United States v. Shivers
96 F.3d 120 (5th Cir. 1996)

  • Shivers found some buried treasure using a metal detector. He was looking in an abandoned town that happened to be located within the Angelina National Forest.
    • Shivers found a cache of tokens used to pay lumber company employees.
  • The government stepped in and confiscated the tokens. Shivers made a motion to have the tokens returned.
    • The government argued that Shivers did not own the tokens because the Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) (16 U.S.C. 470ee) said that no person may remove an archeological resource from public lands without a permit.
    • Shivers argued that he should get to keep the tokens because they were not " archeological resources" as defined by ARPA.
      • 470aa(b) defines archeological resources as items older than 100 years (which the tokens were not).
    • Shivers argued that 470kk(b) implies that private individuals are authorized by ARPA to remove items less than 100 years old and retain ownership.
      • 470kk says that things that are not archeological resources are not covered by ARPA.
  • The Trial Court found for the government. Shivers appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that ARPA is silent on items newer than 100 years old. Therefore, it cannot vest Shivers with an ownership interest.
      • All it says that is that you don't need a permit for the collection of certain artifacts, it says nothing about transferring property rights.
    • In the absence of a controlling Statute, the Court applied the common law of finds, which holds that the United States is the rightful owner.
      • The common law of finds generally assigns ownership of abandoned property that has been buried to the owner of the property.