Nemo dat quod non habet

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'One can't give what one doesn't have' (see: Title). This is the principle that a person can't give a better title to goods than that which he holds himself. There are four well-known exceptions to this principle.

  • If person A hands over goods to person B to sell on A's behalf, and if B sells to C, then C obtains A's title, not B's. This means that A could not enforce damages against C, nor force the goods to be returned, if B did not pay him. This allows people to from agents (e.g., car dealers) without worrying that the previous owner will attempt to reclaim if the agent defaults on payment.
  • Similarly, if A hands goods to B in the expectation of payment, and B then sells to C, C obtains A's title, not B's. This allows people to buy from, say, a retailer without worrying that the retailer's supplier would be able to reclaim if the retailer defaulted on payment. Otherwise the whole business of trade would falter.
  • If A contracts to sell to B, but B does not claim the goods, and A sells them again to C, then C obtains A's title. The principle here is that if one arranges to buy goods, and doesn't claim them, one can't complain if the seller sells to someone else instead.
  • A person who buys in 'Market overt' always obtains good title, even if the seller's title is worthless.
    Land and Property Law