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Moore v. Jackson

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

October 30, 2017

MOORE et al.
v.
JACKSON

          MCFADDEN, C. J., BRANCH and BETHEL, JJ.

          Bethel, Judge.

         Ruth Dowdy Moore and Lounell Dorminey appeal from the denial of their motion for a new trial after a jury returned a verdict in favor of William Edmund Jackson in regard to his petition to quiet title to certain property. On appeal, Moore and Dorminey first argue that the jury's verdict was contrary to law and was contrary to, and strongly against, the evidence presented at trial. Second, Moore and Dorminey argue that the trial court erred by granting Jackson's motion in limine to exclude evidence of acts and declarations of a common grantor of the property in question. Moore and Dorminey argue that this error prevented them from making an effective opening statement to the jury because, although the trial court reversed its decision and permitted such evidence to be admitted at trial, they could not refer to it in their opening statement. Third, Moore and Dorminey argue that the trial court should have realigned the parties, as they contend that the only issue before the jury was whether Moore and Dorminey could establish adverse possession of the property in question. Because these enumerations of error are meritless, we affirm the jury's verdict and the denial of Moore and Dorminey's motion for a new trial.

         Following a jury verdict, "[t]his Court must view all of the evidence and every presumption arising therefrom most favorably toward upholding the jury's verdict." Davis v. Johnson, 280 Ga.App. 318, 321 (1) (634 S.E.2d 108) (2006) (citation omitted). So viewed, Jackson filed a petition to quiet title in the Dooly County Superior Court in regard to a particular piece of property. He claimed to own all of a certain portion of Land Lot 32 in Dooly County that extended south to the Crisp County line.

         Records presented at trial showed that Land Lot 32 sits at the far south end of Dooly County, with its southern edge terminating at the Crisp County line (which runs east-to-west). That portion of Land Lot 32 also abuts the confluence of several roads to the east. The southeast corner of Land Lot 32 sits at the center of the intersection of Cown Road and Sharon Church Road at the Dooly-Crisp county line.[1] To the north of that intersection (and thus to the north of the Dooly-Crisp county Line) the center line of County Line Road runs east-to-west.

         In his petition, Jackson claimed that he held title to property in Land Lot 32 that extends to the Dooly-Crisp county line, under a 1993 grant from his father. Moore responded to the petition and asserted a claim of adverse possession, claiming that she and predecessors had resided upon and adversely possessed the property between the center line of County Line Road and the actual Dooly-Crisp county line for over fifty years. Dorminey also answered the petition, making similar claims.

         The evidence presented at trial showed that, prior to 1956, a man named Joseph Brown owned a large tract of property that extended across both sides the Dooly-Crisp county line. In 1956, Lounell Dorminey and her husband bought 100 acres of this property from Joseph Brown. They understood their 100 acres to lie south of the Dooly-Crisp county line and to sit entirely within Crisp County. According to testimony presented at trial, as part of their negotiations with Brown, Brown walked the line between what he was selling and what he was retaining, beginning in the center of County Line Road and walking due west to a shed on his farm where a pecan tree grew. The testimony indicated that this was understood to be the county line and that the land south of the line was being sold to the Dormineys. The actual line between Dooly and Crisp counties was actually approximately 60 feet to the south of where Brown walked that day.

         After the sale, the Dormineys took possession of the property south of the line walked by Brown. They later cleaned and cleared the land. They only paid property taxes to Crisp County and never paid any taxes to Dooly County.

         In 1956, Joseph Brown sold his land north of the actual Dooly-Crisp county line to Billy Jackson, the father of William Edmund Jackson (the appellee). Billy Jackson farmed on the land he received until his death in 1991. The property was devised to William Edmund Jackson pursuant to Billy Jackson's will.

         The Dormineys sold one-half acre of their property in 1965 to W.D. Dowdy, the father of Lounell Dorminey and Ruth Moore. Dowdy built a house on it and then had the property surveyed. According to the 1965 survey, the northern corner of the house was only 5.7 feet south of the property line. Mr. Dowdy never questioned the accuracy of this survey, and he filed it in Crisp County in 1965. He later built a well house on the property that sat approximately two feet south of the Dooly-Crisp county line. Mr. Dowdy cut the grass around his house and planted pear trees all in an area that extended northward across the actual Dooly-Crisp county line. Testimony from William Edmund Jackson and Lounell Dorminey established that he did this with the permission of Billy Jackson.

         After Dowdy died in 1991, Ruth Moore bought the property, including the home. She indicated that, at the time she purchased the land, she understood that her property was entirely within Crisp County. She only paid Crisp County property taxes and never paid Dooly County taxes. Moore mowed and maintained this same area of the yard that her father had mowed and maintained when he owned the property.

         In 1995, after Moore moved into the house, she decided to make an addition to it. William Jackson objected, noting that her planned addition would place her too close to the northern line of her property. That addition was never made. However, in 2010, she began building a car port adjacent to the house. Jackson objected at that time, asking Moore "y'all are determined to build into Dooly County aren't you?" Despite Jackson's objections, Moore completed the concrete slab for the carport in 2012. Its edge extended northward, across the actual Dooly-Crisp county line, by 6.89 feet. This was the only permanent structure built in the portion of the yard that extended into Dooly County.

         Surveys of the property were conducted in 1965, 1988, 2010, and 2012 by various individuals. Each of those surveys showed that the boundary between the properties owned by Jackson and the Dormineys (and later Dowdy and Moore) was the actual boundary line between Dooly and Crisp counties, not the line 60 feet to the north pointed out by Joseph Brown to the Dormineys in 1956. At trial, however, several witnesses who reside in the area testified that the general reputation in the community was that the boundary between Dooly and Crisp counties was in the center of County Line Road.

         After deliberation, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Jackson, determining that the boundary between Jackson's land and the land owned by Dorminey and Moore is the actual Dooly-Crisp county line, not the line walked by Joseph Brown in 1956. Following this verdict, Moore and Dorminey moved for a new trial, raising the same ...


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