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Taylor v. Heirs of William Taylor

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

April 26, 2017

Maxine Taylor, Respondent,
Heirs of William Taylor, Heirs of E. Washington, Heirs of Phoebe Taylor, Heirs of Albertha Goodwine, and all persons unknown designated as a class; Richard Roe, and Beaufort County, SC, a body politic, Defendants, Of whom Heirs of William Taylor, Heirs of E. Washington, Heirs of Phoebe Taylor, and Heirs of Albertha Goodwine are the Appellants. Stanley Taylor, Joe A. Taylor and Martha T. Brown, Respondents,
Heirs of William Taylor, Heirs of E. Washington, Heirs of Phoebe Taylor, Heirs of James Joseph Taylor, Heirs of Josephine Taylor and Georgia Champion, Appellants. Appellate Case No. 2015-000342

          Submitted December 1, 2016

         Appeal From Beaufort County Marvin H. Dukes, III, Master-in-Equity

          Marc W. Fisher, Jr., of Levin Gilley & Fisher, LLC, of Beaufort, and Amy Kristan Raffaldt, of The Mace Firm, of Myrtle Beach, for Appellants.

          George H. O'Kelley, Jr., of O'Kelley Law Firm, of Beaufort, for Respondents.

          THOMAS, J.

         This case involves a property dispute between families competing for ownership of a ten acre tract of land in Beaufort County. The master-in-equity granted title for the entire tract to Respondents Maxine Taylor, Stanley Taylor, Joe Taylor, and Martha Brown. Appellants appealed arguing (1) the master erred by finding Respondents were the title owners of the entire tract; (2) they established title to portions of the tract by adverse possession; (3) they were entitled to a presumption of a grant for portions of the tract; and (4) the boundary line was mutually recognized and acquiesced for ten years. We reverse the master's order based on Appellants' adverse possession argument.


         Respondents initiated this case in June 2011 by filing a complaint seeking to quiet title to lot nine on Warsaw Island in Beaufort County.[1] Respondents asserted they owned all of lot nine through various deeds. Appellants answered and counterclaimed asserting they owned at least a portion of lot nine. Alternatively, Appellants asserted they acquired ownership of a portion of lot nine by adverse possession. This case was referred to the master, and he held the first day of trial in July 2013.

         H. G. Judd drafted the earliest plat of this area in the 1800s (Judd Plat). The Judd Plat was a very crude sketch of the lots and did not reveal any subdivisions within the lots. The next earliest map was a tax map from 1954, which was revised in 1965 (1965 Tax Map). The 1965 Tax Map shows Warsaw Road bisecting lot nine with a portion of the lot located north of the road and a portion located south of the road. The 1965 Tax Map also showed lot nine subdivided into parcels five, six, and 6a.[2] According to the 1965 Tax Map, parcel five consists of the Northern Portion and a strip of land along the western side of the Southern Portion. Parcels six and 6a consist of the eastern section of the Southern Portion.

         During the first day of trial, David Youmans testified he had been a professional land surveyor for almost thirty years and he researched the property at issue. Youmans asserted his research showed Beaufort County taxed Appellants for parcel five. Youmans testified Beaufort County, at an unknown time, switched the location of the parcels on the tax map and, after the switch, incorrectly showed parcel six consisting of the Northern Portion and parcel five consisting of the Southern Portion. Youmans did not know when this inexplicable switch occurred. However, Youmans testified the switch occurred prior to two tax sales in the late 1990s, which purported to transfer property to Respondents' ancestor, James Taylor.

         Cindy Spencer testified she was a real estate title abstractor and had been researching titles in Beaufort County for twenty-eight years. Spencer testified the tax records for this property went back to 1954 and showed Appellants as owning parcel five as shown on the 1965 Tax Map. Appellants introduced the original property card showing Appellants as the owners of parcel five. Spencer also asserted Appellants had been paying property taxes on parcel five since 1954. Spencer contended the 1954 tax record was the first document to show an owner of parcel five.

         Next, Spencer testified she found the two tax sale deeds from the 1990s, which purported to convey the western and eastern portions of parcel six to James. Spencer contended James owned parcel six and 6a following the tax deeds. Spencer testified the tax deeds described parcels six and 6a as bounded on the north by the water, which indicated they were located in the Northern Portion. She testified employees of the treasurer's office write the legal descriptions for properties going to tax sale. Spencer also recognized the parcel switch, as detailed by Youmans, and asserted the property descriptions for the tax sales were based on the switched version of the parcels.

         Respondent Martha Brown testified she lived in a mobile home in the Northern Portion at the time of the trial. Martha admitted Georgia Champion, who was one of Appellants, telephoned her after she placed her mobile home in the Northern Portion and claimed the mobile home was on Champion's property. Martha asserted the property where she resided at the time of trial was the property James Taylor, Martha's father, obtained in the tax sale deeds.

         Martha testified she grew up in a house on Respondent Maxine's property, which is located on the eastern side of the Southern Portion. Martha acknowledged she socialized with Champion and Champion's sister, Willie Mae Stewart, when they were children and that Champion and Stewart lived north of Warsaw Road.[3]

         Respondent Maxine testified she grew up in the house Martha identified as located on the eastern side of the Southern Portion. She admitted she was unaware of her family ever farming or otherwise using the Northern Portion. Maxine claimed she owned the property in the Southern Portion with the house and obtained it in a deed of distribution from James after his death. Maxine testified she believed Respondents owned the entire tract of lot nine.

         Appellant Georgia Champion testified she grew up living with her grandparents, Rufus and Mary Taylor, in a house located in the Northern Portion (Rufus House). Champion testified she lived in the Rufus House until she graduated high school in 1972. She asserted Rufus and Mary owned the Rufus House and raised hogs, cows, pigs, and did other farming in the Northern Portion. Champion claimed they had a hog pen in the same area as the mobile home Martha Brown placed in the Northern Portion. Champion testified Rufus died in 1972 and the family began renting the Rufus House. Subsequently, according to Champion, there was a fire at the Rufus House and no one lived there after that. Champion did not testify regarding exactly when the fire occurred. She contended she moved back to the area in 1997 and asked a local fire department to burn down what was left of the Rufus House. Champion claimed she decided to leave the remnants of the Rufus House as a memory for her children and grandchildren. She testified the remnants remain there to this day. Champion asserted there was also a water meter on the Northern Portion, which marked the property as owned by Appellants. Champion testified she had not abandoned the property even though the trees had grown up. She asserted she cleaned up any trash on the property and cut grass and brush during the summer months.

         Champion testified she became aware of Martha's plans to place a dwelling on the Northern Portion when Martha began clearing the land. Champion asserted she and other family members went to Martha to inform her Appellants owned that land. Also, Champion testified Appellants had been paying taxes for the Northern Portion "since forever." She asserted Respondents and James never farmed or used any of the property in the Northern Portion.

         Willie Mae Stewart testified Georgia Champion was her sister and she was also raised by her grandparents, Rufus and Mary Taylor, in the Rufus House. Stewart asserted she lived in that house from birth in 1956 until 1972 when her grandmother passed away. Stewart testified Appellants farmed in the Northern Portion while she was growing up. She also claimed Appellants farmed in the Southern Portion. Stewart testified there were still stakes, which formed part of Appellants' cow pasture, in the marsh above the Northern Portion. According to Stewart, when her grandmother died and she moved out of the Rufus House, Appellants began renting the house. Stewart ...

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