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Road Ownership Dispute Lands In Federal Court

By David Howell

    A squabble about a county road found its way to federal court in late January when Fletcher Fly sued Yalobusha County.

    Fly is seeking to settle a dispute concerning the ownership County Road 161, an issue that has been festering for several years.

    The matter seemed to come to a head back in August when when two of Fletcher Fly’s neighboring landowners, each who use County Road 161 to access their property, asked supervisors to settle the matter.

    Representatives of the Legrass and the Walker families asked supervisors to intervene when Fly constructed a cabin that lies on the edge of the contested public road that passes through his property.

    At that August meeting, Benny Walker told supervisors that County Road 161 is owned by the county and asked supervisors, “Where does it stop?”

    This question stemmed from an allegation that that Fly had repeatedly tried to block their access to County Road 161.

    Likewise Fly told the Herald several days after the meeting that he was being harassed by the families.

    “Headache’ ain’t the word for what the county and the Walkers and LaGrasses have put me through,” Fly said. He did not attend that August meeting but did indicate afterwards tat he intended to sue the county.

    True to his word Fly’s attorney, Stewart Guernsey, filed suit on January 22 in federal court in Oxford.

    The charges come after Fly and Guernsey made two trips to county board meetings.

    At a September board meeting, Guernsey presented a complaint to the county regarding the public use of the road and seeking damages.

    An amended complaint followed a month later in which Fly makes the same allegations.

    “The board has refused to even address the issues,” Guernsey said after the two attempts.

The Lawsuit

    The lawsuit, which tells ones side of the story, alleges that the Yalobusha County Board of Supervisors established a Road Registry in 2000, according to state statute, which purported to list all public roads in the county.

    On June 16, 2000, the board accepted County Road 161 as a public road following a public hearing.

    Fly’s suit alleges this acceptance was allegedly achieved “without a deed, a notice of intent to donate, without condemnation, and without any consideration changing hands.”

    Guernsey is also quick to point out that this situation is not unique to Yalobusha County. He has filed a similar suit in Grenada County and argues that the 1998 legislation requiring all counties to establish a road registry and determine which roads are public was an unconscious effort by the state to take land by adverse possession.

    “This could be a landmark case,” Guernsey said.

    Guernsey said he believes the 1998 law went wrong.

    “It had good intentions,” Guernsey said.

    Specifically in Yalobusha County, Guernsey alleges that county officials in 2000 took the law as an opportunity to resolve a neighborhood conflict about land.

    The lawsuit alleges the action by the county to lay claim to the property on which the road runs is in contradiction to the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

    Fly’s suit also alleges that County Road 161 had once been a public road in the general vicinity, but after 20 years of neglect by the county the road bed itself has changed.

    Damages requested in the lawsuit ask for the road to be returned to Fly, and compensation for attorney and court fees.

    The lawsuit also asks the court to order compensation for the seven-plus years of unlawful use by the County, plus the stress, anxiety and inconvenience.

    “We are going to discuss it today,” Board Attorney John Crow replied in response to a question about the lawsuit Monday during the recessed supervisors’ meeting in Water Valley.

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