Lawsuit about lake now over
Posted: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 11:25 pm
By JOHN BRANNON
Charlie Barnett of Jackson sounded upbeat and relieved of late when he discussed the end of lawsuits challenging Tennessee’s ownership and management of Reelfoot Lake.
A formal consent decree entered in Obion County Chancery Court by Chancellor Mike Maloan on June 29 specifies the terms of the conclusion of a long-standing legal struggle.
Parties to the lawsuit include the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and Natalie Hornbeak Denton and her niece, Anne Hornbeak, co-owners of Acorn Point Lodge, which is located on the south shore of Reelfoot Lake.
Barnett, a member of the Jackson law firm Spragins, Barnett & Cobb, represented TWRA. Attorneys Joe McCaleb of Primm Springs and Joseph Johnston of Nashville represented the plaintiffs.
According to Barnett, there were two lawsuits, one filed in July 2007 by Denton-Hornbeak against TWRA and one by the State of Tennessee against Denton-Hornbeak.
At issue was acreage in a buffer zone and acreage under the waters of Reelfoot Lake.
“She (Mrs. Denton) sued the State of Tennessee in federal court, alleging that she owned the property and that the state had violated her right to due process and free speech,” Barnett said.
Mrs. Denton claimed in the federal lawsuit to own a buffer zone of 6.4 acres in front of the Hornbeak subdivision. About 30 lots front the buffer zone.
“She was claiming that property so she could force those landowners to buy access to the lake,” Barnett said.
The federal court case was eventually thrown out — dismissed — by the presiding federal judge.
“The District Court ruled that even if what she said was true, the State of Tennessee did not violate her civil rights because the state beieved it owned the property and said so,” Barnett said.
She appealed to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals (in Cincinnati). The 6th said she did not have a case.
“Meanwhile, the State of Tennessee filed suit against her, alleging she had trespassed on its property and, in fact, was attempting to bar the public’s access to the property,” Barnett said.
“The state’s lawsuit said, ‘We own the property.’ The property in question was 6.4 acres of what is called a buffer zone in between the lake itself and private ownership. She claimed she owned a couple of acres out into the lake.
“Also, her original claim was that even though the 6.4 acres was condemned in 1930, she claimed that her grandparents had not been paid for it and challenge the state to find a record of it.”
And the state did just that — on file in the Obion County Courthouse.
“It was in the Circuit Court Clerk’s office, showing a warrant from the Comptroller of the State of Tennessee. It gave the number of the warrant, the date it arrived and the fact that $1,700 was paid to her grandfather’s attorney,” Barnett said. “Despite the fact that we found the record, she continued to make the claim. We were able to show that her father and her uncle subdivided the subdivision next to it in 1946 and that they filed a plat acknowledging the state’s ownership of the property. Then we found several deeds from her to other people, including family members, that acknowledge the state’s ownership of the property.
“Eventually, her case was not viable and she just abandoned it. She signed a formal document to that effect.”
In his June 29 order, Maloan:
• Affirms the boundary line of the property is as established and set forth in court records.
• Permanently enjoins Mrs. Denton and Ms. Hornbeak from “trespassing, encroaching, attempting to sell or interfering in any manner with the public’s use and enjoyment of the state’s property, the boundary of which is established in this decree.”
• Orders parties for both sides to be responsible for paying costs related to their expert witness fees and expenses.
Barnett said Al Hamilton (of Samburg) and surveyor David Kersey were Mrs. Denton’s expert witnesses.
• Orders Mrs. Denton and Ms. Hornbeak “be and hereby are taxed with the statutory costs accrused as (of) May 7, 2010 …”
How much did it cost the State of Tennessee to defend itself in the lawsuit?
“I don’t know for sure, but I can tell you it cost a lot of money I’m sure it cost Mrs. Denton a lot of money as well,” Barnett said. “But it’s over. I would say this is a case that has put to rest these ideas that people own significant amounts of property out into Reefoot Lake. The outcome is beneficial to Reelfoot Lake and to the public. It’s put an end to the litigation.”
Published in The Messenger 7.14.10