Submitted December 1, 2016
From Beaufort County Marvin H. Dukes, III, Master-in-Equity
W. Fisher, Jr., of Levin Gilley & Fisher, LLC, of
Beaufort, and Amy Kristan Raffaldt, of The Mace Firm, of
Myrtle Beach, for Appellants.
H. O'Kelley, Jr., of O'Kelley Law Firm, of Beaufort,
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.
initiated this case in June 2011 by filing a complaint
seeking to quiet title to lot nine on Warsaw Island in
Beaufort County. 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.
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. 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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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