Long Meadow Homeowners' Ass'n, Inc. v. Harland

Decision Date07 June 2012
Docket NumberNo. 2009–CT–01775–SCT.,2009–CT–01775–SCT.
PartiesLONG MEADOW HOMEOWNERS' ASSOCIATION, INC., William H. Arnold, Carol K. Arnold, Kenneth G. Barron, Sylvia D. Barron, Alan B. Cameron, Mary D. Cameron, Joseph B. Christman, Leah M. Christman, Clyde H. Coltharp, Mary Frances Coltharp, Rebecca Ann Culver, Tristan Denley, Kimberly Denley, Robert Byron Ellis, Suzete M. Ellis, Aubrey O'Neal Farrar, Cynthia Leigh Farrar, Charles D. Hufford, Alice C. Hufford, E. Jeff Justis, Sally V. Justis, Scott B. Lennard, Elaine A. Lennard, Timothy J. Mays, Carla Janene Mays, Glenn R. Parsons, Cheryl B. Parsons, James C. Propes, Charlotte C. Propes, Rick N. Rafinson, Bonnie S. Rafinson, Roderick N. Rafinson, Diana G. Rafinson, Jimmy Earl Shankle, Margaret Shankle, Robert C. Speth, Janet F. Speth, Allen Spurgeon, Debra Spurgeon, Julien Tatum and Christine B. Tatum v. Ernest C. HARLAND and Bonnie S. Harland.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Kenneth A. Rutherford, Oxford, attorney for appellants.

Tara B. Scruggs, Oxford, Lawrence L. Little, attorneys for appellees.

EN BANC.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

WALLER, Chief Justice, for the Court:

¶ 1. Ernest and Bonnie Harland filed suit in the Chancery Court of Lafayette County seeking to have a “corrected” warranty deed set aside; to vacate three lots from the official plat of Long Meadow subdivision; or to validate the protective covenants included with their original deed. The chancellor set aside the “corrected” warranty deed and validated the Harlands' original covenants. The Long Meadow Homeowners' Association appealed the chancellor's judgment, and we assigned the case to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals, finding no error, affirmed the judgment of the chancery court. Long Meadow Homeowners' Ass'n, Inc., et al. v. Harland, 89 So.3d 591 (Miss.Ct.App.2011). This Court granted Long Meadow's Petition for Writ of Certiorari. Long Meadow, 78 So.3d 906 (Table) (Miss.2012). Having reviewed the briefs and record in this appeal, we now affirm the Court of Appeals and the chancery court. We provide this opinion to discuss our precedent as it relates to the defendants' equitable-estoppel claim.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2. Long Meadow subdivision is located outside of the City of Oxford in Lafayette County. Because Long Meadow is in the county, it is not subject to any zoning regulations. Long Meadow was developed by Robert and Carroll Leavell and their daughters. The subdivision is composed of forty-eight 1 lots, and each lot is approximately four acres. The subdivision was developed in three distinct phases. The original plat for Phase I and Phase II, showing Lots 14–46, was recorded in the land records in 1990. In 1991, restrictive covenants for Phase II were filed in the land records and recorded in deed book 412 at page 366, with the title “Protective Covenants of Long Meadow Subdivision Phase II.” The Phase II covenants provided, in pertinent part:

We, the owners of the land described in the Long Meadow Subdivision Plat filed for record and recorded in the office of the Chancery Court Clerk of Lafayette County, Mississippi, and which comprises a subdivision in Lafayette County, Mississippi, do hereby establish, charge, and place upon said land the hereinafter described protective covenants.

1. No structure shall be erected, placed or permitted to remain on any lot other than one single family residential structure for each four (4) acres of land....

These covenants were adopted by Phase I in 1993 when the plat for Phases I and II, showing Lots 14–46, was refiled, incorporating the restrictive covenants recorded in book 412 at page 366. The plat for Phase III was recorded in the land records in 1994. Unlike the plat for Phases I and II, the plat for Phase III did not incorporate any restrictive covenants.

¶ 3. Phase III includes Lots 1–12. Rather than filing restrictive covenants applicable to all of Phase III, as they did with Phases I and II, the Leavells included various restrictive covenants with each individual deed on Phase III lots that they sold. Several of the deeds contained the same restrictive covenants applicable to all of Phases I and II. All of the deeds for Phase III contained covenants that restricted use of the property to “residential” use, but at least six of these deeds originally had covenants that defined residential use to include churches and schools.

¶ 4. In 2006, the Harlands began looking for land on which a church could be built, and they approached the Leavells about purchasing three adjacent lots in Phase III of Long Meadow. They intended to purchase the land and transfer it to their church, Oxford Church of Christ. The Leavells were aware of the Harlands' intention to have a church built on the property. This was reflected in their option contract dated November 2006, which included the following contingency:

The purchase of this property is contingent upon approval being obtained to build a church and a parking lot. The parties will mutually agree to cooperate in obtaining a release of the property from the subdivision restrictions which prohibit the building of a church. If a church cannot be built on the property, that is to say if this permission to build a church has not been obtained by May 15, 2007, this contract is voidable at the option of the Purchasers and the $5,000.00 earnest money will be returned.

¶ 5. In early 2007, residents of Long Meadow learned of the Harlands' plan to build a church on the property. The Long Meadow Homeowners' Association informed the Leavells, the Harlands, and the elders of the Oxford Church of Christ that they objected to a church being built in the subdivision, claiming that the covenants did not allow for such. In spite of the landowners' objection, the Leavells and the Harlands proceeded with the transaction, and the Leavells conveyed Lots 2, 3, and 4 in Phase III to the Harlands on March 13, 2007. The Harlands' deed for Lots 2, 3, and 4 included covenants that restricted the use of the property to “residential,” but defined residential use to include churches and structures used for church purposes. The deed was recorded in the land records on May 22, 2007.

¶ 6. More than a year later, in May 2008, counsel for the Long Meadow Homeowners' Association prepared a “corrected” warranty deed for the Harlands' property. This deed included the same restrictive covenants applicable to Phases I and II, which allowed only one single-family, residential structure for each four acres. Without obtaining the Harlands' consent or approval, the Homeowners' Association filed their “corrected” warranty deed in the land records on July 15, 2008.

¶ 7. After learning of this, the Harlands filed suit in the Chancery Court of Lafayette County against the Leavells,2 the Long Meadow Homeowners' Association, and certain landowners in the subdivision (collectively the Long Meadow Defendants). The Harlands sought to vacate Lots 2, 3, and 4 from the official plat of Long Meadow subdivision and requested a determination that those lots would not be subject to any restrictive covenants otherwise pertaining to the subdivision. In the alternative, the Harlands requested a declaratory judgment validating the original protective covenants included in their deed, which allowed a church to be constructed on the subject property. The Harlands also requested that the “corrected” warranty deed be set aside.

¶ 8. The Long Meadow Defendants asserted the defense of equitable estoppel, inter alia, against the Harlands. They also asserted a counterclaim against the Harlands and a cross-claim against the Leavells, requesting a declaratory judgment that the protective covenants recorded for Phase I, Phase II, and certain lots in Phase III were valid and binding as to all lots in Phase III, such that only one single-family dwelling could be constructed on any lot in all phases of Long Meadow. The chancellor ruled in favor of the Harlands, holding valid the covenants included within the original conveyance and setting aside the “corrected” warranty deed. The Long Meadow Defendants appealed, and we assigned the case to the Court of Appeals.

¶ 9. The Long Meadow Defendants asserted the following issues before the Court of Appeals: (1) whether protective covenants imposed on Phase I and Phase II of the subdivision were applicable also to Phase III; (2) whether the court erred in refusing to estop the Harlands from building a church on the property; (3) whether the court erred in granting the Harlands' motion to set aside the corrected warranty deed; and (4) whether the court erred in holding that the covenants filed with the original deed were valid. Long Meadow, 89 So.3d at 593–94 (¶ 2). The Court of Appeals affirmed the chancery court's judgment. Id. The Long Meadow Defendants filed a petition for writ of certiorari, which this Court granted.

ISSUE

¶ 10. The Long Meadow Defendants raise only one issue in their petition for certiorari. They claim that the chancery court and the Court of Appeals failed to consider the testimony of certain landowners in light of this Court's precedent in PMZ Oil Co. v. Lucroy, 449 So.2d 201 (Miss.1984), and White Cypress Lakes Development Corp. v. Hertz, 541 So.2d 1031 (Miss.1989).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 11. The Supreme Court reviews the trial court's findings of fact under the manifest-error/substantial-evidence standard. Russell v. Performance Toyota, Inc., 826 So.2d 719, 721 (Miss.2002). This Court will not disturb the findings of a chancellor when supported by substantial evidence unless the chancellor abused his discretion, was manifestly wrong, clearly erroneous or an erroneous legal standard was applied.” Sanderson v. Sanderson, 824 So.2d 623, 625–26 (Miss.2002) (quoting Kilpatrick v. Kilpatrick, 732 So.2d 876, 880 (Miss.1999)). This standard does not apply to questions of law, which are reviewed de novo. Russell, 826 So.2d at 721 (internal citations omitted).

DISCUSSION

¶ 12. “The law does not regard...

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    • July 18, 2013
    ...substantial evidence, or if the chancellor abused her discretion or applied an erroneous legal standard. Long Meadow Homeowners' Ass'n, Inc. v. Harland, 89 So.3d 573, 577 (Miss.2012) (quoting Sanderson v. Sanderson, 824 So.2d 623, 625–26 (Miss.2002)). We review all questions of law de novo.......
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