Gavel

It's a story that has gone on since 2017, and nobody knows how much longer it will go on and how much will be spent before it's all settled.

It's one landowner versus other landowners, a hunting club, a timber company and Randolph County Commission. At issue is access to some 34 acres of land off County Road 5 in the Cragford area. Landowner Jeff Landrum purchased the land along the Tallapoosa River and now he appears to be landlocked. A road established years ago, County Road 968, is at issue with Landrum stating the road is a county road, and the other side saying the road was never a county road.

After a lengthy trial in Circuit Court before Judge Steve Perryman, the judge ruled in favor of Landrum. The case was appealed and Perryman confirmed the ruling. Now, the landowners and county commission have appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. After the appeal was filed, the Supreme Court sent the case to the Court of Civil Appeals. All parties involved in the case have their opinions, and these are the basis for the appeal to a higher court.

County Commission appeal

In the appeal from the county commission, Attorney Craig Dillard listed the following issues from the trial earlier this year before Circuit Judge Perryman:

Whether the trial court incorrectly found that the owners of the property, which the remote dirt logging road at issue traverses, made a common law dedication to the public.

Whether under Alabama law the evidentiary standard applicable to acclaim that said roadway is public by common law dedication is that of clear and convincing evidence.

Whether the plaintiff proved by clear and convincing evidence that the remote dirt logging road at issue was a public road through a common law dedication.

Whether the trial court erred in finding that the roadway at issue had ever been accepted for maintenance into the Randolph County Public Roadway System by Randolph County Commission.

Whether the trial court incorrectly ruled that the remote dirt logging road at issue is a Randolph County road for which the Randolph County Commission would have continuing extensive maintenance responsibilities and potential tort liability.

Under Alabama Law is there presumption of dedication to the public by mere use of a roadway that runs through property that consists of unimproved lands.

Under Alabama Law is there a legal presumption that the use of the private property of another, i.e., the use of the remote dirt logging road at issue by the plaintiff and other members of the public is permissive.

Whether the plaintiff failed to meet his burden of proof that the use of the dirt logging road at issue by the plaintiff and others with something other than permissive use.

Whether the evidence was over whelming that the road at issue has been abandoned for over 50 years if in fact it was ever public.

The following facts sum up the reason for the appeal of Perryman's ruling:

The roadway at issue in this case is located in a remote area in southwest Randolph County near the Cragford and Malone communities. The C.C. Twilley Estate owns several thousand acres surrounding the road at issue in this case. What is claimed to be the road in question is really one of the many logging roads used by the Twilleys and their lessee, Resource Management, who manages the timber to access and harvest timber from the property. The road at issue in this case is a dirt road that runs from Randolph County Road 5, a paved county maintained road, across a portion of the large tract of Twilley property and then just ends. The width and location of the road at issue has changed over the years due to timber harvesting operations. The managers of the timber harvesting operations have performed the maintenance of the roadway on the property over the years or by the timber harvesters themselves, not by Randolph County Commission. It is undisputed that the roadway at issue doesn't even directly lead to or touch the plaintiff's 34-acre undeveloped tract of land.

In 2017 the Plaintiff purchased 34 acres of land surrounded by the Twilley property. That 34-acre tract is landlocked. The road at issue in this case was used by the two individuals that own the same 34-acre tract of land for the 30 years preceding the plaintiff's ownership of that property (Barry Nance, 1986 to 1994, and David Stevens, 1994 to 2016). Both testified at trial there was a gate at the beginning of the dirt road, which had been up during their 30-year ownership of the 34-acre tract of land. They also testified they were given a key to the gate by the owners of lesser of the larger tract of Twilley property and that they never had any problems with ingress and egress to and from the 34-acre tract of land and that their use of the roadway was clearly by the permission of the owners of the property over which the road ran. Those two individuals testified they knew the road was not public and they never intended to acquire any type of personal or public easement by their permissive use of the road. There are no houses or other habitable structures located on the road, on the plaintiff's 34-acre tract of land or the larger piece of Twilley property.

The plaintiff now claims the logging trail, which does not even lead directly to his 34-acre tract of undeveloped land, is a public roadway despite the testimony of the two preceding owners of the plaintiff's 34-acre tract of land and the defendants. In the mid-1990 the local E-911 agency, which is a state and not a county agency, labeled every driveway or road in the county for emergency service access and identification purposes and in doing so designated the road at issue as County Road 968. According to the Randolph County engineer, who has been the engineer for 30 years, Randolph County Commission has never maintained the roadway. There is no evidence in this case Randolph County Commission has ever maintained the road at issue or has ever accepted the roadway for maintenance into the Randolph County Commission's public roadway system.

Randolph County Commission was not named as a defendant in the original complaint filed in July 2017, but was added by an amended complaint nearly 10 months later because one of the issues in this case was whether the remote dirt road at issue was public or private.

Legal fees for the county's appeal will be paid the Commercial General Liability Policy.

Landowners' appeal

An appeal was filed by John Tinney on behalf of the landowners, Jim Barber, Jimmy Gross, Tommy Owens, Kevin Hyiatt, Tallapoosa Timberlands, Tallapoosa River Hunting Club, C.C. Twilley Estate and Resource Management.

The appeal listed the following issues:

The trial court erred in finding that the road designated by 911 as County Road 968 was a county road.

The trial was in error for finding the status of the road in question to be a county road by common law dedication.

There was no evidence to support the court's determination that the road in question was a public road.

The evidence is overwhelming that the road in question had been abandoned for over 50 years if in fact there was a road there.

The location of what the court determined to be a county road is impossible to determine from the court's order.

The facts that sum up the appeal are as follows:

The C.C. Twilley Estate owns several thousand acres surrounding the road at issue in this case. What is claimed to be the road in question is really one of many logging roads used by the Twilleys and lessee, Resource Management, which manages the timber on the Twilley property to access and harvest timber. The Twilley property borders the Tallapoosa River. The plaintiff purchased 34 acres of land surrounded by the Twilley property that was landlocked. One of the logging trails was used by the plaintiff and his predecessor in title to access his property by permission of the Twilley family. The plaintiff now claims the logging trail leading to his property is a public road. The E-911 Board in Randolph County labeled approximately 2,000 feet of one of the logging roads entering the Twilley Lands as County Road 968. After approximately 2,000 feet, the E-911 records show the road ended and impassable. This road designated as County Road 968 ended approximately a mile and a half to two miles from the plaintiff's property. The court ruled there was no county or public road leading to the plaintiff's property but that there was a road "somewhere going from County Road 5 to the Tallapoosa River." The court gave no instruction as to where this road lead to the Tallapoosa River as there were numerous logging trails on the Twilley lands leading to the river. All defendants contend there is no public road on the Twilley lands.

When asked about the appeal, Landrum says he had all the evidence to prove that County Road 968 is a county road from County Road 5 to his property. "They told me they would break me, and it looks like they might be successful," he said. Landrum has already paid more than $8,000 in legal fees and has no idea how much more it will cost him. "I don't want anything that is not mine. I just want access to my property. They put up a gate to keep me out, and the court said the gate had to come down."

Attorney John Tinney said the road in question has never been a public county road and has never been maintained by the county.

If the judge's order stands, it is estimated the county would have to spend up to $100,000 to bring the road up to standards. County Engineer Burrell Jones said the road would have to be widened to two lanes, scraped and graveled. Jones said the road would have to have frequent maintenance just like any other dirt road.

Tinnney said before that kind of money is spent, the Twilleys and other landowners would ask that the road be vacated from the county by the Probate Court. Tinney went on to say there is a simple solution to the problem. "If Mr. Landrum would file paperwork with the judge of probate that he is landlocked, the court would possibly allow him some type of access. If the probate court rules in his favor, he could build a road to his property but would have to pay for a right of way. It's simple if he chooses to do it, but so far he hasn't."

It is not known when the case will be heard on the state level in Montgomery.

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