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    Champlin vs. US Navy: Recovery of Devastator

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    1. Do you think that Mr. Champlin should have consulted with the Navy before spending his time and money on this project? Consider whether there should be a time limit or statute of limitations regarding the forfeiture or non-forfeiture of title.

    2. Consider what this rule might mean to businesses, particularly those that contract with the government. Consider, for example, a store or outlet that purchases federal/military surplus.

    Article (also attached)

    Finders Weepers, Losers Keepers

    LEAD STORY-DATELINE: The News Journal, July 20, 2000

    In 1943, During World War II, a Navy TBD-1 Devastator crashed eight miles of the coast of Florida. The entire crew survived and there is no indication that any efforts were made to locate the plane by the Navy. Collector Doug Champlin, the owner of an airplane museum in Arizona, spent approximately $130,000.00 to recover the plane. The problem has to do with ownership. He claims to be the owner of the lost/abandoned plane. The Navy claims ownership and wants to put the plane in the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola, Naval Air Station. The TBD-1 Devastator has significant historical value as no Devastators survived the war.

    The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that only Congress can order the abandonment of federal property. Hence the Navy owns the plane. Mr. Champlin doesn't mind giving the plane back to the Navy; he just wants to be reimbursed. The Navy is hesitant to pay and Mr. Champlin is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.

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    Solution Preview

    Well, as they say, "hindsight is 20/20." If he had consulted with the Navy before he engaged in the rescue effort, one of two things may have happened. Either the Navy would have given him permission to hunt down the Devastator (thinking that there was no reasonable chance of success) or they wouldn't have (thinking that it was still their property.)

    Under the first scenario, Mr. Champlin would have gone ahead without any reprisals of a suit upon his find. Under the second scenario, he would have had a choice: go ahead with the rescue attempt anyway and see how the courts will settle it all out or just acquiesce and do nothing.

    Clearly, Mr. Champlin was a "go-getter" type of guy. Shoot and ask questions later. One ...

    Solution Summary

    This is an important case with tremendous implications. I provide an interesting perspective on this case that addresses both the desires of individuals like Doug Champlin and the powers of the US military.