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Harrison County Utility Authority v. Walker

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

January 14, 2014

HARRISON COUNTY UTILITY AUTHORITY, APPELLANT
v.
HELEN PETERSON WALKER, OWNER; AND JAMES E. WALKER, JR., AS ATTORNEY-IN-FACT, APPELLEES

Page 609

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HARRISON COUNTY SPECIAL COURT OF EMINENT DOMAIN. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/01/2012. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. MICHAEL H. WARD. TRIAL COURT DISMISSED CONDEMNATION ACTION.

DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND REMANDED.

FOR APPELLANT: JAMES C. SIMPSON JR., THORNTON RUSSELL NOBILE.

FOR APPELLEES: GARY WHITE.

BEFORE IRVING, P.J., ROBERTS AND JAMES, JJ. LEE, C.J., IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ROBERTS, MAXWELL AND FAIR, JJ., CONCUR. ISHEE AND CARLTON, JJ., NOT PARTICIPATING.

OPINION

Page 610

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - EMINENT DOMAIN

JAMES, J.

¶1. Harrison County Utility Authority (HCUA) initiated a quick-take condemnation action relating to certain land owned by Helen Peterson Walker, which was filed in the Harrison County Special Court of Eminent Domain. After an order was entered granting HCUA the right of immediate title to and possession of the property, Walker, her husband, James Walker Sr., and her son, James Walker Jr., filed a separate lawsuit against HCUA asserting that James Sr. and James Jr. held an interest in the property by virtue of a misfiled warranty deed. The trial court dismissed HCUA's condemnation action, without prejudice, finding HCUA had notice of James Sr. and James Jr.'s interest in the property and failed to join them in the action. HCUA appealed. Finding error, we reverse and remand.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2. On April 13, 2009, HCUA, an agency authorized by Mississippi law to acquire property by eminent domain, filed a complaint to acquire an easement over the subject property, the " Walker parcel," located in the Second Judicial District of Harrison County. HCUA required the easement in order to bring water and wastewater to a new wastewater-treatment facility being constructed in Biloxi, Mississippi.

¶3. Prior to filing its compliant, HCUA engaged the services of an abstractor, who conducted a title search of the land records of the Second Judicial District of Harrison County. The search revealed that the property at issue had been owned by Walker, in fee simple, since 1954. On August 13, 2008, HCUA mailed Walker a Notice to Owner, informing her that HCUA was considering acquiring an interest in her property. According to HCUA, Walker's son, James Jr., contacted HCUA's counsel and informed HCUA that he had power of attorney for his mother and asked to be included in any further discussions regarding the proposed acquisition of the property.

¶4. On November 12, 2008, HCUA sent a Formal Offer of Purchase letter to Walker and to James Jr. The letter informed Walker that HCUA needed to acquire a 50-foot easement on the Walker parcel and offered $9,000 as compensation for the easement. On March 3, 2009, Walker sent a letter to HCUA's counsel in which she stated that selling an easement was not an

Page 611

option. The letter contained a counteroffer in which Walker offered to sell HCUA the entire four-acre parcel for $125,000 per acre. The letter was signed by Walker and James Jr. under power of attorney for Walker.

¶5. On April 13, 2009, HCUA filed a quick-take condemnation action in the Harrison County Special Court of Eminent Domain against Walker, as owner, and James Jr., as attorney-in-fact, and a Lis Pendens Notice. On May 18, 2009, the court appointed an independent appraiser. The appraisal was filed on May 27, 2009, valuing the easement to be worth $11,340. On June 5, 2009, HCUA deposited $11,340 with the clerk of the court. ...


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