You are watching: Possession is 9 tenths of the law
While modern courts do not formally observe the “nine-tenths of the law” principle, possession still matters today. In 1998, a Texas court acknowledged the “nine-tenths” principle but made clear that possession is merely part of a “hierarchy of title.” In re Garza, 984 S.W.2d 344 (Tex. App.–Amarillo 1998). The Garza court found that while possession (in that case of a motor vehicle) trumps the claim of a party who has neither record title nor possession, mere possession is subordinate to the claims of a party having record title to the property.
The importance of possession on claims to property is still reflected in at least a couple of legal doctrines. The doctrine of “adverse possession” awards legal title to real property to a party that has continuously occupied land despite title to that property being held by another party.
The period for which an adverse possessor must occupy real property varies from state to state. Possession is also important to the “rule of capture.” Historically, this rule applied to give ownership of game animals to the first person to capture the animal. In more recent times, it has applied to give title to natural resources, like oil and gas, to the first person to take possession of the resource.
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In conclusion, while having possession of property rarely hurts your claim, it is far from definitive. When in doubt, call your lawyer.