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Shreveport Chapter #237 of United Daughters of Confederacy v. Caddo Parish Commission

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

July 25, 2018





         Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment, submitted by Defendant, the Caddo Parish Commission, whereby Defendant seeks dismissal of all claims asserted by Plaintiff, Shreveport Chapter #237 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. [Doc. No. 88]. At its core, the dispute in this matter is whether the Caddo Parish Commission can remove the Confederate Monument which sits on the front plat or portion of the Caddo Parish Courthouse Square.[1] The answer to the question in dispute turns upon what person or entity has the right to control the property upon which the monument sits. By its motion, Defendant contends Plaintiff “cannot demonstrate a property interest in the land upon which the Confederate Monument sits and therefore cannot assert First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment Claims.” Id. at 1. Plaintiff opposes the motion, contending it acquired ownership of the land underneath the monument by acquisitive prescription. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds the Caddo Parish Commission has the authority to remove the monument which sits upon property the Parish holds in trust for public use. Accordingly, Defendant's motion is GRANTED, and Plaintiff's claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. Historical Background

         On July 1, 1835, a Treaty was made with the Caddo Indians whereby the United States would acquire the lands which today constitute Caddo Parish. [Doc. No. 38 at 2; see also Treaty With the Caddo, 7 Stat. 470 (1835)]. The second supplemental article of the Treaty “reserved to Larkin Edwards . . . one section of land to be selected out of the lands ceded to the United States by the said nation of Indians. . . .” Id. The foregoing “floating reservation” given to Edwards, which consisted of 640 acres and forms present day downtown Shreveport, included what later became known as Shreveport Block 23. [Doc. No. 90 at 6]. On January 24, 1836, Larkin Edwards entered into a promise to sell his floating grant to Angus McNeill for $5, 000.00, on the condition that the Treaty between the United States and the Caddo “be confirmed by the Senate of the United States. . . .” [Doc. No. 90-1 at 14, 16].[2] On January 26, 1836, the Treaty with the Caddo was ratified by the United States Senate. See U.S. v. Brooks, 51 U.S. 442, 448 (1850).

         In May of 1836, Angus McNeil and six other persons formed the Shreve Town Company. [Doc. No. 90 at 6; Doc. No. 90-1 at 12; see also Pickett v. Brown, 18 La.Ann. 560, 561 (La. 1866); Akin v. Caddo Parish Police Jury, 234 So.2d 203, 205 (La.App. 2 Cir. 1970)]. On May 27, 1836, McNeil sold and assigned to each of his partners an equal interest in the Edwards' reserve. [Doc. No. 90-1 at 12]. That Act of Sale states the reserve “has been located on Bennett and Cane's Bluff on the South Bank of Red River as will more fully appear by reference to a survey made by Grant A. Alexander, dated on the 16th of May, 1836, which tract or parcel of land has been laid out in lots for a town to be called SHREVE TOWN.” [Doc. No. 90-1 at 12 (emphasis in original)]; see also Akin at 205; City of Shreveport v. Walpole, 22 La.Ann. 526, 527 (La. 1870); Cane v. Battle, 3 La.Ann. 642, 643 (La. 1848).

         On February 4, 1837, Larkin Edwards executed an act under private signature whereby he nullified the former conveyance of his property to McNeil, acknowledged he had previously received $5, 000.00 for the property, and then conveyed the property to the members of the Shreve Town Company.[3] The document further states:

It is my intention and it is so understood between me and the purchasers above named to convey all the right, title, claim and pretensions which I now have by virtue of the above recited Treaty . . . and I do hereby warrant and will forever defend the above sold and described tract of land to the said purchasers, their heirs or assigns, against the claim or claims of all and every person or persons whomsoever. . . .

[Doc. No. 90-1 at 16]. Edwards further bound himself, his “heirs, executors, and administrators, to pass and sign an authentic Act of Sale of the above mentioned tract of land before any Notary or other public officer duly authorized to receive and record contracts in the said State whenever I or they shall be legally required so to do.” Id. The instrument is signed by Edwards, McNeill, the six other members of the Shreve Town Company, and three witnesses. Id.; see also Cane at 643. On June 27, 1839, Edwards acknowledged the February 4, 1837 conveyance of his land to the Shreve Town Company before the Judge and Ex officio Notary Public for the Parish, as well as two witnesses, thereby causing his act under private signature to have “the same credit as an authentic act.” La. Civ. Code art. 2239 (1825); [Doc. 90-1 at 16-17].[4] On December 14, 1841 (effective May 10, 1843), the Shreve Town Company was dissolved and it divided all remaining unsold lots by judicial partition. [Doc. No. 90 at 7 (citing Pickett v. Brown, 18 La.Ann. 560, 561 (La. 1866))]. Block 23 had not been sold prior to the partition, and “no former owners of the Shreve Town Company has ever claimed it.” Id. at 8.

         On January 18, 1838, the Parish of Caddo was created out of Natchitoches Parish. Parish of Caddo v. Bossier Parish, 113 So. 378, 381 (La. 1927); Akin at 205. On March 20, 1839, the town of Shreveport was created by the Louisiana Legislature. City of Shreveport v. Walpole, 22 La.Ann. 526, 528 (1870); Police Jury of Bossier v. Corporation of Shreveport, 5 La.Ann. 661 (La. 1850). Maps of “Shreve Town or the City of Shreveport show Block 23 dedicated as the Public Square from the late 1830s forward.” [Doc. No. 90-4 at ¶ 1]. Since at least 1846, Caddo Parish has used block 23, City of Shreveport, for public purposes. [Doc. Nos. 38 at 2; 90-1 at 22, 24-27, 34, 37; see also Akin at 205]. The Caddo Parish Police Jury appropriated funds for the building of a Courthouse on Block 23 in 1856. [Doc. No. 90-1 at 27, 34]. The 1857 plat of the City of Shreveport shows Block 23 as designated for “Court House.” [Doc. No. 12-1 at 4; Doc. No. 12-5]. A courthouse, maintained by Caddo Parish, has sat on the same property since at least 1860. [Doc. No. 38 at 2; Doc. No. 90-1 at 34, 37; Doc. No. 51 at 58].

         In 1903, the Caddo Parish Police Jury granted permission to Plaintiff to place a Confederate Monument on the front plat of the Courthouse Square.[5] [Doc. No. 10-5]. The Minutes of the Police Jury reflecting the agreement read in pertinent part as follows:

Mr. W.H. Wise on behalf of the Daughters of the Confederacy made an earnest appeal for an appropriating of $1000 for the Confederate monument, at the same time requesting that the monument association be given the front plat or portion of court house square as a site for the monument.
Moved by J.S. Young that the $1000.00 be allowed and the front plat of court house square be reserved for that purpose, which motion was unanimously adopted.

[Doc. No. 10-5 at 1]. The monument has remained in that place until present day.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         “A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Id. “A genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Quality Infusion Care, Inc. v. Health Care Service Corp., 628 F.3d 725, 728 (5th Cir. 2010). As summarized by the Fifth Circuit:

When seeking summary judgment, the movant bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of an issue of material fact with respect to those issues on which the movant bears the burden of proof at trial. However, where the nonmovant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant may merely point to an absence of evidence, thus shifting to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating by competent summary judgment proof that there is an issue of material fact warranting trial.

Lindsey v. Sears Roebuck and Co., 16 F.3d 616, 618 (5th Cir.1994) (internal citations omitted).

         When reviewing evidence in connection with a motion for summary judgment, “the court must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe, and should give credence to the evidence favoring the nonmoving party as well as that evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached.” Roberts v. Cardinal Servs., 266 F.3d 368, 373 (5th Cir.2001); see also Feist v. Louisiana, Dept. of Justice, Office of the Atty. Gen., 730 F.3d 450, 452 (5th Cir. 2013) (court must view all facts and evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party). “Credibility determinations are not part of the summary judgment analysis.” Quorum Health Resources, L.L.C. v. Maverick County Hosp. Dist., 308 F.3d 451, 458 (5th Cir. 2002). Rule 56 “mandates the entry of summary judgment . . . against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof.” Patrick v. Ridge, 394 F.3d 311, 315 (5th Cir. 2004)(alterations in original)(quoting Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)).

         III. Arguments of the Parties

         A. Defendant's Arguments

         Defendant contends it owns the Courthouse Square by dedication, or alternatively, by acquisitive prescription, and therefore it has the authority to determine what monuments should be displayed in that public space. [Doc. No. 88-1 at 3, 8]. In support of its first position, Defendant submits: (1) “filings in Natchitoches and Caddo Parish, ” which Defendant argues show Larkin Edwards sold his tract to the Shreve Town Company, and therefore “maps of Shreveport showing this area dedicated to public use and not reserved for private ownership conform to what is evidenced by the deeds, ” Id. at 3; (2) the Minutes of the Caddo Parish Police Jury meeting held June 3, 1856, which reflect the Police Jury appropriated $10, 000.00 “to build a court house and suitable offices for Caddo Parish” on Block 23, Id. at 4 (citing Doc. No. 88-4 at 10, 20); (3) a 2002 title opinion, which states maps from 1857 display the words “Court House” at Block 23, Id. (citing Doc. No. 10-6); (4) the Minutes of the Caddo Parish Police Jury meeting held January 3, 1860, which authorized the “building Court House Committee . . . to make certain changes in the Clerk's office in said building, . . . to let out contract for grading the public square and making side walks around same, and also to have a cistern constructed and gas fixtures put up in said Court House.” Id. (citing Doc. No. 88-4 at 20); and (5) the testimony of Plaintiff's expert, Dr. Gary Joiner, who testified courthouses have sat on the property since the 1850s, and the square has consistently been maintained by Caddo Parish since that time. Id. (citing Doc. No. 51 at 58-59). Defendant argues this evidence shows Block 23 was dedicated to public use by the Shreve Town Company, and Block 23 has been used for public purposes since at least the 1860s.

         In support of its alternative position‒that it acquired Block 23 by acquisitive prescription‒ Defendant argues, “Based on the fact that the public square was platted and publicly dedicated by Shreve Town Company and that Shreve Town Company bought the reservation from Larkin Edwards and thus wholly owned it, the Parish had just title and good faith as stated in the 1846 minutes.” [Doc. No. 88-1 at 5]. Accordingly, Defendant contends it acquired the property by prescription of ten years in 1856. In the further alternative, Defendant contends it acquired Block 23 by prescription of thirty years in 1890. Id. at 5-6.

         B. Plaintiff's Arguments

         Plaintiff contends it acquired the plot of ground upon which the monument sits by acquisitive prescription, and therefore the Caddo Parish Commission cannot order removal of the monument (which Plaintiff also contends it owns) from Plaintiff's private property. While Plaintiff concedes Block 23 was originally dedicated to public use, it argues Defendant impliedly revoked the dedication by granting Plaintiff permission to place the monument on the front plat of the Courthouse Square. [See e.g. Doc. 90-4 at 3]. In support of this argument, Plaintiff submits the affidavit of its “expert Mr. Wayne Webb, attorney at law, ” who “reviewed conveyance records for Caddo Parish, Louisiana, for the purpose of determining the existence of any document purporting to convey any sort of an ownership interest of the . . . [plot of land situated within Block 23] into the Shreveport Chapter 237 of the Daughters of the Confederacy. . . .” [Doc. No. 90 at 16; Doc. No. 99-5 at 4]. According to Mr. Webb, he ...

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