U.S. judge dismisses suit over Davis Island

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 20, 2003

A lawsuit against the Vicksburg Warren School District by Davis Island Land Co. has been dismissed by a federal judge who ruled the 10-year statute of limitations expired six months before the suit was filed.

The landowners may appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Attorneys for the school district and the land company, which owns most of Davis Island, argued Dec. 3 whether U.S. District Judge David Bramlette III should issue a summary judgment. He did in a 22-page opinion issued last week, dismissing the case without a hearing on its merits.

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Jim Chaney of Vicksburg, representing the school district, argued that the statute of limitations had expired before the land company filed on Dec. 11, 2000.

Ken Rector, also of Vicksburg, argued for the landowners that violations continued after the first in May 1990, in effect renewing the statute of limitations.

The school section land involved is an irregular section containing less than the normal 640 acres. The land company inherited the remaining portion of a 99-year lease on the school land when it bought 5,200 acres on Davis Island, known in history as the site of plantations of Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s only president, and his brother, Joseph. The school land was located in the middle of the company land.

In anticipation of the expiration of the lease in May 1990, the district and the company agreed to share the cost of a survey to determine the boundary between the school land and land owned by the company. That survey was done by E.C. Burkhardt of Vicksburg and said the school land contained about 417 acres instead of the about 320 acres the company claimed.

In spite of disputing the size of the school land, the company signed a five-year lease on May 30, 1990, with the company claiming it signed under duress. The duress, it said, was because it could not afford to have the school land leased by someone else. The company signed leases again in 1995 and 2000.

The company filed suit after the school district advertised for bids to cut timber on the school section, including the approximately 100 acres under dispute.

“We are pleased that we won,” Chaney, the school district’s attorney said. “We think the judge was accurate in deciding that you can’t accept a legal description in a lease and then challenge it 11 years later.”

Neither Rector nor J. Nelson “Buddy” Ball of Alexandria, La., a representative of the land company, could be reached.