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Locklear v. Sellers

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

November 26, 2013

Donald LOCKLEAR, Appellant
v.
Timothy G. SELLERS and Johnny M. Sellers, Appellees.

Page 979

Carey R. Varnado, Hattiesburg, Brian Randolph Bledsoe, attorneys for appellant.

Alben Norris Hopkins Jr., Mariano Javier Barvie, Gulfport, attorneys for appellees.

Before LEE, C.J., MAXWELL and FAIR, JJ.

FAIR, J.

¶ 1. Brothers Tim and Johnny Sellers, joint owners of a parcel of land in rural Forrest County, brought suit against Donald Locklear, a neighboring landowner. The Sellerses alleged Locklear had constructed a road across their property,

Page 980

against their express direction. The Sellerses' request for admissions was deemed admitted by the chancery court after Locklear, who was not represented by counsel at the time, failed to respond. The admissions resolved liability, and a trial on damages resulted in awards of approximately $64,000 in compensatory damages, $126,000 in punitive damages, and $25,000 in attorney's fees. Locklear appeals, and we affirm.

FACTS

¶ 2. The Sellerses inherited their property, 120 acres straddling Forrest and Perry Counties, which had once been part of a larger block of family land. [1] Locklear purchased a parcel to the south that apparently was once also Sellers family land. The Sellerses' aunt, Mary Sellers, who owned property to the east of the Sellerses, sold Locklear an easement to build a road to access his property. Locklear's gravel road traveled south down the western edge of the Sellers's property until approximately 1,000 feet from Locklear's property line, if it had continued due south. There, an existing trail " cut the corner" of the Sellerses' property at approximately a thirty-degree angle. Locklear built his road over the trail, and some land adjoining it was cleared for the installation of utilities.[2] The road spanned about 1,200 feet on the Sellerses' property, and approximately 84,000 square feet was disturbed. Ultimately, Locklear subdivided his parcel and cashed out. Several homes were constructed on the former Locklear property, and the Locklear road was used to access them.

¶ 3. Locklear's most relevant admissions were:

REQUEST NO. 6: Admit that [Locklear] trespassed on the [Sellerses'] property.
REQUEST NO. 7: Admit that [Locklear] was advised and specifically instructed to stay off the [Sellerses'] property, that the admonition was ignored[, and that] Locklear entered the [Sellerses'] property anyway.
....
REQUEST NO. 11: Admit that the [Sellerses] suffered damages to the property as a result ...

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