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Smith v. Sims

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

May 28, 2019

JERRY KYLE SMITH AND DEBBIE SMITH APPELLANTS
v.
PATRICK J. SIMS APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/21/2018

          JASPER COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. H. DAVID CLARK II

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS: ROBERT WENDELL JAMES

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: RANCE N. ULMER

          BEFORE CARLTON, P.J., TINDELL AND McDONALD, JJ.

          CARLTON, P.J.

         ¶1. This case concerns a strip of land in Jasper County, Mississippi, located between property owned by the appellants, Jerry and Debbie Smith, to the south, and the appellee, Patrick Sims, to the north, referred to by the parties as "Old Pickens Road."[1] In June 2016, the Smiths sued Sims and the Jasper County Board of Supervisors, seeking to quiet title in them to Old Pickens Road (Smith I). The Jasper County Chancery Court held that Old Pickens Road was a public road and that it had not been abandoned by Jasper County. The Smiths did not appeal the Smith I final judgment.

         ¶2. In October 2017, the Smiths sued Sims again, seeking to quiet title to Old Pickens Road based upon a June 2017 quitclaim deed to them from the purported owner of the property (Joseph Waites) (Smith II). In the alternative, the Smiths claimed rights to the property under the doctrine of adverse possession.

         ¶3. The chancery court granted Sims's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss in Smith II, finding that (1) the Smiths' adverse possession claim was barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel, among other equitable theories; (2) the Smiths' quiet title claim was barred by the doctrines of res judicata and judicial estoppel; and (3) the Smiths were entitled to no relief under any set of facts that could be proven in support of their claims. The Smiths appealed, asserting that (1) the chancery court erred in determining that they did not prove the elements of adverse possession so as to quiet title in them to the subject property; and (2) the chancery court erred when it did not confirm ownership of the subject property to the Smiths through Joseph Waites's quitclaim deed.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶4. On June 21, 2016, the Smiths filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment and for adverse possession in the Second Judicial District of the Jasper County Chancery Court (cause number 2016-2097) pertaining to a seventeen-foot strip of Old Pickens Road (Smith I). The Smiths named Patrick Sims[2] and the Jasper County Board of Supervisors as defendants and requested, in relevant part, that the court (1) declare that Old Pickens Road is not a public road; and (2) find that the Smiths "have full and complete title to the seventeen-foot strip between their property and [Sims's] by adverse possession." In their June 2016 complaint the Smiths aver that they acquired their property through an August 24, 2010 warranty deed obtained from Ernest and Maxine Yawn. That deed was attached as exhibit "A" to the Smiths' complaint and provided that the Smiths' property line ran along Old Pickens Road. The Smiths further aver that Sims obtained title to his property through a warranty deed dated January 7, 1957, which was attached as exhibit "D" to the Smiths' complaint. Sims's property also abuts Old Pickens Road, as provided in that warranty deed.

         ¶5. A two-day trial was held in Smith I.[3] In its final judgment, the chancery court dismissed the Smiths' adverse possession claim without prejudice, finding that no party could show who was the record titleholder to Old Pickens Road. The chancery court's final judgment then provided "that the parties and the court proceeded with a trial on [Sims's] allegation . . . that Old Pickens Road is a public road." Id. On this issue, the court found that the evidence and testimony presented at trial established that Old Pickens Road was a public road and that the Jasper County Board of Supervisors (sometimes referred to as the Board) had not abandoned Old Pickens Road.

         ¶6. In its final judgment, the court described in detail the evidence and testimony supporting these findings, including, but not limited to, (1) minutes from the Jasper County Board of Supervisors, establishing that the county had worked on and spent county funds on Old Pickens Road from April 1907 at least through June 1921 and photos showing that the road continues to be maintained; and (2) testimony from a number of witnesses that Old Pickens Road had been "used by the public for farming, logging, hauling hay, and general travel" since the 1940s and had been used by at least some witnesses up until the time the Smiths blocked access in 2016. The court's final judgment was entered on January 27, 2017. No post-trial motions were filed, and no one appealed.

         ¶7. In March 2017 the Smiths petitioned the Jasper County Board of Supervisors to abandon the subject seventeen-foot portion of Old Pickens Road pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 65-7-121 (Rev. 2012).[4] By an order dated March 14, 2017, the Jasper County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to abandon the subject portion of Old Pickens Road "[from where] it travels adjacent to the lands of the Atha Sims Estate [now owned by Patrick Sims], [the] Kyle and Debbie Smith property, and [the] Ethel Jones property." The Board found that Old Pickens Road had "not [been] officially closed" and that "the public interest or convenience does not require that the Old Pickens Public Road remain open to the public and that it is in the public interest and convenience to vacate and abandon said Road for the cost to keep and maintain said road far outweighs the benefit of the public interest."

         ¶8. On October 12, 2017, the Smiths filed a complaint against Sims in the Second Judicial District of the Jasper County Chancery Court to quiet title and for adverse possession, cause number 2017-2098 (Smith II). The Smiths alleged that they were the owners of the subject portion of Old Pickens Road "by virtue of a [q]uitclaim [d]eed executed by Joseph G. Waites, dated June 7, 2017, filed for record July 6, 2017" (the Waites quitclaim deed). The Waites quitclaim deed was attached to the complaint as exhibit "A." The Smiths requested that the court enter an order confirming and quieting title to the subject property in them. Alternatively, the Smiths requested that the court find that the subject property was vested in them by adverse possession.

         ¶9. On January 2, 2018, Sims filed a motion to dismiss the Smiths' complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure. Sims raised the affirmative defenses of res judicata, election of remedies, equitable estoppel, and judicial estoppel. Sims also filed his answer to the Smiths' complaint, raising the same affirmative defenses.

         ¶10. Sims's 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss was heard on January 8, 2018.[5] The parties stipulated to seven "exhibits to the plaintiff[s'] ...


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