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City of Gulf Shores v. Meador

Supreme Court of Alabama

October 18, 2019

City of Gulf Shores
v.
D. Kay Meador

          Appeal from Baldwin Circuit Court (CV-13-901533)

          PER CURIAM

         AFFIRMED. NO OPINION.

          Bolin, Shaw, Bryan, Mendheim, and Stewart, JJ., concur.

          Murdock, Special Justice, [1] concurs specially.

          Parker, C.J., and Sellers and Mitchell, JJ., dissent.

          Wise, J., recuses herself.

          MURDOCK, Special Justice (concurring specially).

         D. Kay Meador sued the City of Gulf Shores ("the City") and two City employees seeking to hold the defendants liable after she was forced to stop construction of a residence on land she believed she owned in a subdivision known as Lagoon Estates. Meador began construction of the residence in reliance upon certain acts and omissions on the part of the City. She subsequently was informed by the City that the City itself actually owned the land in question and, for that reason, was forced by the City to stop construction of the residence.

         The land in question at one time constituted a right-of-way that, as reflected in the Baldwin County probate records, the City purported to vacate in 1956. Had this vacation been effective, the predecessors to Meador in title would have become owners of the land. A judgment entered in 1986 by the Baldwin Circuit Court, however, held that the attempted vacation had been ineffective. Evidence of the 1986 judgment was never recorded in the probate records. Unaware of the 1986 judgment, Meador accepted delivery of a deed in 2010 purporting to convey title to the property to her.

         Following the entry of a summary judgment on other claims asserted by Meador, she proceeded to trial only on a claim against the City for negligence. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Meador in the amount of $133, 000, a little less than the construction costs Meador had incurred. The trial court denied the City's renewed motion for a judgment as a matter of law and entered a judgment based on the jury's verdict.

         A majority of the Court votes today to affirm the trial court's judgment. I join that vote and write to explain my reason for doing so.

         It strikes me that this is a somewhat unique case. It is not a case where title to the land is in some third party and, thus, as between the City and the plaintiff, the plaintiff ought to have had superior knowledge of this fact. The City itself owns the land. If superior knowledge as to ownership of the land is to be charged to the owner of that land, then that charge in this case is to the City.

         Despite "winning" ownership of the land in the 1986 case, the City chose for some reason not to record any evidence of its ownership in the probate records so as to give constructive notice of that fact to the world.[2] Although this choice in and of itself breached no duty to Meador or her predecessors in title, it is against the backdrop of this omission that notice is taken of the maintenance in the probate records of a plat of Lagoon Estates that contained a handwritten notation referencing "the vacation of this street" and the location within the probate records of the City's 1956 vacation resolution. Furthermore, the City maintained for public viewing, and provided to Meador, zoning and street maps indicating that the property was privately owned and suitable for residential construction, made oral representations to Meador to similar effect, gave Meador and her architect information regarding setback requirements, and, ultimately, issued a building permit to Meador authorizing her to construct a residence on the property. In addition, representatives of the City visited the site on multiple occasions, initially halting construction over an environmental concern, then giving Meador approval to resume construction.

         Despite this history, the City subsequently chose to invoke its own title to the property and thereby to deprive Meador of the benefit of the construction costs she had incurred in reliance on the City's acts and omissions.

         I believe there was enough in the unique facts of this case to allow the jury to find, under Alabama law, that the City had assumed a duty to Meador, that the City breached that duty, and that the City should compensate Meador for the moneys she expended in reasonable reliance on the City's acts ...


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