Chancellor Ronald Thurman will decide Wednesday whether Grant Manning should temporarily be enjoined from keeping a gate across Sunset Drive in the Belk Community.
After hearing from four witnesses this morning (Monday), Chancellor Thurman decided to postpone further proceedings in the case until Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. since he had a previously scheduled trial to preside over in Putnam County Monday afternoon.
The hearing, being held in DeKalb County Chancery Court, is to determine whether the Chancellor should issue a temporary injunction to keep Manning from obstructing Sunset Drive, until a separate proceeding is held on a defense motion to dismiss the case.
Manning’s attorneys, Sarah Cripps and Brandon Cox filed motions on Friday, August 19 to dissolve a “temporary injunction” they thought was already in place against Manning pending Monday’s hearing and to dismiss the county’s complaint. But Chancellor Thurman informed Cripps and Cox Monday that he had not issued any temporary injunction prior to the hearing.
The county contends Sunset Drive is a county road and that Manning cannot legally keep a gate across it. Manning denies the county’s claim asserting that Sunset Drive, a gravel road, runs through his property and is a private drive which belongs to him.
County attorney Hilton Conger filed the petition in Chancery Court Friday, August 5 on behalf of the county and Road Supervisor Wallace "Butch" Agee, the Plaintiff, seeking a temporary and permanent injunction to keep Manning from obstructing Sunset Drive.
Testifying for the county Monday were Road Supervisor Agee and County Highway Department employees Charlie Mai Maxwell and Billy Eudean Pack along with Bart Lay, a landowner in the area.
Both Road Supervisor Agee and Maxwell testified that Sunset Drive appears on the county road map and road list and that someone identifying himself as Grant Manning called the road department earlier this year asking for a load of gravel for Sunset Drive. Agee said although Manning later denied making the call, the load of gravel was taken to Sunset Drive and spread on the road. Pack, a truck driver for the department, said he spread the gravel from Manning’s gate, which was open, down Sunset Drive as far as the load would go. Only one load was delivered. Neither of the witnesses remembered the county having done any other work on that road in previous years
Although they had no answer, Cripps also asked the witnesses why county highway department reports from previous years described Sunset Drive as a 16 foot wide road with an oil surface and that the road once had bridge repair and patch work done on it when there is no bridge on the road and it has apparently always been a graveled driveway.
Lay testified that he bought property at the end of Sunset Drive from Manning’s ex-wife last year and that he has a rental trailer there. He said since the gate has been across Sunset Drive, he can only access his land through a field and that the obstruction has prevented him from being able to rent part of the property. “I had one farm renter who didn’t want to be part of it”, testified Lay.
Agee testified that he has removed the gate twice this year. The gate has since been erected again.
Cripps and Cox are asking that the Chancellor dismiss the county’s complaint on the grounds of “equitable estoppel and collateral estoppel” and that the court enter an order requiring the county to pay all of Manning’s reasonable attorney fees in the amount of $9,500 and any other relief to which he may be entitled.
In the complaint, County Attorney Conger states “Sunset Drive is a gravel road which runs generally north and south through the lands of the defendant (Manning) for a distance of approximately .2 of a mile and has been on the official DeKalb County Road list since January 26, 1998.”
In the answer, Cripps and Cox admit that Sunset Drive is listed on the DeKalb County Road list and has been since approximately 1999 but deny that it is a county road and further deny that it is only two tenths of a mile in length. Cripps and Cox also reference action to approve a final subdivision plat for Manning taken by the DeKalb County Regional Planning Commission on July 12, 2004 asserting that the plat contains no public dedication to DeKalb County of Sunset Drive or Hidden Hollow Way by Manning, nor does the plat contain any right-of-way dedication for the two roads.
“When plaintiff’s predecessor (former Road Supervisor) Kenny Edge, the DeKalb County Regional Planning Commission, and the DeKalb County Commission took the affirmative action of signing, approving, and accepting Manning’s subdivision plat they did so with full knowledge that Sunset Drive was nothing more than a private “9 foot” gravel driveway. Manning contends that this affirmative action operates to preclude Plaintiff from now asserting that Sunset Drive is a county road,” said Cripps and Cox.
“There has been no other “affirmative action” on the part of the Plaintiff, the DeKalb County Regional Planning Commission, or the DeKalb County Commission to declare Sunset Drive a county or public roadway. Further Plaintiff can produce no document evidencing DeKalb County’s ownership interest in Sunset Drive,” Cripps and Cox continued.
According to court documents filed by Cripps and Cox, Manning and his former wife acquired fee simple ownership of four tracts of real property in the Belk community containing a total of 120 acres, more or less, by virtue of a warranty deed on February 26, 1990. In the spring of 1990, Manning began expending his personal funds to purchase limestone and gravel and to pay for grading in order to improve the path that traversed the lands of Manning. In early 1992, at the request of the DeKalb County E-911 Board, Manning named the two gravel driveways traversing his farm “Sunset Drive” and “Hidden Hollow Way”. Neither gravel driveway appears on the DeKalb County Road Names List for 1997. Manning and his former wife were the only interested parties and abutting land owners to the two gravel driveways. The gravel driveway known as “Sunset Drive” first appears on the DeKalb County Road Names List for February 1999. The gravel driveway known as Hidden Hollow Way never appeared on any DeKalb County Road Names List generated during any year from 1990 to present,” Cripps and Cox state in the documents.
According to Cripps and Cox, Manning admits that he erected a gate across “his gravel driveway known as Sunset Drive” on May 18, 2011. But while Sunset Drive now also serves Bart Lay, an adjoining property owner, Manning asserts the gate does not prevent Lay from accessing his land, although there is no other road into the property.
“Specifically Manning admits that Lay owns a parcel of land identified as the “residual adjoining acreage” in the subdivision plat, but avers that the real property owned by Lay is not landlocked because Lay has access to his property along 260 feet of road frontage on Allen Bend Road”, a county road, which intersects with Sunset Drive,” state Cripps and Cox in their answer to the complaint.
In his petition, Conger states “Unless this Court issues both a temporary and permanent injunction, Plaintiff (County) and its citizens will suffer irreparable harm”. But Cripps and Cox deny anyone will suffer irreparable harm. They claims there is only one other property owner that has any identifiable interest in Sunset Drive (Lay) and that he is not landlocked. Cripps and Cox further point out that Sunset Drive is not listed on any United States mail or postal route and also is not listed on any county school bus route. Specifically, the mailboxes for both Manning and Lay are located on the right-of-way of Allen Bend Road. Manning’s private gravel driveway is not currently, and has not been previously, utilized by the public at large. Therefore, there can be no legitimate claim made that Plaintiff or any citizen of DeKalb County will suffer irreparable harm by Manning’s maintaining an obstruction across his private gravel driveway use,” said Cripps and Cox in the answer.
Should the court rule in the county’s favor, Conger states that it would be in the public interest and that Manning would not be prejudiced. Cripps and Cox dispute that claim stating that “It is axiomatic that Manning is prejudiced by any action constituting a “taking” of his private property “without just compensation” within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and by any action which restricts Manning’s lawful use and enjoyment of his property. Therefore, there can be no doubt that Manning is absolutely prejudiced by this extraordinary relief procured by the Plaintiff”.
In November, 2015 the county commission voted to have Manning’s gate removed, but Cripps and Cox contend that the action was taken “without any comment, investigation, or further due diligence to ascertain the actual status of Manning’s gravel driveway known as Sunset Drive, all without affording any prior written notice to Manning. Further, the Plaintiff (Road Supervisor Agee), entered upon the lands of Manning (January, 2016) and removed the gate that he (Manning) had previously erected across his gravel driveway known as Sunset Drive,” Cripps and Cox stated in their answer to the complaint.
After the gate was removed, Conger said Manning replaced the gate across Sunset Drive and locked the gate with a log chain. Cripps and Cox admit that Manning undertook to replace the gate across Sunset Drive but that on or about August 1, 2016, the Plaintiff (Road Supervisor Agee) and law enforcement officers from the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department again removed the gate.
The gate was later erected again.
*The following are the minutes from the DeKalb County Regional Planning Commission on July 12, 2004 regarding the "Review of the Robert Grant Manning Subdivision Final Plat.
"Judson Howell was present to submit a final plat containing 1 reviewable lot of 1.81 acres that is being subdivided off 120 total acres of the Manning property off of Allen Bend Road. There is an existing building on the lot (3310 Allen Bend Road) with 1 accessory building".
"The lot under review contains road frontage upon Allen Bend Road. However there is an existing gravel drive, Sunset Drive, that is included on this lot, which continues south and branches off into Hidden Hollow Road. The section of Sunset Drive that is included on the subdivided lot also serves as the primary access for the residence at 500 Sunset Drive and 800 Hidden Hollow Way. These two roads are listed on the 911 Map and the Official County Road List and Map".
"The status of these roads was then discussed in detail".
"If Sunset Drive and Hidden Hollow Way are not considered county roads, then access to the two existing homes could be affected if access is controlled by the subdivided lot. Although the gravel drive is utilized for primary access for both residences, the house at 500 Sunset Drive will still contain approximately 261 feet of road frontage on Allen Bend Road, if the subdivision is approved. Consequently, this house is not being landlocked, but the resident will be required to construct a new driveway to Allen Bend Road if the land is further subdivided".
"After further discussion on the matter, staff recommended granting conditional approval for the plat subject to the signatures and the inclusion of a plat restriction on the plat, if these are not county roads, stating that if the property is subdivided further, a new road will be required to be constructed that meets the county road specifications. A motion to that effect was made by Mike Foster and seconded by Jerry Taylor. The motion passed unanimously," according to the minutes.