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STEVEN D. TURNEY, ET UX. v. MARION COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION AND WILLIAM A. STAFFORD

NOVEMBER 27, 1985

STEVEN D. TURNEY, ET UX.
v.
MARION COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION AND WILLIAM A. STAFFORD, SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION



BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, DAN LEE AND PRATHER

PRATHER, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

The legal authority of a county board of education in managing sixteenth section public school land is challenged in this appeal from the Chancery Court of Marion County. Steven and Michelle Turney, appellants and lessees of sixteenth section school land, claimed that re-lease rent calculations were incorrectly made and that the Marion County Board of Education, appellee, had no authority to require them to sign a lease. From the chancellor's adverse ruling, the Turneys appeal and assign as error the following:

(1) The trial court erred in failing to recognize the 1982 lease that was recorded in the chancery clerk's office;

 (2) The board of education was not authorized to draw up an additional lease without a request therefor being made by applicant pursuant to 29-3-82;

 (3) The school board was not authorized to demand that appellants sign the lease;

 (4) The school board was not authorized to impose the conditions demanded in the lease;

 (5) The defendants incorrectly determined the dollar amount of the rental.

 I.

 Steven and Michelle Turney were the holders of a lease on a thirty-one acre tract of sixteenth section land in Marion County. Based on usage, the land is classified by

 the County Board of Education as "farm-residential." Before their original lease terminated in 1982, the Turneys applied for a renewal, and the Marion County Board of Education had the land reappraised. The new appraisal resulted in an appraised rental value of $11.25 per acre. The appraisal method was the subject of a former appeal to this Court by the same parties. Barber v. Turney, 423 So. 2d 133 (Miss. 1982).

 Pursuant to that court decision, the Marion County Board of Education employed two appraisers to reappraise the fair market rental value of the subject land. In 1983 a new lease was submitted to the Turneys by the Board. The 1983 lease was properly signed by the Superintendent of Education and the presidents of the Board of Education and the Board of Supervisors. The lease contained new lease provisions including a new rental amount of $5.25 per acre. Other than the 1982 application, no new application for re-lease was ever submitted by the Turneys. The Turneys refused to sign the new contract and brought the action that resulted in this appeal.

 In the trial court the Turneys complained that the Board of Education had improperly determined the rental amount and that the Board of Education had exceeded its lawful authority in requiring the Turneys to sign the new lease. The chancellor found, in summary, that:

 (1) The Board properly determined the rental amount;

 (2) The Board did not exceed its lawful authority to sign what was not an excessively burdensome lease;

 (3) The Turneys had twenty additional days to exercise their prior right to re-lease the thirty-one acres in question by signing the lease offered by the Board and their failure to do so would cancel the lease and authorize the Board to lease the land elsewhere.

 II.

 This appeal deals with sixteenth section school trust lands. Of benefit to the reader may be a brief summary of the history of the development of this trust, a history which antedates the formation of the State of Mississippi. Such a history is contained in Papasan v. United States, 756 F.2d 1087 (1985). (See Appendix for a partial text of Papasan v. United States, concerning the history of sixteenth section school lands.)

 III.

 This appeal basically challenges the authority of the Board of Education in its management of sixteenth section school lands. The first four assignments of error address an alleged usurpation of authority.

 First, did the trial court err in failing to recognize the 1982 recorded lease which was the subject of the prior appeal?

 The Turneys adhere to the position that the prior 1982 recorded lease remains in full force and effect, subject to judicial review of the methodology utilized in establishing the rental amount. Arguing that the validity of the 1982 lease has never been in question, the Turneys contend that the Board of Education is bound by the stipulation it made in the prior suit that the lease was valid. The Turneys further contend that the 1982 lease is prima facie valid because it was executed and recorded in substantial conformity with Miss. Code Ann. 29-3-82 (Supp. 1984).

 Appellees, on the other hand, contend the 1982 lease is void because it was not signed by the appellants. The Board is presently requiring the lessee to sign the new proposed lease.

 A comprehensive discussion of the law on signature requirement is found in 17 C.J.S. Contracts 62 (1963) which, as cited in McInnis v. Southeastern Automatic Sprinkler Co., 233 So. 2d 219 (Miss. 1970), reads in pertinent part:

 Ordinarily one of the acts forming part of the execution of a written contract is the signing of it, and the mere fact that a written instrument purports to be an agreement does not constitute it a binding contract where it is not signed. However, signature is not always essential to the binding force of an agreement, and whether a writing constitutes a binding contract even though it is not signed or whether the signing of the instrument is a condition precedent to its becoming a binding contract usually depends on the intention of the parties. The object of a signature is to show mutuality or assent, but these facts may be shown in other ways, as, for example, by the acts or conduct of the parties.

 17 C.J.S. Contracts 62 (1963) goes on to read in part:

 The question as to whether those who have signed are bound is generally to be determined by the intention and understanding of the parties at the time of the execution of the instrument. The reason for holding the instrument void is that it was intended that all the parties should execute it and that each executes it on the implied condition that it is to be executed by the others, and, therefore, that until executed by all it is inchoate and incomplete and never takes effect as a valid contract, and this is especially true where the agreement expressly provides, or its manifest intent is, that it is not to be binding until signed.

 The common thread running through both of the above-quoted passages deals with the intent of the parties. Whether an unsigned writing constitutes a binding contract depends upon the intention of the parties. Collins v. Swope, 605 S.W.2d 538 (Mo. Ct. App. 1980).

 In the present case the Turneys chose not to sign the 1982 lease because they did not agree with the terms contained therein. Steve Turney testified regarding the 1982 lease:

 And since I felt the lease was illegal, deceptive and threatening, that since I had submitted my application and agreed to the amount of time and the amount of dollars, and to abide by the law, that I would prefer not to sign a lease that I felt was not in good standing.

 It is obvious from the testimony of Steven Turney that he wanted to use the land, but he did not want to be obligated to the terms of the lease contract which gave him possession of the land. His testimony indicated lack of mutuality, lack of assent, and lack of willingness to be bound by the contract he now claims is valid.

 Because of this apparent lack of intent to be bound, the chancellor committed no error in not recognizing the 1982 lease, and in supporting the Board's requirement of the lessees' signatures.

 IV.

 Was the Board of Education authorized to draw up an additional lease without a request therefor being made by the Turneys?

 The thrust of appellants' argument under this assignment of error is that the Board was not authorized to draw the 1983 lease because the 1983 lease was not requested by the appellants. Appellants base this contention on Miss. Code Ann. 29-3-82 (a) (Supp. 1984) which reads, "Any present leaseholder who desires to renew his lease, or any person who desires to lease sixteenth section or lieu lands, shall make application to the superintendent of education."

 While 29-3-82 (a) describes the process by which present leaseholders renew their leases, it does not purport to impose the kind of limitations on the board of education that the appellants contend. Appellants' contention seems frivolous in light of the circumstances leading up to this case.

 V.

 Was the Board authorized to require the Turneys' signature on the 1983 lease?

 The question posed here is whether the Board of Education may impose requirements of the lessee not specifically addressed by the empowering statute. Appellants contend that the Marion County Board of Education does not have the authority to require them to sign the 1983 lease agreement. Appellants rely on Miss. Code Ann. 29-3-82 (Supp. 1984) which requires the following for the lease of sixteenth section property not classified as agricultural land:

 (a) Any present leaseholder who desires to renew his lease, or any person who desires to lease sixteenth section or lieu lands, shall make application to the superintendent of education.

 (b) Upon receipt of an application for the lease of such lands, the superintendent of education shall promptly give consideration to the application and he shall record his recommendation in writing and present it to the board of education at the next regular meeting of the board.

 (c) The board of education at its meeting, shall consider the application and recommendation of the superintendent of education and may receive any other information which it considers bearing upon the approval of the application and lease of such land. Within thirty (30) days of the receipt of an application, the board shall act on the

 application and if such action is favorable, the board of education shall submit to the superintendent of education a suggested lease agreement.

 (d) The superintendent of education shall then present the lease to the board of supervisors of the county where such land is located. Within thirty (30) days of the receipt of the lease, the board of supervisors shall accept or reject the proposed rental amount.

 (e) If the board of supervisors accepts the lease as proposed by the board of education, the superintendent of education shall execute the lease to the applicant under the ...


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