Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

These Finders Are Keepers, at Least According to Law

DEAR ABBY: I am writing in response to the couple in Anchorage who were torn over whether or not to keep the $42 the husband found in the glove compartment of the used car they had recently purchased.

They have no legal responsibility to return the money to the car's original owner. To illustrate, here's a similar case that went to the Supreme Court in 1981: In the case of the City of Everett v. the Estate of Sumstad, the Mitchells were a couple who purchased a used safe at an auction for $50. The safe had previously belonged to the Sumstad estate and contained a locked inside compartment. The Mitchells had a locksmith open the compartment and discovered $32,207 inside.

The Everett police impounded the money and brought an action against both the Sumstad estate and the Mitchells to determine the owner of the money. The trial court decided in favor of the estate, but in appeal, summary judgment was for the Mitchells.

Since the Mitchells understood the sale was final, and the auctioneer reserved no rights of the estate to any contents of the safe, the reasonable conclusion is that the auctioneer objectively intended to sell both the safe and its contents, and that both parties mutually assented to the sale. Therefore, the Anchorage couple should feel no guilt in keeping the $42, since the Supreme Court ruled that the Mitchells could keep $32,207. -- KNOWS THE LAW

DEAR KNOWS: Surely you also must know that that which is legal is not always moral. I rest my case.