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Mansour v. Stock

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

November 20, 2018

JOHN ANTHONY MANSOUR, GEORGE MANSOUR JR. AND MICHAEL MANSOUR APPELLANTS
v.
GENE G. STOCK APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/06/2017

          WASHINGTON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. JANACE H. GOREE TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS: PHILIP MANSOUR JR.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: JAMES MORTIMER CREWS III

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., WILSON AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.

          WESTBROOKS, J.

         ¶1. John Anthony Mansour, George Mansour Jr., and Michael Mansour filed an action for trespass against Gene Stock (Stock), requesting actual and punitive damages for their injuries. In return, Stock filed a counterclaim asserting that the Mansours had caused injury to his hardwood timber and also sought damages. The Washington County Chancery Court found that the Mansours did not meet their burden of proof, dismissed their claim, and found that Stock did not put on evidence to substantiate his claims. Aggrieved, the Mansours appeal. Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. Together, brothers John Anthony Mansour, George Mansour Jr., and Michael Mansour own an eighty-acre tract of land in Washington County, Mississippi. The land was purchased for recreational purposes, specifically to hunt birds, waterfowl, and deer. Portions of the land are submerged in water for most of the year, and as a result, the land was designated as a natural wetland preserve by the federal government. The land is surrounded by 1, 800 acres owned by Stock and his family.

         ¶3. During the 2014-15 waterfowl hunting season, the Mansours discovered that a two- to-four-foot-wide ditch had been created on their land, and two pipes had been removed. The two-to-four-foot-wide ditch started on the Mansours' land and extended to the Stock land. The ditch breached the natural levee surrounding the Mansours' land and caused the water on the land to escape. The loss of the water prevented the Mansours from using the land for waterfowl hunting during the 2014-15 hunting season. Although the Mansours did not witness anyone creating the ditch or removing the pipes, they asserted that Stock or someone at the direction of Stock was responsible.

         ¶4. At trial, the Mansour brothers testified, along with Stock, Robert "Walker" Stock, William Thomas McKinley, and several expert witnesses. The Mansours called Walker, Stock's uncle, to testify. Walker testified that Stock had directed him to clear a line of roughly twenty to thirty feet around the property line that separated the Stock and Mansour properties on the Stock side. During his deposition, Walker stated that he was careful to stay away from the Mansour property. At trial, Stock admitted to instructing Walker to clear a roadway approximately twenty feet in width around the perimeter of the land with the intent of creating an identifiable boundary line to prevent trespassing by both parties, but he maintained the clearing was done solely on his property. There was no other evidence presented that there was any other work done on or near the Mansours' land at the instruction of Stock.

         ¶5. In addition to the ditch, the Mansours asserted that the removal of two pipes contributed to the drainage of water off their property. The Mansours maintain that one of the pipes is on their property and that the other is on Stock's property. However, at trial, Stock and his expert surveyor, Melvin Cannatella, testified that both pipes are located on the Stock property, and no evidence other than George Mansour's testimony was submitted to rebut Stock's claim. George Mansour testified that Stock's father gave him permission to place the pipes on Stock's land, but Stock was unaware of this arrangement and found it suspicious considering his family and the Mansours had recently been in easement litigation.[1]

         ¶6. The Mansours also introduced evidence that Stock intended to install a game fence around their property to prevent deer hunting on their land. Stock admitted that he considered installing a game fence, however, after investigating the legality of it changed his mind. In response to their claims, Stock filed a counterclaim asserting that George Mansour and another unidentified individual entered onto his property and damaged his hardwood timber by causing water to escape from the Mansours' land and become trapped among his timber, causing the value to diminish. However, he did not present any evidence at trial to support his assertions.

         ¶7. After considering all of the evidence, the chancery court found that the Mansours offered no proof that they actually saw the water draining off their land or witnessed Stock, or someone under the direction of Stock, digging the ditch in question. The Mansours simply asked the court to infer that Stock had invaded their land, but the chancery court found that even with Stock's admissions surrounding removal of the pipes, his actions did not suffice the cause of action against him. Ultimately, the chancery court found that the Mansours did not meet their burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence to show that Stock or anyone under the instruction of Stock committed trespass and subsequently did ...


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