Ghen v. Rich
8 F. 159 (1881)

  • Ghen was a whale hunter. At the time, the way to hunt whales was to shoot them with an explosive harpoon. The dead whale sinks and a few days later floats the surface and ends up washing ashore somewhere. The hunters go and find the whale and extract blubber to make whale oil.
    • In many cases, the whale carcasses were found by people on the shore who would alert the hunters to their presence for a finder’s fee.
      • The hunters marked the whale with a flag so you’d know who killed it.
  • Ghen killed a whale. It resurfaced a few days later and was found by Ellis. Instead of alerting Ghen, Ellis sold the blubber to Rich. Ghen sued for replevin.
    • At the time, it was a well known practice, and Ellis should have known the “rules.”
    • Replevin is where you sue to get something somebody stole from you returned.
  • The Trial Court found for Ghen.
    • The Trial Court found that it was custom to award the whale to the ship who killed it.
    • The Court suggested that if someone were allowed to step in and take the whale, it would discourage people from hunting whales, since they could never be sure of retrieving the fruits of their labor.
      • Gosh, wouldn’t it be horrible if people were discouraged from hunting whales?
  • Since this was decided in an Admiralty Court, Ghen is called a libellant, not a plaintiff, and Rich is a respondent, not a defendant.