DAVID NEIL HARRIS, SR., VECIE MICHELE HARRIS, AND CLYDE H. GUNN, III
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, SECRETARY OF STATE, JACKSON COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, CITY OF OCEAN SPRINGS, MISSISSIPPI AND DELBERT HOSEMANN, JR.
OF JUDGMENT: 07/12/2016
JACKSON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. HOLLIS McGEHEE TRIAL JUDGE
COURT ATTORNEYS: JOHN G. CORLEW VIRGINIA T. MUNFORD DAVID N.
HARRIS, JR. W. TREY JONES JOSEPH A. SCLAFANI HUGH D. KEATING
JE'NELL B. BLUM ROBERT W. WILKINSON AMY LASSITTER ST.
PE' DAVID CRANE LEE D. THAMES, JR.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: DAVID N. HARRIS, JR. A. SCOTT
CUMBEST JOHN G. CORLEW.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: JOSEPH ANTHONY SCLAFANI W. TREY
JONES HUGH D. KEATING JE'NELL B. BLUM LEE D. THAMES, JR.
DAVID CRANE ROBERT W. WILKINSON.
WALLER, C.J., COLEMAN AND CHAMBERLIN, JJ.
Landowners David Neil Harris, Sr., Vecie Michelle Harris
("Harris") and Clyde H. Gunn III filed suits to
confirm title to their waterfront properties in Ocean
Springs, Mississippi. The State of Mississippi (the
"State"), the County of Jackson (the
"County") and the City of Ocean Springs (the
"City") asserted title to a portion of the same
waterfront properties claimed by the landowners: a strip of
sand beach located south of a road and a seawall. After a
full trial on the merits, the chancellor found that the State
of Mississippi held title to the sand beach in front of the
Harris and Gunn properties as public-trust tidelands. The
landowners now appeal. After review, we find no error and
affirm the chancellor's final judgments.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Harris and Gunn both own beachfront property along "East
Beach" in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Hosemann v.
Harris, 163 So.3d 263, 265 (Miss. 2015). "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." Id.
Harris and Gunn previously filed for an injunction in Hinds
County Chancery Court to prevent the City from constructing a
sidewalk on the beach. Sec'y of State v. Gunn,
75 So.3d 1015, 1016 (Miss. 2011). As the parties represented
that suits to confirm title had already been filed in the
Jackson County Chancery Court, the Hinds County Chancery
Court refrained from confirming title but did issue a
permanent injunction preventing the City from constructing
the sidewalk. Id. at 1016-17, 1019. On appeal, this
Court vacated the permanent injunction and left the initial
preliminary injunction in place until ownership of the beach
could be determined. Id. at 1017.
Harris and Gunn then each proceeded to confirm title in the
Jackson County actions. Harris, 163 So.3d at 266.
Their suits were consolidated first for discovery and later
for all purposes. Id.
Eventually, the chancellor granted Harris and Gunn partial
summary judgment, finding that under the Public Trust
Tidelands Act (the "Tidelands Act") the boundary of
the tidelands was the mean high-water line closest in time to
July 1, 1973. Id. The chancellor ruled
"that the State had failed in its burden to produce
admissible evidence showing the boundary was not this
A trial was held on the County's and City's remaining
adverse possession and prescriptive easement claims.
Id. "The chancellor confirmed and quieted title
to the sand beach in Gunn and Harris, subject to prescriptive
easements for the County and City. The court held the State,
County, and City failed to prove adverse possession or public
prescriptive easement by clear and convincing evidence."
Id. at 266-67. The chancellor did find that the
County had an easement to maintain the sand beach for seawall
protection and that the City had an easement for road
maintenance. Id. at 267.
The State, County and City appealed the decision.
Id. On appeal, this Court reversed the
chancellor's grant of partial summary judgment to Harris
and Gunn, reversed the remaining aspects of the
chancellor's judgment and remanded the case for a full
trial on the merits. Id. at 274.
On remand, a five-day trial was held. On June 3, 2016, the
chancellor issued an opinion letter to counsel, detailing his
findings of fact and conclusions of law. The chancellor also
entered final judgments in both cases. The final judgments
confirmed title to Harris and Gunn to their properties up to
the southern edge or toe of the seawall, except for easements
awarded to the County where the seawall was located and to
the City where the roadway was located. The judgments also
confirmed that the sand beach located south of the seawall
was public-trust tidelands owned by the State. As to the
injunction granted by the Hinds County Chancery Court, the
judgments directed the parties to provide the Hinds County
Chancery Court copies of the judgments to resolve the
injunction. Last, the final judgments recognized that the
County and City had met their burdens of proof on their
claims of ownership to the sand beach through prescriptive
easements and adverse possession. The judgments noted,
though, that the County's and City's claims did not
and could not defeat title held by the State.
Aggrieved, Harris and Gunn now appeal. Gunn raises two
[I.] Whether the uncontradicted evidence demonstrates that
the mean high waterline along the South Boundary of the Clyde
H. Gunn, III property is located waterward of the seawall,
waterward of the sand beach, waterward of the marsh grass and
waterward of the water's edge and pursuant to the Public
Trust Tideland Act of 1989, that line is the line of
demarcation between public trust tidelands and private
property and Mr. Gunn is entitled to confirmation of his
title to the water's edge as described in the continuous
chain of title to his property commencing with the conveyance
of that property to Louis Arlan Caillavet by the United
States of America by patent dated February 2, 1837.
[II.] Whether there is clear and convincing evidence to
support claims of adverse possession and prescriptive
easement made by Jackson County, Mississippi and the City of
Ocean Springs to the beach front property of
address the tidelands issue first; it is dispositive of
Gunn's appeal. Harris raises five errors all of which
concern the chancellor's factual findings. For clarity,
we combine a number of these alleged errors and address them
"This Court will not reverse the chancellor's
findings of fact 'unless they are manifestly wrong, not
supported by substantial credible evidence, or an erroneous
legal standard was applied.'" Bayview Land, Ltd.
v. State ex rel. Clark, 950 So.2d 966, 971-72 (Miss.
2006) (quoting Columbia Land Dev., LLC v. Sec'y of
State, 868 So.2d 1006, 1011 (Miss. 2004)). "On the
other hand, when we review questions of law, a de novo
standard of review is applied." Id. at 972
(citing Tucker v. Prisock, 791 So.2d 190, 192 (Miss.
Tidelands Common Law and the Tidelands Act
The parties disagree on what law controls. Harris and Gunn
argue that the boundary line drawn by the Secretary of State,
pursuant to the Public Trust Tidelands Act, governs. It is
undisputed that the Secretary of State drew this line seaward
of East Beach in the waters of the Mississippi Sound. Harris
and Gunn support their argument by citing their deeds, which
describe their property as reaching "to the water's
edge." The State, County and City respond that the line
drawn by the Secretary of State is not determinative of the
boundary of the tidelands. Instead, they argue that the line
functions as a starting point to determine the boundary of
the tidelands and does not control because they claim that
the County constructed East Beach. Thus, the State, County
and City argue that the artificial beach is tidelands, held
in trust by the State. In order to resolve the controlling
law, we begin our analysis with a brief summary of the body
of law as it is relevant to this appeal.
A Brief Summary of Tidelands Law
"When admitted into the Union, the State of Mississippi
was granted title to lands subject to the ebb and flow of the
tide and up to the mean high water level, without regard to
navigability." Harris, 163 So.3d at 268. The
Mississippi Constitution provides that "[l]ands
belonging to, or under the control of the State, shall never
be donated directly or indirectly, to private corporations or
individuals. . . ." Miss. Const. art. 4, § 95.
Despite article 4, section 95, this Court, in Harrison
County v. Guice, held that the upland landowner acquires
fee simple title to additional lands created by filling
tidelands where the landowner had no part in creating the
additional land. Harrison Cty. v. Guice, 140 So.2d
838, 841-42 (Miss. 1962), overruled by Miss. State
Highway Comm'n v. Gilich, 609 So.2d 367 (Miss.
1992). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth
Circuit declined to follow Guice, recognizing
article 4, section 95: "The common law doctrine of
artificial accretion must yield to the command of the
Mississippi Constitution as to the disposition of state owned
lands." United States v. Harrison Cty., Miss.,
399 F.2d 485, 491 (5th Cir. 1968) (citing Miss. Const. art.
4, § 95).
In 1989, the Legislature passed the Public Trust Tidelands
Act "to resolve the uncertainty and disputes . . . as to
the location of the boundary between the state's public
trust tidelands and the upland property." Miss. Code
Ann. § 29-15-3(2) (Rev. 2010). Also, the Legislature
confirmed "the mean high water boundary line as
determined by the Mississippi Supreme Court, the laws of this
state and this chapter." Id. It further
recognized that tidelands are held in trust for the public