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Beals v. New Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church of Delhi, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

February 28, 2018

FLORENDA BEALS and KATHY M. BEALS Plaintiffs-Appellants

         Appealed from the Fifth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Richland, Louisiana Trial Court No. 44, 880 Honorable James Mark Stephens, Judge

          FLORENDA BEALS In Proper Person

          KATHY M. BEALS In Proper Person

          COTTON, BOLTON, HOYCHICK & DOUGHTY, LLC By: David Paul Doughty Counsel for Appellee

          Before BROWN, COX, and GASKINS (Ad Hoc), JJ.

          COX, JUDGE.

         Appellants, Florenda and Kathy Beals ("the Beals"), appeal a judgment from the Fifth Judicial District Court, Parish of Richland, State of Louisiana, wherein the trial court granted judgment in favor of Appellee, New Fellowship Baptist Church of Delhi ("New Fellowship"), dismissing their claims of trespass pertaining to a strip of land located within a tract of land owned by the Beals. Appellants contend that the trial court erred: (1) by failing to find that they were in constructive possession of the disputed property; (2) in establishing the boundary line between the two contiguous tracts of land; (3) in finding that New Fellowship possessed the disputed property openly, continuously, and without interruption within the statutory period required by law; and, (4) in not allowing the Beals to introduce evidence that could have changed the outcome of the case. The Beals request that the trial court's judgment be reversed and a new trial be granted on the merits. For the following reasons, we affirm.


         New Fellowship was established in 1919 when the Church purchased land outside of Delhi, Louisiana, from Jerome May. In 1920, a wooden building was erected on the land. In approximately 1950, two additions were made to the sides of the building. Originally, outdoor bathroom facilities were located on the back edges of the Church property until a septic tank was added in the early 1970s. In 2008, the Church placed a storage building on the back portion of its lot.

         In October 2010, the Church was contacted by David May, who wanted to make a donation to rebuild the Church. May wanted to receive the tax benefit, so the Church was incorporated to form New Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, Inc.[1] The Church Board of Trustees met to discuss the donation and rebuilding. The Church Board further contemplated purchasing the property located behind the Church. Florenda Beals, a member of the Church's Board, was present at the meeting.

         The donation was ultimately delayed, and on October 29, 2014, the Beals purchased the landlocked piece of property located behind the Church from Leroy Theus, Jr. The act of sale describes the property as follows:

One half (½) acre, more or less, from a certain parcel of land situated in the North Half of the Southeast Quarter of the Southeast Quarter (N½ of SE ¼ of SE ¼) of Section 26, Township 17 North, Range 9 East (T 17N-R9E), Richland Parish, Louisiana.

         On November 25, 2014, the Beals sent notice, by letter, to the Church that the property located behind their north boundary line had changed ownership. In the letter, the Beals stated they would allow New Fellowship's building to extend onto the property, as well as access necessary to maintain the needs of the building, with an understanding that New Fellowship would accept full liability pursuant to a lease agreement. In addition, the Beals requested removal of the portable storage building, any sewage lines/septic tank, litter/trash, and any other items stored or placed on or under the grounds of their property.

         In response to the letter, New Fellowship requested a surveyor's report and certified maps showing the legal description of the Beals' property. Furthermore, on December 15, 2014, New Fellowship sent Florenda Beals a letter asking her to resign her position as a board member.[2]

         On January 8, 2015, the Beals sent New Fellowship a notice of trespass warning, giving the Church 90 days to remove any buildings, structures, or other movables placed on their property. New Fellowship declined to take action without a legal/certified land survey. However, provided the Beals could produce a clear deed to the property, New Fellowship stated they were willing to discuss purchasing the property from the Beals.

         In April 2015, the Beals contacted the Justice of the Peace to enforce the trespass warning. A notice to vacate was issued on April 22, 2015, but was later rescinded due to improper venue. On January 5, 2016, the Beals filed a complaint of trespass to real property. The Church filed an answer and reconventional demand to fix the boundary line according to a survey conducted by Messinger and Associates, Inc.

         Trial was held on March 30 and 31, 2017. Ken McKay, Jr., a licensed surveyor who conducted a survey of the disputed property for the Beals, was the first to testify. McKay testified that he had been practicing as a surveyor in Louisiana for 30 years and was familiar with the surveyed area because he had been surveying the area with his father since the early 1970s. He stated that the oldest parcel of property in that area was the Church.

         McKay explained that the Church deed calls the property line of the Church to be 100 yards along Turkey Creek Road.[3] He stated he was under the impression that "probably whoever marked it off would be the members of the church and the May family, it says [300] yards to a stake with a point of beginning, I'm assuming they paced a hundred steps and drove a stake in the ground." In 1979, he noted there was a white pipe "about mid-thigh high" at the front two corners of the Church.

         When he returned in 1988 to survey for Leroy Theus, Jr., the previous owner of the disputed property, McKay said he located the southeast corner of the Church from the white pipe. The property to the east - the Fountain property - and the southeast corner of the Turner tract were also marked in the same fashion. Upon measuring to the north, McKay found a pipe at the northeast and northwest corners of the Church. At that time, there was a water meter on the southwest corner of the Church; McKay expressed that he could "only assume that that may have torn out the southwest corner which used to be marked with the same thing, a white pipe." As McKay's job at that time was to survey the Theus property, he testified that he did not reset that property corner, but utilized it and went up to the northeast corner of the Jackson property and set an 8-foot offset because it was near a ditch. He also set a ...

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