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Desoto Parish v. Lee

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

November 20, 2019

FRITH FARMS DESOTO PARISH Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
JAMES W. LEE Defendant-Appellant INTEREST PARTNERSHIP, L.L.P.

          Appealed from the Forty-Second Judicial District Court for the Parish of DeSoto, Louisiana Trial Court No. 74386 Honorable Charles Blaylock Adams, Judge

          JOHN S. EVANS Counsel for Appellants, James W. Lee, Virgie Lanell Free Lee and VJ Ranch, II, L.L.C.

          WIENER, WEISS & MADISON By: John M. Madison, Jr. Reid Allen Jones Counsel for Appellee, Frith Farms DeSoto Parish Interest Partnership, L.L.P

          Maribeth Lee Gamble In Proper Person, Appellee

          Before PITMAN, McCALLUM, and THOMPSON, JJ

          MCCALLUM, J.

         The case before us is a boundary dispute centering on an acquisitive prescription cause of action. Although the parties involved own large, adjacent tracts of property, the area in conflict is a small strip of land that borders the property of Frith Farms DeSoto Parish Interest Partnership, L.L.P., whose predecessor in interest was D.C. Frith and Frances Holmes Frith (collectively referred to as "Frith"). VJ Ranch II, L.L.C., whose predecessor in title was James W. Lee and Virgie Lanell Free Lee (collectively referred to as "Lee"), has record title to the disputed property. The trial court found that Frith proved their case for 30-year acquisitive prescription and granted judgment in their favor.

         Although Lee cited seven errors on appeal, after a review of the arguments, Lee essentially stands on five. Lee alleges that the court erred with regard to multiple findings of fact, including the following: (1) D.C. Frith built a fence on the disputed land before James W. Lee purchased the land; (2) James W. Lee's alleged permission to D.C. Frith to build the fence and use the land was not credible; (3) the Frith pasture leases prove its corporeal possession of the disputed land; and (4) James W. Lee's alleged use of a dirt road on the disputed property and the Lee mineral leases did not interrupt Frith's adverse possession.

         Lee alleges that the trial court erred in finding that Frith had continuous, uninterrupted, peaceable, public and unequivocal possession of the disputed area, within a visible barrier, in order to acquire ownership by acquisitive prescription. Additionally, Lee argues that the trial court erred in making any determination as to a 2005 timber dispute because Frith had waived that claim by stipulation.

         For the following reasons, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         FACTS

         The parties involved are significant landowners of adjoining immovable property. Frith acquired its land through purchases by its predecessor in interest, D.C. Frith, from 1961 to 1968. Lee acquired its property through acquisitions made by its predecessor in interest, James W. Lee, in July, 1974. The disputed area is an approximately five-acre strip of land composing part of the property to which Lee has record title. It snakes along the border of the property to which Frith has record title.

         As early as 1966, a fence was erected by D.C. Frith. The fence, however, does not separate the land along the title boundary. Located on the Lee land, the fence allowed the Frith cattle operations to pasture its cows on the Lee land, within the five-acre contested area. The parties dispute at what time the fence was first erected, the maintenance of the fence and whether Lee gave permission to a Frith ancestor to build the fence.

         Prior to 1974, Frith raised cattle on its land and allowed the cattle to use what would become the Lee property up to the fence line. In 1974, Frith sold its cattle operations and leased its land to the purchaser to be used in connection with the same. The lease agreement was renewed four subsequent times. Although the written leases did not include the disputed Lee property by description, all agree the cattle roamed the disputed area up to the fence line. The pasture leases continued until 1989, when Frith ceased all cattle operations. Frith has continued to use the property for fishing, camping and hunting, except for a period of interruption in 2005.

         In 2005, James W. Lee harvested timber off the disputed area. At that point, Frith had used the disputed area for cattle operations, hunting, fishing, and camping continuously for over 30 years. James W. Lee testified that he had never disturbed or removed the fence dividing the use of the tracts until the 2005 timber harvest. He further admitted that Frith had used the property in question for more than 30 years, although he contends that Frith was granted use of the property by his permission. James W. Lee alleges permission was given to D.C. Frith, the Frith predecessor in title, in the mid-1970s, at which time he permitted D.C. Frith to erect the ...


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