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Mathers v. Wakulla County

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

May 2, 2017

JOHN MATHERS and BRENDA MATHERS, Appellants,
v.
WAKULLA COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Florida, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED

         An appeal from the Circuit Court for Wakulla County. Dawn Caloca-Johnson, Judge.

          Ronald A. Mowrey and Mark L. Mason of Mowrey Law Firm, P.A., Tallahassee, for Appellants.

          Heather J. Encinosa, Heath R. Stokley, Evan J. Rosenthal, and Carly J. Schrader of Nabors, Giblin & Nickerson, P.A., Tallahassee, for Appellee.

          PER CURIAM.

         John and Brenda Mathers (the Matherses) appeal from a final summary judgment entered in favor of Wakulla County ("the County"). The Matherses argue, among other things, that the trial court erred in its application of section 95.361(2), Florida Statutes. Because acceptance is not an element of statutory-presumed dedication under section 95.361, and section 95.361 may be invoked by private parties, we agree and reverse the trial court's judgment with respect to Counts 1 and 3. We affirm in all other respects without comment.

         I.

         Kristin Lane is a quarter-mile strip of dead-end gravel road located in rural Crawfordville, Florida. The road runs north from East Ivan Road and is the only means of ingress and egress to the handful of residences it serves. The Matherses and Wayne and Brenda Mitchell ("the Mitchells") are adjoining landowners on Kristin Lane, with the Matherses' residence located just north of the Mitchells.

         In early July of 2014, the Mitchells erected a fence and gate on the part of their property abutting Kristin Lane. In an effort to block the Matherses from using the road, the Mitchells closed the gate across Kristin Lane and posted a "No Trespassing" sign. Although it necessarily blocked other residents from using Kristin Lane as well, the gate was apparently directed at the Matherses, whose names were emblazoned on the sign in black and white lettering stickers. According to Mr. Mitchell, Mrs. Mathers had been "stating negative things about him."

         When they arrived home, the Matherses simply opened the gate and proceeded on their way. The next day the Mitchells chained the gate closed. The evidence conflicts on who telephoned police first, but in either event deputies from the Wakulla County Sherriff's Office eventually responded along with several county employees. The Mitchells claimed that the part of the road traversing their land was privately owned while the Matherses claimed it was publicly owned. At the advice of the deputies, the Mitchells agreed to keep the gate open until the matter could be resolved in the courts.

         When the County learned of the dispute between the Mitchells and the Matherses, it searched minutes from meetings held before the Wakulla County Board of County Commissioners for any reference of Kristin Lane or record of a vote accepting Kristin Lane as a dedicated roadway. Finding none, the County's attorney sent the Matherses a letter informing them that the County had determined that Kristin Lane is a private road.

         The Matherses filed a four-count complaint naming the Mitchells and the County as defendants. Count 1 of the complaint sought a declaratory judgment confirming that Kristin Lane had become a county road pursuant to section 95.361(2) and that the County was under a duty to maintain and repair it. In Count 2, the Matherses claimed inverse condemnation on a theory of diminished access to their property resulting from an alleged failure of the County to maintain Kristin Lane. Count 3 sought injunctive relief requiring the County to resume maintenance of Kristin Lane. Count 4 sought injunctive relief requiring the Mitchells to remove the fence and gate. The Matherses and the Mitchells eventually entered into a settlement agreement resolving Count 4, leaving the County as the only remaining defendant.

         Referring to Kristin Lane, the County acknowledged in answers to interrogatories that "[t]he County Public Works Department has occasionally provided voluntary maintenance or repairs to non-arterial and non-collector roadways that are more in the nature of driveways or private neighborhood roads at the request of citizens as a public service to ensure accessibility for emergency vehicles." However, according to the County, it did not have any legal duty to provide such maintenance or repair to Kristin Lane because it "is not aware of any recorded official document of acceptance of Kristin Lane . . . as a public roadway for use by the general public."

         A county-issued document entitled "Work Order Listing Report" listed Kristin Lane as a road maintained by the County for grading. An affidavit completed in 1998 by Don Kemp, superintendent for the Road and Bridge Department of Wakulla County, states that Wakulla County has continuously maintained Kristin Lane for a period of twenty years. Kristin Lane is designated with a green road sign, as opposed to a blue road sign. According to the County's website, the presence of a green road sign indicates that the road at issue is a ...


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