APPEAL FROM THE MILLER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. CV-14-160-3] HONORABLE TED C. CAPEHEART, SPECIAL JUDGE
The Alford Firm, by: Fredye Long Alford, for appellants.
Arnold, Batson, Turner & Turner, PA, by: Todd Turner, for appellees.
RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, Judge
This is a boundary dispute between two brothers and their wives. The Miller County Circuit Court found that there was a boundary by acquiescence and that res judicata barred the claims of appellants Glenda and John Cross, who were seeking to quiet title. Appellants raise eight points on appeal. Appellees James Gary Cross (Gary) and Brenda Cross cross-appeal and argue that the circuit court erred in refusing to award them attorney's fees on the basis that appellants' claim lacked a justiciable issue. We affirm in part and reverse in part on direct appeal. We affirm on cross-appeal. We also remand the case so that the circuit court can amend the decree to include a metes-and-bounds description showing the location of the fence.
This is the latest in a series of lawsuits between John Cross and Gary Cross over the boundaries of various properties located in Miller County. The parties own several thousand acres between them in Miller County. This case involves the tract that appellants purchased from Virginia and William Cox in February 2014. The legal description of the Cox property calls for a rectangular half-of-a-half-of-a-quarter-section tract. It is bounded on the north by another tract owned by appellants and on the east and south by appellees. The parties each own forty-acre tracts that are adjacent to the west side of the Cox property. Of these two forty-acre tracts, appellees own the southerly forty-acre tract that is separated from their tract immediately to the south of the Cox property by a tract owned by appellants that meets at the southwest corner of the Cox property.
The parties' westerly forty-acre tracts are separated by a lake and were the subject of litigation in 1999 and 2002. In 2005, the parties stipulated that the north-south line between the parties was the line on a survey prepared by Kenneth Lynch. This line divided the lake.
The eastern line of the Cox property and appellants' property to the north of the Cox property was the subject of a suit brought by appellees against the Coxes and appellants in 2008. In its decree filed in 2011, the court found that the parties and their predecessors in title had recognized a fence to the east of the Coxes' survey line to be the boundary between the lands in question for more than forty years. This fence meanders inside the survey line at the northeast corner of the Cox property. Title to the property lying east of the fence was quieted in appellees. This resulted in a loss of a little more than two acres from the description of the Cox property. There is another fence on the western side of the Cox property, estimated to be approximately sixty feet off the section line called for in the deed from the Coxes to the appellants.
The present litigation started on July 7, 2014, when appellants filed their petition seeking to quiet title to the Cox property. Appellants asserted that appellees were trespassing over the southwest corner of the Cox property between the fence and the section line in order to access their property that adjoined the western boundary of the Cox property. Appellants also contended that appellees were claiming the western fence as an improper boundary between the parties. They filed an amended petition to add the alternative theory of adverse possession.
Appellees timely filed answers to both complaints. In both answers, appellees asserted the affirmative defenses of collateral estoppel and/or res judicata. The affirmative defenses were based on the 2008 litigation over the boundary line between the parties.
The case proceeded to a bench trial. The court took the matter under advisement and requested proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law.
After the trial but before the court announced its decision, appellees filed a motion seeking attorney's fees pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 16-22-309 (Repl. 1999). They argued that appellants lacked any justiciable issue because the issue had previously been resolved in appellees' favor in the prior litigation. Appellants responded, arguing that the claim for fees had been waived because it was not addressed in appellees' case-in-chief.
The circuit court entered its order on July 15, 2015, finding that appellants and their Cox predecessors failed to meet their burden to prove their quiet-title claim. The court found no evidence that the Coxes or the appellants had occupied the area between the fence and the line called for in appellants' deed from the Coxes. The court further found that no party disputed that there was a previous lawsuit concerning this same fence line, that the same fence completely surrounded the Cox property, that the court ruled in favor of appellees in that earlier case, and, therefore, res judicata prevented appellants from relitigating the same claims, even if the earlier litigation did not involve the entire fence line. The court also found that appellees had made it clear in their pleadings and correspondence to opposing counsel that they contended that the fence was the true boundary of the Cox property by arguing that the issue had already been litigated and resolved in a previous lawsuit. The court noted that appellees made a motion to have the pleadings conform to the evidence. As such, the court found that the evidence was undisputed that the fence between the appellant/Cox property and appellees' property to the west was divided by a fence that had been present for over forty years and which had been recognized as the true boundary by acquiescence between those tracts of property. The court rejected appellants' alternative argument of adverse possession as also barred by res judicata. The court granted appellees costs of $2, 500.
Appellants timely filed a motion for new trial and motion for additional findings. The motion argued that the court improperly relied on the affirmative defense of boundary by acquiescence that had not been pled and that the order was against the preponderance of the evidence. The ...