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Hosemann v. Harris

Supreme Court of Mississippi

April 2, 2015

C. DELBERT HOSEMANN, JR., IN HIS CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF STATE AND AS TRUSTEE OF THE PUBLIC TIDELANDS TRUST, THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, JACKSON COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI AND CITY OF OCEAN SPRINGS, MISSISSIPPI
v.
DAVID NEIL HARRIS, SR., VECIE MICHELLE HARRIS AND CLYDE H. GUNN, III

Page 264

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: JACKSON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 12/13/2012. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. ROBERT L. LANCASTER.

FOR APPELLANTS: HUGH D. KEATING, JE'NELL BLOCHER BLUM, PAULA N. STENNETT-YANCEY, JESSICA MARIE DUPONT, RYAN ANTHONY FREDERIC, AMY LASSITTER ST. PE', ROBERT W. WILKINSON.

FOR APPELLEES: JOHN G. CORLEW, VIRGINIA T. MUNFORD, DAVID NEIL HARRIS, JR.

BEFORE WALLER, C.J., LAMAR AND KING, JJ. WALLER, C.J., DICKINSON, P.J., LAMAR, KITCHENS AND CHANDLER, JJ., CONCUR. RANDOLPH, P.J., PIERCE AND COLEMAN, JJ., NOT PARTICIPATING.

OPINION

Page 265

KING, JUSTICE

¶1. Abutting landowners, Clyde H. Gunn, D. Neil Harris, and Vecie Michelle Harris, filed suit to confirm title to a sand beach located to the south of a road and seawall in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The State of Mississippi (" the State" ), the County of Jackson (" the County" ), and the City of Ocean Springs (" the City" ) claim title to the same land. The lower court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Gunn and Neil and Vecie Harris (Harris) and found that the sand beach was not public trust tidelands. The chancellor then vested title to the sand beach in fee simple in Gunn and Harris, subject to prescriptive easements to the City and County for maintenance.

¶2. The State, County, and City appeal and raise these issues:

I. Whether the trial court erred in granting partial summary judgment on the tidelands issue.
II. Whether the chancellor erred in denying the State's Motion to Dismiss for expiration of the statute of limitations under the Tidelands Act.
III. Whether the chancellor erred in confirming fee simple title to the sand beach in Gunn and Harris.
IV. Whether the chancellor properly excluded the expert testimony of Cole, Schwartz, and Compton.
V. Whether the chancellor erred in denying the County's Motion in Limine to exclude evidence based on Corlew's statements in a companion case.
VI. Whether the chancellor erred in allowing testimony on individual statements of a County supervisor.
VII. Whether the chancellor erred in holding the County and City failed to establish title to the disputed property by statute, adverse possession, or public prescriptive easement.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶3. This is a title suit affecting significant public and private interests. Gunn and Harris each own beachfront property in an area known as " East Beach" in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Starting from the Mississippi Sound going north, there is marsh grass, a sand beach, a seawall, a road, and the yards of the Gunn and Harris properties.

Page 266

¶4. Gunn and Harris previously filed for an injunction to prevent the City of Ocean Springs from constructing a sidewalk on the sand beach. The chancellor granted a permanent injunction that prevented the City from constructing the sidewalk but refrained from drawing property lines or declaring ownership. This Court vacated the chancellor's grant of a permanent injunction and remanded the case with instruction to continue the original preliminary injunction pending determination of ownership of the disputed property.

¶5. Gunn and Harris then each filed suit in the Chancery Court of Jackson County to quiet and confirm title to the sand beach. Because Neil Harris was a sitting chancellor in Jackson County, all Jackson County chancellors recused themselves. Special Chancellor Robert Lancaster was appointed.[1] The actions were consolidated first for discovery and later for all purposes. Gunn and Harris filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to whether the sand beach was considered tidelands under the Public Trust Tidelands Act. The State responded with a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), claiming that Gunn and Harris were outside the statute of limitations under the Tidelands Act. At the hearing for the partial summary judgment motion, Gunn and Harris moved to strike and exclude the affidavit of George M. Cole, a licensed surveyor, who was to testify that the Gunn and Harris deeds indicated the 1916 shoreline was inland of the current seawall. Special Chancellor Lancaster granted the motion to strike Cole's affidavit, concluding that the affidavit did not comply with Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and did not include admissible evidence.

¶6. On August 16, 2012, the chancellor granted the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, holding that the boundary of the tidelands was the mean high water line closest to July 1, 1973, and ruling that the State had failed in its burden to produce admissible evidence showing the boundary was not this line.[2] The chancellor also denied the State's Motions to Dismiss, ruling that motions to dismiss were not proper avenues to determine statute of limitations issues. The chancellor filed an Addendum to Opinion on the partial summary judgment ruling on August 20, 2012, addressing the difference between the present case and Gilich.[3] The chancellor recognized that there was a dilemma between the Tidelands Act and the Harrison County beaches, but reaffirmed his original opinion and found that, unlike in Gilich, the State in this case did not produce admissible evidence that the sand beach was created by ...


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