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Revette v. Ferguson

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

December 11, 2018

PATRICK REVETTE AND SCOTT REVETTE APPELLANTS/ CROSS-APPELLEES
v.
ROBERT FERGUSON AND LILLIAN R. FERGUSON APPELLEES/ CROSS-APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 12/14/2016

          WAYNE COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, HON. FRANKLIN C. MCKENZIE JR. JUDGE.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: LEE TURNER ROBERT KASEY WELLS.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: TERRY L. CAVES RISHER GRANTHAM CAVES.

          BEFORE IRVING, P.J., GREENLEE AND TINDELL, JJ.

          GREENLEE, J.

         ¶1. In March 2015, Patrick and Scott Revette filed a complaint against Robert and Lillian Ferguson in the Wayne County Chancery Court. In their complaint, the Revettes sought to confirm title to a 1.14-acre parcel of real property. The Fergusons responded with an answer and a counterclaim, alleging that they had acquired title to the property by adverse possession. During trial on February 24, 2016, the Revettes and Fergusons stipulated to Exhibit 7, which included a surveyed legal description of the Fergusons' record title property and showed the disputed 1.14 acres shaded in orange. The chancellor ultimately found that the Fergusons adversely possessed the disputed property. Prior to entering his final judgment, the chancellor ordered the Fergusons to obtain a survey of the disputed property. The Fergusons did so, and the chancellor attached the survey to his final judgment, marking it "Exhibit A." The Revettes appeal, arguing the chancellor erred in his adverse-possession finding and in using the Fergusons' survey. We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2. This suit concerns ownership of a roughly 1.14-acre parcel of land in rural Wayne County. It is located along the top base of an old river channel of the Chickasawhay River, bounded on the northwest by thirty acres owned by the Fergusons and on the southeast by fifty acres owned by the Revettes.[1] A natural bluff, twelve to fifteen feet high, separates the 1.14-acre parcel from the remainder of the Revettes' property.

         ¶3. The Fergusons purchased their property in 1987-and although their record title did not encompass the disputed parcel, the Fergusons believed they owned it. In fact, the disputed parcel belonged to the Revettes' predecessors in interest, Hallie Jo and Wanda Hutto. In 1998, the Huttos sold their land, including the disputed parcel, to Jennifer Rabourn Stanley. In 2006, the Revettes bought their fifty acres from Stanley.

         ¶4. After the Fergusons acquired their property in 1987, they, their family members, and guests began using the disputed parcel for hunting, fishing, camping, and riding horses. In 1989, they began pasturing cattle on it. As the disputed land can be considered a wetland or swamp, activity on the land was dependent on the water level and the time of year. In the fall and winter, when the water level was typically up, the Fergusons used the disputed parcel for hunting and fishing. During the spring and summer, when the land was drier, the Fergusons let their cattle graze to the bluff, which served to contain them. From 1987 to 1993, the Fergusons leased the disputed property to a hunting club. The club's members fished and hunted deer, duck, and rabbit on the disputed parcel. They also put up "no trespassing" signs and hunting stands.

         ¶5. In 2012, the Revettes bulldozed and destroyed part of the bluff that served as the natural barrier between the Ferguson and Revette properties. When one of the Fergusons' bulls escaped, the Fergusons put up a fence to contain their cattle.[2] The Revettes tore the fence down, three more cows got out, and the Fergusons repaired the fence. The Revettes tore the fence down a second time, and the Fergusons repaired it again.

         ¶6. On March 17, 2015, the Revettes filed suit against the Fergusons in the Wayne County Chancery Court, seeking confirmation of title and boundary lines, alleging trespass, and seeking a declaratory judgment. On April 9, 2015, the Fergusons filed their answer and counterclaim against the Revettes for confirmation of title and confirmation of boundary lines, adverse possession, declaratory judgment, trespass, and preliminary injunction.

         ¶7. On February 24, 2016, a trial was held on the merits. During trial, the Fergusons introduced a surveyed legal description encompassing (1) the Fergusons' record title property and (2) the 1.14-acre parcel in dispute, colored in orange. The parties stipulated that the surveyed legal description be entered into evidence as Exhibit 7, and that the disputed 1.14 acres was colored in orange. On June 15, 2016, the chancellor entered his findings of fact and conclusions of law, granting the Fergusons' claim for adverse possession of the 1.14-acre parcel and denying all other claims for relief. The chancellor directed the Fergusons to procure a survey of the disputed property so a legal description could be included in the final judgment. The Fergusons subsequently engaged Saul Surveying and Mapping LLC (Saul) to prepare a plat of the legal description. Concerned that the Fergusons' survey was inconsistent with the chancellor's findings, the Revettes engaged Walker Mapping and Planning (Walker) to survey their property. On November 30, 2016, the Fergusons filed a motion for the entry of a final judgment, which included the Saul survey. On December 13, the Revettes filed their response and the Walker survey, arguing the Saul survey included an additional .08 acres of the river channel and was not in accordance with the chancellor's findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         ¶8. On December 14, 2016, the chancellor entered his final judgment. The Revettes have timely appealed, arguing the chancellor erred in: (1) finding that the Fergusons adversely possessed the disputed property; (2) utilizing and considering the Fergusons' survey without its admission into evidence; (3) alternatively failing to address the discrepancies between the competing surveys; and (4) using the portion of the Fergusons' survey that showed the Fergusons adversely possessed .08 acres of the Chickasawhay River. We affirm the chancellor's finding that the Fergusons adversely possessed the disputed parcel but reverse and remand so that the Revettes may have an opportunity to challenge the Fergusons' survey and may cross-examine the surveyor. Concerning the Fergusons' cross-appeal from the chancellor's judgment denying them recovery on trespass, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney's fees, we affirm the chancery court.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶9. This Court employs a limited standard of review when examining and considering the decisions of a chancellor. Cook v. Robinson, 924 So.2d 592, 594 (¶9) (Miss. Ct. App. 2006). "When reviewing a chancellor's decision, we will accept a chancellor's findings of fact as long as the evidence in the record reasonably supports those findings." Id. In other words, we will not disturb a chancellor's findings unless they are clearly erroneous or an erroneous legal standard was applied. Id. "The chancellor, as the trier of fact, evaluates the sufficiency ...


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