August 19, 2008

In a dispute over land ownership, payment of taxes is controlling only in the absence of contrary facts and circumstances


Bobby E. White and Ann H. White sought judgment granting them title to a small portion of property that they claim to own by deed, adverse possession and by payment of taxes. The trial court granted Pulaski Electric System, a public electric company, summary judgment. Finding no reversible error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Opinion may be found at the TBA website:

"The Whites contend they should be granted relief based on the presumption of ownership through payment of taxes contained in Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-2-109. In support of this contention, they assert that they and their predecessors have been assessed and paid taxes on Parcel 24.03 since 1985 and that the tax assessor’s maps and records as well as every deed since 1985 describes the property as running 100 feet west from South First Street. They also contend that PES has not paid taxes on the disputed portion of property, and is therefore barred from its claim under Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-2-110."" Id.

"The evidence shows that the Whites and their predecessors paid city and county taxes on the disputed property for over twenty (20) years; however, inasmuch as neither they nor their predecessors had legal title or equitable interest in the disputed 19 foot tract of land, they were not entitled to the presumption of legal ownership granted by the statute. Moreover, the tax map cannot be used to establish the boundary lines of the property." Id. (citations omitted).

"Even if the Whites did meet the statutory requirements to receive the benefit of the presumption that they are the legal owners of the disputed tract, PES rebutted the presumption by showing by clear and convincing proof that any purported title to the disputed tract claimed by the Whites was not valid. The statutory presumption is that the claimant is the prima facie legal owner of the land; as such, it is controlling only in the absence of contrary facts and circumstances. [] Through the recorded deeds and other public records dating as far back as 1929, PES has shown, by a preponderance of evidence, that the property description contained in the Whites’ deed is erroneous." Id. (citations omitted).

"Pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-203(a)(1),5 the property at issue, being property of the City of Pulaski, is exempt from taxation. Thus, the fact that PES did not pay taxes on the property does not preclude it from defending the title to same." Id.