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Federal Judge Dismisses Road Ownership Lawsuit

A blue county sign peeks out of kudzu marking County Road 161 during summer months.

By David Howell

TILLATOBA –    With less than than two months before it was set to go to trial, a federal lawsuit filed against Yalobusha County seeking to resolve ownership of a county road has been tossed out of federal court.

    The lawsuit, filed by Fletcher Fly,  alleged that the county’s ownership claim of County Road 161, which runs through his property, was not legitimate.

    Fly, who was represented by attorney Stewart Guernsey, alleged that the county had not maintained County Road 161 for almost two decades and did not compensate Fly for the acreage taken when the property was placed on the 2000 Road Registry.

    The 2000 Road Registry was part of a statewide process, conducted in each county, to identify county-maintained roads.

    Yalobusha Board Attorney John Crow represented the county in the suit. Crow told the Herald from the beginning of the episode that he would vigorously defend the county in the suit, which lacked merit.

    The lawsuit was filed in January, 2008, and there have been countless filings, depositions and legal maneuvering as both sides battled the issue.

    The lawsuit ultimately culminated with a lengthy motion, field by Crow on November 14, in which the county asked for summary judgment because there was no genuine issue as to any material fact that the county had improperly taken Fly’s property.

    Crow’s filing for summary judgment contained more than two dozen exhibits compiled in the last year, which included testimony from numerous depositions including conversations with Fly; information from the tax office which showed that Fly was not paying taxes on the portion of land on which the road is situated; and board minutes.

    U.S. Northern District Judge Michael Mills granted the summary judgment filed by Crow in a ruling filed Feb. 19. The ruling stated that Fly failed to pursue to procedures regarding land takings available under Mississippi law.

    The ruling pointed out a 2007 decision made by Yalobusha supervisors finding there had been no taking of Fly’s property.

    “Mississippi law allows such a decision to be appealed to Circuit Court,” the ruling states, referring to the board’s lack of action on Fly’s request in 2007.

    “Fly did not appeal the decision to Circuit Court. Neither did Fly bring a state law inverse-condemnation action,” the ruling continues.

    By not taking the issue to Circuit Court, Fly failed to prove that state law procedures were unavailable or inadequate, which is required to place the case in federal jurisdiction, the ruling also points out.

    “In order to ripen his claim Fly must exhaust all remedies provided for under Mississippi law. His failure to do so makes this suit premature,” the federal ruling concludes.

    When contacted by the Herald, Chancery Clerk Amy McMinn said the lawsuit cost the county almost $39,000,

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