the Depression.

Kitts said he took some of the currency for an appraisal and learned that many of the $10 bills were rare 1929-series Cleveland Federal Reserve bank notes, worth about $85 each. There also were $500 bills and one $1,000 bill.

John Chambers, an attorney for Reece, said Kitts rejected his client's offer of a 10 percent finder's fee and demanded 40 percent of the small fortune.Then again, he may not be a cent to the richer. Several court rulings have established precedent that undermines the applicability of the treasure-trove doctrine under these circumstances, said Reece's lawyer, John Chambers. Reece would have accommodated Kitts, but the handyman got greedy, Chambers said. Now Reece has no intention of backing down in the face of what she considers a shakedown.

Reece has no intention of backing down in the face of what she considers a shakedown, Chambers said.

Kitts asserts he found lost money, and court rulings in Ohio establish that a "finders keepers" law applies if there's no reason to believe any owner will reappear to claim it. That's true even when the finding is done on someone else's property, as long as the finder had permission to be there, courts have established.

That doesn't mean Kitts is clearly the winner. Unless the two sides settle, a judge or jury will need to decide whether he found money that was, in a legal sense, "lost" or "mislaid," Robertson and other lawyers say.

Kitts asserts he found lost money, and court rulings in Ohio establish that treasure trove's "finders keepers" law does indeed apply to something that was lost, if there's no reason to believe any owner will reappear to claim it.

But if it was absentmindedly mislaid on private property rather than lost, the owner of the property on which the discovery was made becomes the safekeeper of the lost goods, according to case law and legal texts.

It may be up to a judge to decide, said Heidi Robertson, a professor who teaches property law at Cleveland State University.

Kitts said it would be unfair for him to take everything.

"For such a happy, exciting adventure, I can't believe it just went to heck like this," he said.

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3 Comments:

mrbgoode said...

So sad, so sad. How could Reece's first impulse not have been to share the money equally??!! I mean, Kitts's first impulse was to call Reece immediately, and they giddily hunted for the rest together. I think the best thing that could happen now would be for the money to burn up in a fire. Like a Twilight Zone story. No, wait, even better -- for Reece to hide it, then forget where it is and lose it completely, then fifty years later two people find it and split it evenly without a second thought, because they would deserve it. Yeah, that's the ticket. In the meantime, there's some bad karma floating around Cleveland.

mrbgoode said...

You know I just thought of something -- I wonder if Reece really decided on her own to offer Kitts 10%. I'm thinking maybe she's nicer than I thought, and she was led astray. Something really stinks here, and I'll bet her lawyer put her up to the stingy 10% bullcrap so he could make a higher commission on the future transactions. That no-good stinking friend-busting greedy con artist. Amanda, fire him as fast as you can, and split the money even, so I can believe in Santa Claus again.

BigCloud said...

Kitt found a box below the medicine cabinet that contained $25,200 & could kept his discovery
to himself but he did called Reece home and do more searches together. Together they found another steel box tied to the end of a wire nailed to a stud. Inside was more than $100,000.
Kitt only asked for a 40% share. Reece should be thankful and offer a 50/50 cut. Not to mentioned they were former high school classmates!! My opinion is that Reece has overlooked the fact that she would have nothing to fight for if Kitt didn't reveal the finding in the first place!! It is indeed sad that former high school classmates are no longer in talking terms.

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