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Salinas v. Sheets

Court of Appeals of Oklahoma, Division III

October 25, 2017

JOE SALINAS and PAULINE TAYLOR, Plaintiffs/Appellees,
v.
TODD ALAN SHEETS, Defendant/Appellant.[1]

          Mandate Issued: 03/21/2018

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF McCURTAIN COUNTY, OKLAHOMA HONORABLE GARY BROCK, JUDGE AFFIRMED

          Thomas H. Ellis, Idabel, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff/Appellant,

          Jon Ed Brown, Hugo, Oklahoma, for Defendants/Appellees.

          Bay Mitchell, Presiding Judge

         ¶1 Defendant/Appellant Todd Alan Sheets (East Landowner) appeals from a partial journal entry of judgment in which the trial court found that Plaintiffs/Appellees Joe Salinas and Pauline Taylor (Salinas, Taylor or, collectively, West Landowners) owned all right, title and interest to a disputed piece of real property adjoining the parties' properties. We find the trial court's finding that the boundary line had been established by acquiescence for the statutory period is not against the clear weight of the evidence. We also find East Landowner failed to prove the trial court imposed an improper burden of proof. We affirm the judgment.

          PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2 The parties are adjacent landowners in McCurtain County. A dispute developed between the parties in 2010 about the use and ownership of about eight acres (the Disputed Property) located, depending on which party is asked, on either side of two different boundary lines adjoining the parties' properties. East Landowner sought to quiet title to the Disputed Property, claiming that the property was encompassed within the west boundary line established by survey. West Landowners sought to quiet title to the Disputed Property under the doctrines of adverse possession and/or boundary by acquiescence, claiming that an older fence to the east of the survey line had historically served as the boundary between the two properties. After a non-jury trial, the trial court found that West Landowners owned all right, title and interest to the property under both the doctrines of adverse possession and boundary by acquiescence. [2] East Landowner appeals. [3]

          STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶3 An action to quiet title is an action of equitable cognizance, and the judgment of the trial court will be affirmed unless found to be against the clear the weight of the evidence. Krosmico v. Pettit, 1998 OK 90, ¶23, 968 P.2d 345, 351. Questions of law are reviewed by a de novo standard. See Hogg v. Oklahoma Cnty. Juvenile Bureau, 2012 OK 107, ¶5, 292 P.3d 29, 33. The credibility of witnesses and the effect and weight to be given to their testimony are questions of fact to be determined by the trier of fact and are not questions of law for the appellate court on appeal. Hagen v. Indep. School Dist. No. I-004, 2007 OK 19, ¶8, 157 P.3d 738, 740.

          TRIAL EVIDENCE

         ¶4 Bonnie French originally owned all the land involved in this case. Bonnie built a fence (the older fence), running from the north to the south, on the east side of her property. Bonnie conveyed the northwest and southwest tracts to her nephew, Willie French, at some point in the 1960s. Willie sold the southwest tract to Clyde Neill in the early 1970s. Neill owned the property for approximately one year before selling it to Jimmy Hughitt. Hughitt also bought the northwest tract from Willie French in approximately 1978. Hughitt leased both western tracts to West Landowners beginning in 2004, and then sold both tracts to West Landowners in 2010.

         ¶5 Bonnie retained ownership of the eastern property until she died in approximately 1994; Joe French, Sr. inherited the property after her death. When he died in 1999, his son, Joe French, Jr., acquired the property. Joe French, Jr. sold the property to East Landowner and his father, Alan Sheets, in 2004. East Landowner became the sole owner of the property when Alan died in 2010. In 2010, East Landowner built a fence running north/south on the survey boundary line on the western side of the Disputed Property. He also erected a gate blocking West Landowners' access to a road which passed through the Disputed Property and which served as West Landowners' only access to their property. The present lawsuit ensued.

         ¶6 None of the parties disputed that the older north/south fence existed on the eastern side of the Disputed Property, and none of the parties disputed the location of the survey boundary line to the west. However, the parties disputed whether a second fence had existed at the survey boundary line. The ...


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