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County Road Ownership Dispute Mired In Litgation

The cabin in the road photographed on Feb. 7 of this year from County Road 161.

The red area in the above map is the area shown in detail below.

By David Howell

TILLATOBA – Legal wrangling continues in an ownership dispute over a county road after a Yalobusha landowner sued the county when he was ordered to remove his cabin which occupies a portion of the road’s alleged right-of-way on County Road 161.

    Fletcher Fly filed the suit January 22 alleging that a 2000 decision by the county to accept County Road 161 as a public road  was done “without a deed, a notice of intent to donate, without condemnation, and without any consideration changing hands.”

    Fly, who owns land on both sides of County Road 161, is represented by Attorney Stewart Guernsey.

    Fly is contesting the 2000 decision which established a Road Registry in 2000, to comply with a then-new law, which purported to list all public roads in the county. The Road Registry adoption came in 2000 after a lengthy process in which notices of public hearings were placed in Yalobusha County’s newspapers.

     Fly’s lawsuit also maintains that although the road had been a county road, it was not maintained for 20 years and the actual course of the road bed had changed.

    Fly asks for compensation for the county’s use of the road and for his road back.

    Board of supervisors’ attorney John Crow filed a response in the United States District Court for the Northern District Of Mississippi a month later, refuting Fly’s claims.

    In the county’s response, the title to the property on which the road is located is vested in the County pursuant to adverse possession and/or an easement by prescriptive use.

    The response from the county reports County Road 161 has been a public road for many decades and has been maintained by the county during that time.

Court Date Scheduled

    The case has been set for court before Chief Justice Michael Mills in Oxford on March 16, 2009.

    The current legal maneuvering in the case has been created by a missed deadline by Fly’s attorney. In the case management order document, which outlines the timeline for the case, Guernsey was given an April 24 deadline to provide core disclosures in the case. These disclosures would include information that could be presented when the case goes to trial.

    Guernsey failed to filed the disclosures and almost a month after the deadline, on May 20, Crow filed a motion asking the court to force Guernsey to produce the disclosures and asking for the court to sanction Guernsey for his tardiness.

    Guernsey responded, filing his core disclosure in late June and a pleading with the court to excuse his tardiness, which was the result of a once-in-a-lifetime set of circumstances, according to his filing.

    In the court document, Guernsey explains to the court that he began working for the law firm of Thomas U. Reynolds in January. Guernsey explains that Reynolds does a “volume practice” in Social Security Disability cases and a “catch-up” period for Mississippi SSDI cases has exacerbated an already busy schedule for Reynolds’ firm.

    Guernsey also explained to the court that he also had closed his law firm under the name of R. Stewart Guernsey, JD, M Div., LLC, and had been esentially working two-full time jobs.

    Additionally, Guernsey said he had been out of state for 10 days in June, during which he became married and was “honeymooning” for three days. The final reason cited by Guernsey for not filing the disclosures by the deadline was that he also preaches once a month and has pastoral duties at a Tupelo Church.

    “I currently have more on my plate than a new groom should have,” Guernsey reported in the filing.

History of the Case

    Fly owns 160.2 acres in the area – deer hunting country. The land, Fly said, has been in his family “over 60 years.”

    County Road 161 crosses through the property and Fly constructed the cypress and cedar cabin in the road. This is an inconvenience, to say the least, for the “folks” Fly claims are “fighting” him – the Walker and LaGrass families, along with the Yalobusha County Board of Supervisors.

    “I’m being harassed by the Walkers and the LaGrasses,” he told the Herald last summer. (The Walkers and LaGrasse families own land at the end of County Road 161. The road, according Crow, is the only way into the land.) “Those families are wanting to control my property so they can hunt it, and they are just using the supervisors as backup.”

    Representatives of the LaGrass and the Walker families asked supervisors to intervene last summer following the construction of the cabin that lies on the edge of the contested public road that passes through Fly’s 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.

Business As Usual

    The case has remained a topic at several recent supervisor meetings including a move on June 25 to record maintenance performed on County Road 161 in the board minutes.

    “George (District Four Supervisor George Suggs) has got maintenance on a road you need to put on the minutes. June 5 and June 20 for maintenance on 161,” Crow told supervisors at a recessed June 25 meeting.

    “I make the motion,” District Five Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman answered.

    With a second by District One Supervisor Tommy Vaughn, supervisors voted 4 – 0 to record the maintenance, fresh gravel and grader work on the road.

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