This remarkably complex case involves a staggering number of parties, all claiming ownership of the One Ring. It may be useful at this stage in the proceedings to briefly outline the positions of the various claimants as I understand them.
SAURON claims ownership on the ground that he created the ring for his own use, and that it only left his possession through the torts of trespass, assault, battery and conversion allegedly committed against him by the late ISILDUR. Sauron argues that his title to the ring was never surrendered or extinguished, that he at no time abandoned his claim, and that in any event on public policy grounds neither the estate of Isildur nor any of those working in concert with it should be permitted to hold legal or equitable title to the ring, as such would have the effect of allowing tortfeasors to profit from their wrongdoing. Sauron also asks this court for a declaration that the ring is a living creature, possessing an animus revertendi and exhibiting a consistent tendency and desire to return to Sauron as its rightful owner. Further, as certain parties to this action have expressed the intention to destroy the ring if successful in their claims, Sauron submits that the ring should not go to them in any event.
It is common ground that Sauron did in fact make the ring, and it is conceded by most parties that he did at least own the ring at that time. THE ELVES, however, assert an IP claim against Sauron for his creation of the ring, which they allege involved unauthorized use of their trade secrets. The Elves seek an order that the ring be destroyed.
THE HEIR OF ISILDUR, Aragorn, denies Sauron's allegations of assault and other torts, and claims the ring as proper spoils of war. He alleges that any torts committed took place in the context of a war in which Sauron was the clear aggressor, and that possession as well as legal and equitable title passed to Isildur. If that argument fails, Aragorn submits that regardless of who had legal title to the ring when Isildur took possession of it, that title would have been extinguished during the years the ring was lost following Isildur's death. Aragorn has admitted in oral argument that his intention is to give the ring to Frodo Baggins, who intends to destroy it.
THE STEWARD OF GONDOR, Denethor, contests Aragorn's standing to represent Isildur's estate, and claims that he holds any right to the ring through Isildur. While Denethor has been recognized as the lawful steward of Isildur's estate, his case is hurt somewhat by the fact that not one but two of his agents are alleged to have repudiated his claim to the ring. Denethor disputes that his son Boromir made any repudiation before his death, and while he acknowledges that his son Faramir did permit Frodo to abscond with the ring, he argues that Faramir's actions were unauthorized and should not be binding upon him. Finally, Denethor asks this court to consider the balance of hardships and grant an equitable order that the ring be sent to Gondor to defend its people.
SMEAGOL's claim to the ring is complicated. His original submission to this court asserted that he had received the ring as a birthday present from a Deagol, and then claimed he had received it as a donatio mortis causa, but was unwilling to provide supporting details. He has since retained as counsel Mr. Gollum, and his amended statement of claim is ingenious to say the least. If I understand it correctly, he seems to be saying that the ring was found by Deagol, at which point title would have vested in the crown of the River Folk by treasure trove. Smeagol claims title to the ring as the sole surviving member of the River Folk, and in the alternative, he asserts simple adverse possession. Smeagol further argues that regardless of the validity of his own claim to the ring, his possession should have been effective as against all but the rightful owner, and hence Mr. Baggins' taking of the ring from him was unlawful in any event.
THE GREAT GOBLIN also claims title to the ring by right of treasure trove, in this instance by virtue of Mr. Bilbo Baggins having found the ring while in his territory. Smeagol disputes the Great Goblin's claim, asserting that the area in which the ring was found was in fact outside the de facto and de jure territory of the Goblin kingdom, notwithstanding that the site in question lies within the Misty Mountains which is otherwise recognized as Goblin territory. It appears that there is a triable issue here concerning the status of this real estate, but I am not at this time convinced that such a determination will be necessary to dispose of the present action.
OAKENSHIELD AND COMPANY have submitted what is essentially a contractual claim, alleging that Bilbo Baggins was in their employ as a burglar at the time he found the ring, and was bound by the terms of a treasure sharing agreement. Oakenshield asserts that the ring was not subjected to the treasure distribution procedure prescribed by the contract, and asks that it be returned to the company for such distribution. Mr. Frodo Baggins argues on his uncle's behalf that Bilbo's possession of the ring was known to the company and implicitly ratified by them.
THE SACKVILLE BAGGINSES assert a claim to the ring by two rather convoluted theories. The first is very similar to Smeagol's argument by treasure trove on behalf of the River Folk, except for the allegation that the Shire Folk are the successors to the River Folk. This argument seems to me to be subject to some very difficult evidentiary burdens, and I might have granted Frodo's motion to strike for lack of standing but for their second argument, for which they do have standing. The second theory is based upon a contract whereby Frodo allegedly transferred all of Bilbo's chattels as well as the house at Bag End to the Sackville-Bagginses, and that on a proper construction of this contract the ring would have been included with these chattels. In the alternative they seek an order declaring Bilbo incompetent, voiding his will and appointing SARUMAN THE WHITE his trustee. In their submissions, they allege that Gandalf the Grey breached a fiduciary duty to Bilbo by coercing him into giving the ring to Frodo. Counsel for Saruman, Mr. Grima, confirms that Saruman is willing to accept responsibility for Bilbo's affairs.
FRODO BAGGINS claims to have received the ring as an inter vivos gift from Bilbo, who is his uncle. He asserts that the ring was abandoned property when Bilbo found it, as Smeagol could have had no legal or equitable claim to the ring and in any event was not in proper possession or control of it at the time. He specifically denies the application of the doctrine of treasure trove to the ring on the ground that the ring is not essentially treasure within the ambit of the law, deriving its value from its function of rendering its user invisible rather than from its composition, which is acknowledged to be gold. If the doctrine of treasure trove is held to apply with respect to Deagol's finding of the ring, Frodo contests the Sackville-Bagginses right to speak for the Shire Folk. In the alternative, Frodo asserts that he holds the ring in trust for the Council of Rivendell, having received it as a bailment for the express purpose of destroying it in the fires of Mount Doom. He suggests that, as the Council of Rivendell represented the interests of the Elves, the Heir of Isildur, and the Steward of Gondor. and arguably the Shire, and that any successful claims by any of these parties will ultimately result in his possession of the ring being lawful.
Mr. Baggins' last argument is particularly insightful. There are simply too many parties to this action, and the burden on this court in sorting out all the claims is quite unreasonable. Many of the parties appear to have closely convergent interests, and some parties are submitting their own briefs when they could just as easily appear as witnesses for a party whose ultimate objective is substantially the same. I believe it would be in the interests of all parties if we could simplify the issues here, if for no other reason than that it would substantially reduce the costs. For this reason, I am ordering an adjournment to allow the parties to confer and identify which of them can consolidate their claims.
Also, in light of the fact that certain parties intend to destroy the ring, which would clearly prejudice the interests of the other parties, I am ordering that pending the final outcome of this litigation, the ring will stay in the custody of this court.