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AGO 1952 No. 252 - March 05, 1952
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

LOG PATROL RIGHTS VS. LITTORAL OWNER RIGHTS.

(a) A seashore owner obtains no proprietary or possessory right in logs stranded on his beach.  Exception ‑ when such logs have been abandoned by their owner.

(b) Aground driftwood, exclusive of logs, piling, poles, and boom sticks, becomes the property of the shore resident subject, of course, to the rights of the real owner.

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                                                                   March 5, 1952

Honorable Andrew Winberg
Representative 21st District
110 W. Third Street
Aberdeen, Washington                                                                                                   Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 252

Dear Sir:

            Receipt is acknowledged of your letter of February 5, 1952, wherein you inquire:

            I. Whether the law vests in the log patrol or the littoral owner the prior right to driftwood and stray logs left upon the beach of the latter by the tide.

            II. Whether chapter 116, Laws of 1947 (§ 8415-10, et seq., Rem. Supp. 1947) grants to log patrolmen complete dominion or authority over Washington tidelands.

            We conclude:

            I. (a) A seashore owner obtains no proprietary or possessory right in logs stranded on his beach.  Exception ‑ when such logs have been abandoned by their owner.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (b) Aground driftwood, exclusive of logs, piling, poles, and boom sticks, becomes the property of the shore resident subject, of course, to the rights of the real owner.

            II. Chapter 116, Laws of 1947 delegates no police power to the log patrol.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            I. (a) In the United States the rule has long prevailed that the owner of logs which have escaped from his custody may pursue and recover them from persons into whose hands they have fallen.  One is not divested of title to his logs merely because they become lost during flotage and subsequently the tide strands them upon the beach of some littoral owner.  34 Am.Jur., Logs and Timber, section 97.  That the same law exists in Washington, see Maulsby v. Cook, 134 Wash. 133, 235 Pac. 23.

            Chapter 116, Laws of 1947, hereinafter termed "the act," provides for the licensing of "all activities [excepting log owner's] in connection with the recapture, repossession and delivery to owners or to boom companies of * * * all logs, piling, poles and boom sticks that are adrift or have been adrift and stranded on beaches, marshes or tidal and shorelands, which have escaped in any manner."  Subsections 2 (a) and 2 (b) of the act.  Section 3 restrains persons and firms from engaging in log patrol activities without state sanction.  It can be readily seen that the legislature has, in effect, bestowed the owner of lost logs with a licensed "finder" or agent, the log patrolman.  And, section 10 provides that to dissolve this relationship the owner must give notice to the log patrol by registered mail.

            The log patrolman, then, is the statutory agent of the owner of lost logs, standing in the same position to the littoral dweller as does his principal.  We conclude, therefore, that the log patrolman has a better right than the seaside resident to the custody or possession of stray "logs, piling, poles and boom sticks * * * stranded on beaches, marshes or tidal and shorelands, which have escaped in any manner from the owner or from a transportation agency, from storage or while being transported."  Subsection 2 (b),supra.  Exception.  If such "logs, piling, poles and boom sticks" have been abandoned by the owner, the right of the log patrolman is subservient to the right of the seashore owner.  See 34 Am.Jur., Logs and Timber, section 99, and Edison Oyster Co. v. Pioneer Oyster Co., 22 Wn. (2d) 616, 157 P. (2d) 302.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            In enacting chapter 116, supra, the legislature distinguished not between the foreign and resident owner.  Neither may we.  As the legislature enacts the law and we only cite it, or in cases of ambiguities, interpret it, we must conclude that the log patrolmen is also the statutory agent of the owner of lost logs who lives in a foreign state or county.

            What has been said applies, perforce, to logs stranded upon public as well as private beaches or tide lands.  And the language is applicable to marked and unmarked logs alike.  In this state, the mere failure to brand when required by law results in the commission of a gross misdemeanor rather than the forfeiture of title.  See Rem. Rev. Stat., § 8381-11.

            I. (b) The act only encompasses "stray logs," which are defined in section 2 (b) as all "logs, piling, poles and boom sticks."  Title to aground driftwood not embraced within this definition, if not in original owner, rests in the littoral proprietor.  Hence, as between the seashore owner and the log patrol, the better legal right, for example, to stranded pieces of bark or branches inheres in the former.  See 34 Am.Jur., Logs and Timber, section 96, and 34 Am.Jur., Lost Property, section 9.

            II. The act vests no police power in the log patrolman.  He is not deputized by the state to maintain law and order.  Nor is he granted any jurisdiction over the beaches.  He has no authority to prohibit anyone from taking stray logs into possession.  Such logs, however, are subject to reasonable recapture by the log patrolman who, by statute, acts as agent of the owner.  See Prosser on Torts, Recapture of Chattels, page 147.  Replevin would seem to be the safe recourse.  Witness,Maulsby v. Cook, supra.  See also Edison Oyster Company v. Pioneer Oyster Company, supra, at 22 Wn. (2d) 625.

            We trust that the above fully answers your inquiry.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

ROBERT A. COMFORT
Assistant Attorney General

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