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Winters v. Billings

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

January 15, 2019

WILLIE LEE WINTERS AND OPHELIA WINTERS APPELLANTS
v.
PRESTON BILLINGS AND ALMETA H. BILLINGS APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/31/2017

          BOLIVAR COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT TRIAL JUDGE HON. WATOSA MARSHALL SANDERS

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: ROBERT G. JOHNSTON JOHN MARSHALL ALEXANDER

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES: ELLIS TURNAGE

         EN BANC.

          GREENLEE, J.

         ¶1. This is an appeal from the Bolivar County Chancery Court. The Winterses assert that: (1) the chancellor incorrectly applied the elements of adverse-possession law; (2) the chancellor incorrectly denied judicial estoppel; and (3) the chancellor wrongly awarded attorney's fees and expenses. We affirm in part and reverse and render in part.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. The Billingses purchased their land in 1984 from the estate of Pearl Strickland. They had a survey done that showed that the white picket fence installed by Ms. Strickland was within the bounds of their land and ten feet north of their southern boundary. Shortly thereafter, they replaced the picket fence with a chain-link fence. The Billingses maintained the fence and surrounding area and shrubbery until 1991.

         ¶3. The Winterses purchased the neighboring land in 1991. They bought the property without having a survey done and instead relied on the seller's statement that the chain-link fence was the property line. At the time of the purchase, Mr. Winters had a conversation with Mr. Billings about the property line; what was said, precisely, is disputed. Mr. Billings testified that he gave Mr. Winters permission to use the land, whereas Mr. Winters testified that Mr. Billings did not give him permission. Regardless, Mr. Winters testified that he maintained the fence and the surrounding area and shrubbery from 1991 until 1997. He further testified that his family used the property just south of the fence for barbecue events, softball, and volleyball.

         ¶4. The Winterses testified that in 1994, they moved a trailer onto their property around seven to eight feet south of the fence. They used this trailer as a beauty shop until 1997, when their home burned down, and they moved into the trailer until their new home was constructed one year later. They removed the trailer in 2012.

         ¶5. In 2014, the Winterses went on vacation, and the Billingses removed the fence because it was in bad condition and a safety hazard. The Billingses then had two surveys done to designate their property lines. These surveys showed that the now-destroyed fence stood ten feet north of their southern boundary, the same property line as determined by their earliest survey nearly thirty years before.

         ¶6. Several months later, the Winterses filed a Complaint to Adjudicate Title and for Other Relief against the Billingses in the Bolivar County Chancery Court. They asked the chancellor to: (1) adjudicate them to be the owners of the contested property; (2) award them damages for negligent, wrongful, tortious, and intentional trespass against the Billingses; (3) require the Billingses to pay for the costs of replacing the fence; (4) award damages for mental and emotional distress; (5) award attorney's fees; (6) award punitive damages for the malicious and outrageous conduct of the Billingses; and (7) enjoin the Billingses temporarily and permanently from any future trespassing.

         ¶7. Two years later, the Winterses filed an amended complaint alleging ownership of the property by adverse possession.

         ¶8. The chancellor denied the Winterses' claim of adverse possession, found the Winterses' claim for compensation moot, denied the Winterses' claim for judicial estoppel, and granted the Billingses' request for attorney's fees.

         ¶9. The Winterses now appeal. They claim that: (1) the chancellor incorrectly applied the elements of adverse-possession law; (2) the chancellor incorrectly denied judicial estoppel; and (3) the chancellor wrongly awarded attorney's fees and expenses.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶10. "When reviewing a chancellor's decision, our standard of review is limited." Conliff v. Hudson, 60 So.3d 203, 206 (¶8) (Miss. Ct. App. 2011) (citing Nichols v. Funderburk, 883 So.2d 554, 556 (ΒΆ7) (Miss. 2004)). "The chancellor's determinations will only be reversed when they were manifestly wrong, ...


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