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Rider v. Longbow Ranch, LLC

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

September 13, 2017



          George Carder, P.A., by: George Carder; and Brett D. Watson, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brett D. Watson, for appellants.

          Blair & Stroud, by: Robert D. Stroud and Barrett S. Moore, for appellee.

          DAVID M. GLOVER, Judge

         Stacy and Pam Rider appeal the Stone County Circuit Court's order quieting title to disputed property in appellee Longbow Ranch, LLC ("Longbow").[1] The Riders argue the circuit court erred in finding Longbow proved adverse possession. We affirm.

         Longbow owns adjacent property directly south and east of the Rider property. At issue in this appeal is an approximately 4.15-acre strip of land extending across the south side and continuing up the eastern side of the Rider property (the "disputed property"). The disputed property has been fenced in with the Longbow property since at least 1966. In 2007, the Riders erected a new fence on what they considered to be the proper boundary line between the two properties. Longbow filed suit, alleging title to the disputed property should be quieted in it by either adverse possession or acquiescence; asserting the Riders had violated Arkansas Code Annotated sections 18-60-102 and 15-32-301; contending the Riders had trespassed on its property to erect the new fence; and requesting that the Riders be ejected from the disputed property and possession be restored to Longbow. In an order filed on November 9, 2015, the circuit court granted partial summary judgment to Longbow on the issue of trespass.[2] After trial, the circuit court issued an order on March 22, 2016, quieting title to the disputed property in Longbow by adverse possession and ordering the Riders to remove the fence they constructed. On January 11, 2017, an order dismissing all remaining claims with prejudice was entered, and the Riders filed a timely appeal.

         Standard of Review

         Equity cases are reviewed by this court de novo on the record; findings of fact by the trial court will not be reversed unless clearly erroneous. Muldrew v. Duckett, 2013 Ark.App. 304. A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with a firm conviction that an error has been committed. Fletcher v. Stewart, 2015 Ark.App. 105, 456 S.W.3d 378. It is within the province of the finder of fact to resolve conflicting evidence and to determine witness credibility; the trial court's superior position to make these determinations is given due deference on appeal. Muldrew, supra.

         Hearing Testimony

         At trial, Ben Pearson, Jr. (Pearson), testified his father, Ben Pearson, Sr., purchased what would become the Longbow property in 1966; this property was transferred to a trust at Pearson, Sr.'s, death; the estate transferred the property to Pearson and his sister; his sister and her husband transferred the property to Pearson; and Pearson and his wife transferred the property to Longbow Ranch, LLC. Pearson testified his father immediately created a cattle-and-horse farm after purchasing the property; cleared pastures with bulldozers; built fences; erected barns; built an L-shaped cattle corral against the fence in 1966, which was used to offload cattle into the pasture; and also built a pond in 1967. According to Pearson, his father remained in the cattle business, with the help of a manager, until his death in March 1971, after which the estate continued the cattle operation with the assistance of the cattle manager. Pearson testified the estate leased the property, including the disputed property, to Bill Davis from 1978 until 1987; the land, including the disputed property, was then subsequently leased to Ted Verser and Dennis Knapp; Hughie Bradley and Mike Knapp; Tim Kocher; and Steve Carlton, who was currently leasing the property. Pearson stated that all leases required the lessees to maintain the fence so the cattle would not get out. Pearson used pictures of the fence to point out the several different kinds of wires in the fence and the fact that some of the wire had grown into the trees. Pearson testified his family moved to Longbow permanently in October 1993, and he had been in complete possession of the property up to the fence since that time.

         Pearson acknowledged that in 2007 he was interested in obtaining an easement from Stacy Rider to allow him to cut timber on his property; it was at that time Rider first raised the question of the proper boundary line. Pearson testified he told Rider the land had been in his family's possession for forty-five years, and it was his understanding that after seven years, there was not a problem with ownership. Pearson said he proposed a land trade or "something, " but he never heard back from Rider; however, a new fence suddenly appeared, and Longbow filed this lawsuit. Pearson denied he ever agreed that Rider's proposed boundary line was correct. Pearson testified no one other than Longbow and its predecessors and tenants had been in possession of any property south of the original fence, and no one from the north side of the fence had ever fixed the fence, bush-hogged the property, or fertilized the pasture.

         Steve Carlton, the current Longbow lessee, testified he and Tim Kocher were both required under their leases to keep the fences repaired so the cattle would not get out. Carlton said when Kocher quit leasing the northern part of the property (which contained the disputed property), he took over that lease and had been leasing the entire property for the last ten years. Carlton stated that, during that time period, he had taken care of the fence on the northern part of the property, checking at least every two years to ensure the fences were all up; he had also spread litter several times for both Kocher and himself, and he was never told by the Riders to stay off their property. He also said he never saw the Riders repairing the fence.

         Dennis Knapp testified he worked for Bill Davis when Davis leased the Longbow property, and he and his father had also leased the property. He said the fence had been in existence since he hunted on the land as a boy-for around fifty years. Knapp said when he worked for Davis and when he and his father leased the land, they were required to keep the fence repaired to keep the cattle in. Knapp said Stacy Rider never told him he owned any of the land south of the fence; other than the Pearsons, Knapp knew of no one who claimed to own any of the land south of the fence.

         Stacy Rider's mother, Susan Phillips, testified the disputed property had been in her family since 1926, when her grandfather purchased the land; the land was transferred to her parents, and in 1973, Phillips's parents deeded five acres to her, which abutted the northern line of the Longbow property, and she sold that land to her son, Stacy Rider, and his wife Pam. Phillips testified her cousin sold Stacy Rider twenty additional acres that also joined the old fence line. Phillips testified that since 1973 to the present, no one had asserted they owned any of the five acres she sold to Stacy. Phillips claimed the old fence was put up as a containment fence to keep horses and cattle in; it was never intended to establish a boundary line. However, Phillips admitted on cross-examination she never told the Pearsons either orally or in writing that the fence was not the boundary and that she owned some of the land on the southern side of the fence. She admitted she had never taken possession of any of the property on the south side of the fence and had done nothing to clear the land on the southern side of the fence. On redirect examination, Phillips testified she occupied the property up to the ...

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