An individual asserting ownership of any property, that the person alleges is stolen and in the possession of a pawnbroker may recover the property by making a report to the sheriff’s office of the location of the property and providing the sheriff’s office with proof of ownership of the property provided that a report of the theft of the property was made to the proper authorities within 30 days after obtaining knowledge of the theft or loss. In addition, the person asserting ownership must be willing to assist in prosecuting the individual pawning the property. The failure to file a timely report results in the loss of the right to recover possession of property under the Pawnbrokers Act. Alsafi Oriental Rugs v. American Loan Co., 864 S.W.2d 41 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1993).
Upon receipt of the required proof of ownership, the sheriff and the sheriff’s deputies are authorized to recover the property from the pawnbroker without expense to the rightful owner of the property unless the pawnbroker presents evidence of having received proof of ownership of the property by the person who sold the property to the pawnbroker or pledged the property as security for a loan. T.C.A. § 45-6-213(b)(1). The attorney general has opined that T.C.A. § 45-6-213 violates the due process requirements under the Tennessee and United States Constitutions in failing to provide pawnbrokers with prior notice or a hearing before recovering property from them. Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. 02-090 (August 27, 2002). Any property recovered from a pawnbroker pursuant to this section must be returned to the rightful owner of the property, subject to use as evidence in any criminal proceeding. T.C.A. § 45-6-213(b)(1).
In the event that the individual asserting ownership of the pawned property has provided a timely report of the theft or loss of the property and the pawnbroker presents acceptable evidence to the sheriff’s office of having received proper proof of ownership from the person selling or pledging the property, then the sheriff’s office must inform the individual alleging ownership that it will be necessary for that person to commence an appropriate civil action for the return of the property within 30 days of receiving such notice. The pawnbroker will not be required to surrender the property to any law enforcement officer or agency or any other person absent an appropriate warrant. T.C.A. § 45-6-213(b)(2).
If for any reason after the sheriff’s office has seized certain property and is unable to locate the rightful owner of the property after due diligence, then the property can be returned to the pawnbroker upon the pawnbroker executing a hold-harmless agreement to the sheriff’s office pursuant to Title 40, Chapter 33. T.C.A. § 45-6-213(b)(3).