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Bray v. Wooten

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

August 22, 2017

FERLISI BRAY, RUBY JANELL MOORE, CASSANDRA FAY BERRY, KIMBERLY AUTMAN-SEVRANEK, HELEN AUTMAN, MARILYN AUTMAN-WALLACE, HELEN CHERIE AUTMAN-AULTMAN, SHELLY CHERIE AUTMAN-SMITH, BRENDA AUTMAN-DARDEN, LINDA AUTMAN-MCDONALD, SHARON AUTMAN-BROOKS, CATHERINE AUTMAN, DOROTHY ANN AUTMAN WARD, ERTHA WOOTEN WATSON AND JOHNNY LEE HARRIS APPELLANTS
v.
RUFUS WOOTEN, DOROTHY WOOTEN, SHEDRICK WOOTEN, FLORA WOOTEN AND MISSISSIPPI POWER COMPANY APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/11/2014

         KEMPER COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. JOSEPH KILGORE JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS JAMES A. WILLIAMS

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: KARL CRAWFORD HIGHTOWER WILLIAM B. JACOB BEN HARRY STONE

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., BARNES AND FAIR, JJ.

          GRIFFIS, P.J.

         ¶1. This case considers a dispute as to the proper ownership or title to property located in Kemper County, Mississippi. Ferlisi Bray and several heirs-at-law of Frank Wooten Jr. (collectively referred to as "Bray) challenged the title of land owned by the heirs of Rufus Wooten Sr. (collectively referred to as "Wooten") and Mississippi Power Company. Mississippi Power is a party to this action because the land in issue would be used by Mississippi Power's Kemper County coal plant due to the large lignite coal deposits contained in the land. The Chancery Court of Kemper County granted summary judgment. We find no error and affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. On January 11, 1925, Frank Wooten Jr. died intestate. He left 126 acres of land in Kemper County to his wife, Pearlie Wooten, and his ten children.

         ¶3. By deed dated October 20, 1933, Frank Jr.'s ten children conveyed their interest in the land to Pearlie. The deed was signed by two minor children: Phenolia Wooten (born on October 15, 1916), and Trecia Wooten (born on August 12, 1917).

         ¶4. On November 11, 1952, Pearlie conveyed the land to her children in three separate conveyances. She conveyed sixty-six acres to Rufus Sr. She also conveyed twenty acres to Arthur Wooten. She then conveyed forty acres to her remaining eight children. At the time of the conveyance, Pearlie lived with Rufus Sr. and his family in the house on the land. Arthur resided in a nearby house that was also on the property.

         ¶5. Pearlie died in 1964. That same year, Arthur conveyed his twenty-acre tract to Rufus Sr., who continued to live and work on the land until his death in 2006. At Rufus Sr.'s death, the property passed to his sons, Rufus Wooten Jr. and Shedrick Wooten, through a series of leases and conveyances. Bray claims an interest in this land.

         ¶6. Bray also claims an interest in the land conveyed by Wooten and Kenny Wooten to Mississippi Power. Mississippi Power intended to use the land for the Kemper County coal plant due to the large lignite coal deposits contained in the land. This conveyance gave rise to the current action against Mississippi Power.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶7. On September 6, 2013, Bray filed a complaint in Kemper County Chancery Court to quiet title in the entire 126 acres. Bray alleged that the 1933 and 1952 deeds were invalid and the land passed to Frank Jr.'s heirs-at-law. The primary argument was that the 1933 deed was invalid because two minors signed the deed.

         ¶8. On October 2, 2013, Bray filed a first amended complaint. Wooten answered the complaint the following day. On October 28, 2013, Mississippi Power filed its responsive pleading, which included a counterclaim for adverse possession.

         ¶9. On November 4, 2013, Wooten propounded discovery. The discovery included requests for admissions, which Bray failed to answer in a timely manner. On January 2, 2014, Wooten filed a motion to deem the requested matters admitted. On January 15, 2014, Bray filed a motion to withdraw the deemed admissions.

         ¶10. On March 3, 2014, Wooten filed a motion for summary judgment. In the motion for summary judgment, Wooten argued that Bray failed to dispute the validity of the 1933 deed and did not demonstrate any renunciation by the minors. Thus, Wooten argued that this inaction validated the 1933 deed and the subsequent deeds, which entitled him to a judgment as a matter of law.

         ¶11. On April 15, 2014, Bray filed a motion for a continuance. Bray asked for additional time to file a second amended complaint, to respond to Wooten's motion for ...


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