Thursday, May 16, 2019

Culleys Win Battle of Culley Lake

The Culley family can enjoy their lake without the interference of the Natchez Trace Village Homeowners Association.  The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed today a Chancery Court decision that gave control of the lake to the family who actually owns the lake.



Lewis Culley, Sr. and Gus Noble developed Natchez Trace Village in the 1960's as a "highly restrictive community" complete with a homeowners association and a Board of Governors.  The two developers built the Madison neighborhood around thirty-acre Culley Lake.  Mr. Culley died and bequeathed the Natchez Trace Village property he owned, including Culley Lake, to his children, Bethany and Lewis Culley, Jr.  The Culleys and Cockrells live in Natchez Trace Village.  The Culley family pays the taxes on the lake.   However, the Culleys "relinquished all maintenance responsibilities of the lake" to the Board in 1975.

Unfortunately, a lake that was meant to be a center of tranquility has instead been the center of much drama in Natchez Trace Village.   The Board banned waterskiing in 2010, citing maintenance issues.  A Board member, Mary Watkins,  who has served in various HOA offices over the years has been the prime mover in the fight to control the lake for the HOA.  The Chancellor's opinion provides a glimpse into what happened next:

Both the Culleys and  Cockrells  admit  that,  despite the  new  regulation,  they  continued  to  waterski,  and  have  allegedly  been  fined  for  such  violations.    This,  along  with  numerous  other  incidents  involving  ill advised  Facebook  posts,  arrests,  and  the  Culleys '  alleged  obstruction  of  certain portions of the lake, escalated a neighborhood feud to this litigation that has spanned  several years.  Earlier post with copy of trial court file.


The Board asked the Chancellor to issue a temporary restraining order against the Culleys and Cockrells in August 2017 as it sought to stop waterskiing, tubing, and jetskiing on the lake as such activities violate the regulations.   The defendants began operating jet skis in 2016.  They even allowed their 11 year-old children to operate the jetskis.   Two residents complained it kept them from fishing and would damage the lake.

 The Board fined Cockrell for violating the ban against jetskiing.  The defendants called the Association's hand and raised the bet as they removed the warning signs from the dam and "began launching boats" from the spillway.   Lewis Culley, III argued there were no covenants for the lake in a Facebook post.  

The appearance of the Culley navy escalated the war of complaints. The defendants continued to tell NTV residents that the boat launch was open.  The Culleys built a floating fuel dock in the middle of the lake.  Shades of the Mulberry harbors.  The war on Facebook heated up as numerous posts  and comments about the Board were made in terms that were none too flattering.   The Association accused the defendants of conducting a campaign of bullying, harassment, and smears against the Board.

The Culleys said they own both the lake and the dam outright. They thus have the right to control the property as they see fit.  The Culleys have always paid the lake's property taxes.   All Natchez Trace Village property owners are allowed to use the lake.  The defendants said that only the Association was trying to restrict the use of the lake.  The response also argued that since the subdivision is not platted, there are no covenants that bind Culley Lake.  The covenants only apply to the actual lots.  The defendants also argue that granting the TRO would infringe upon their rights to free speech.






 Chancellor James Walker took it all under advisement after a December trial and ruled in February that the Culley Lake indeed belongs to the Culleys.  He also decreed that the Association has no right to regulate the use of Culley Lake.

In looking at the plain language of this covenant, it is clear that the term "subject property"refers to the property to which the covenant is attached. In other words, "subject property" describes the land actually conveyed in the deed. Given that it is undisputed that these covenants were never recorded on the Culley Lake property owned by the Culleys, it necessarily follows that "subject property" does not describe the lake.....

 He said that although the Association is responsible for the maintenance of the lake, it can't regulate the lake as right of maintenance and right to regulate are separate.  The Chancellor said that the covenants do give the lot owners the right to use the lake as they have a perpetual easement.   The fines levied against Cockrell were moot. He also ignored the accusations of harassment and bullying from both sides. 

However, the Association did not take the judicial spanking laying down but instead submitted a notice of appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court in March.  Briefs were submitted and arguments were regurgitated. 

The Supreme Court chose not to hold oral arguments on the case.  It did not issue an opinion but instead affirmed the Chancellor in one sentence and tasked Natchez Trace Village with the costs of the appeal.





44 comments:

Anonymous said...

Man. Grandmaw is going to be pissed!

Anonymous said...

Culley "Week" = Culley "Lake?"

Anonymous said...

Mary Watkins is obviously a mean spirited hateful old woman who thinks that she can rule everyone and everything. I am so glad that the Supreme Court handed her a comeuppance. Mr. Culley exercised remarkable restraint when she assaulted his son. I doubt that many of us would have waited for the court like he did without handing out a righteous butt kicking regardless of the old witch’s age. Congratulations Mr. Culley n handling it this way. I doubt I would have done so.

NTV Resident said...

Just to clarify- there is no "floating fuel dock" never has been. That was just her way of trying to insinuate the Culleys were poisoning the lake. Yes, kids of 11 drive jet skies, under adult supervision and only if they are mentally mature enough. There are no age limit laws on driving a motorised PWC on a "Private Lake". They ALWAYS have lifevest on and they NEVER enter the lake if someone is already on the lake fishing, even though fishers do not give the same common courtesy. It was not a complaint of "the neighborhood " against the Culleys, it was ONLY the old batshit crazy woman and her few minions. Most property owners do not live on the water and dont care. Also while stating FACTS, skiing has been done on the lake since development and its Titled as "the Ski Lake' on the ORIGINAL blue prints during development.

Anonymous said...

Glad I didn’t buy a house on a lake controlled by someone else. This will do wonders for property values. Dooped!

Anonymous said...

Coincidentally, many NTV homeowners received a 9 page letter from the HOA board basically saying the felt confident they would win.

Anonymous said...

Is Mary Watkins part of the H Vaughn Watkins family. Mr Watkins built a very large home on the left a few lots into the subdivision.

Kingfish said...

Will she torch the lake?

Anonymous said...

"Coincidentally, many NTV homeowners received a 9 page letter from the HOA board basically saying the felt confident they would win. "


HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!

Anonymous said...

Remember that Bobby Bare song, "Marie Laveau"? She had a one eyed snake and a three legged dog. The distinct and repetitive chorus was 'Another man done gone' preceded by a shrill, eerie screech! It happened every time somebody pissed off Marie. Right up to the point where she was promised marriage in exchange for riches...She always 'got another man done gone'. Killed them all off.

This is the story of NTV's old witch in real time. She ain't done yet! The screech will ring loudly at midnight. All residents are advised to keep the fire brigade and water buckets handy. And do not eat any nicely wrapped cookies that wind up on the doorstep.

Anonymous said...

Mary Watkins is headed to court again for larceny. She stole signs notifying neighbors of a meeting with the mayor. She apparently thinks the HOA can change covenants at will. Land owners have a deed with covenants attached indicating that the maximum the HOA can charge is 50.00 but then have been collecting 150.00. There are no common areas any longer. The HOA just needs to be dissolved and let Madison enforce city ordinances.

Anonymous said...

This HOA board should have to pay back every penny they spent on this lawsuit. Are they insane ????

Anonymous said...

Weren’t Mary Watkins and Lew Culley’s mother not sister-in-laws?

Anonymous said...

Weren’t Mary Watkins and Lew Culley’s mother not sister-in-laws?

Sister Mary Grammatica said...

1:04, “sisters-in-law,” you meant.

Anonymous said...

Y'all residents of NTV need to have a formal audit done of the books by a reputable CPA, followed by criminal charges (if appropriate).

Regardless of the outcome, fire the present board and fill it with trustworthy members.

Anonymous said...

I have my trot lines and jugs ready. Think I will do a little fishing.

Anonymous said...

Assuming the general basic facts put forth on JJ and in the few filings I've skimmed over are accurate, this litigation moved into a dangerous area for the HOA and Watkins. It will be interesting to see if or when someone decides to go after the HOA's attorneys for sanctions. In fact, and while it might be a novel theory in MS, the property owners who fund the HOA might have a arguable claim against the HOA lawyers for pursuing litigation that had no real chance of succeeding in any legitimate/justiciable purpose. And before anyone shrieks "NO DUTIES! NO DUTIES!" I'd counter that while it is true that attorneys cannot malpractice non-clients and are somewhat shielded from claims by opposing parties, they do have certain duties "to the world," including opposing parties, such as not engaging in frivolous litigation, etc. Failing in certain duties could create a tort claim by a damaged non-client.

For those interested, Larry Primeaux's (12th Chancery Court) "betterchancery.com" blog had a post on sanctions a couple of days ago.

Anonymous said...

The MSSC rarely issues a per curiam op, so when they do, as here, they’re basically telling the appellant “bitch, please.”

Sanctions are rare, unfortunately. Makes the lawyers look bad, & the system is set up by lawyers for lawyers.

Anonymous said...

It’s good to see landowners in Mississippi still have some rights.

Restrictive covenants and ordinances are great but far too many of these HOA’s and cities become out of control loving nothing more than having visual deeds to other people’s property.

A citizen's right to be protected in the lawful use of his or her property is one of the most sacred rights reserved under our Constitution. Yet we regularly see so-called REPUBLICANS stomping on the property rights of others.

In 2014 the court ruled The City of Richland, MS was trying “destroy” Cleveland Mobile Home Community “by attrition.”

In its Dec. 20, 2015, complaint, HUD alleged that Ridgeland's 2014 Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance engaged in "unlawful discrimination based on race in its ongoing 'amortization,' condemnation, and threatened removal" of five apartment complexes and the "rezoning of approximately nine." How many apartment complex building permits did Gene Magee issue to his campaign contributing developer buddies since becoming Mayor in 1989? But then, the so-called REPUBLICAN and his sheep Board of Alderman implemented an "aggressive code enforcement regime" for apartments in 2010. When that failed, Ridgeland adopted its 2014 Ordinance and largely blocked apartments' efforts to come up to code in another attempt to “bleach the area.”

The City of Pearl under its previous Mayor, another so-called REPUBLICAN, wanted every apartment complex and mobile home park to have a tornado shelter on-site large enough to hold every resident; not because he cared one bit about those residents, but because he wanted poor people out of HIS city via new ordinances and an aggressive code enforcement regime.

Even after a foreclosure wiped out their lien, a Rankin County HOA recently tried to force a new homeowner to pay thousands of dollars in back HOA dues that the HOA had failed to collect from the previous owner. It took an attorney and the threat of a lawsuit to make them back down.

Thanks to the courts we still have some civil liberties in Mississippi.

P. S. 8:10 AM, good luck with that! There’s very little left of the so-called justice system in Mississippi. It’s now the legal fee generating (churning) system. Don’t bet money on a court ruling against a frivolous lawsuit layer.

Anonymous said...

@8:10 I'm a homeowner and appreciate your information. We've tried to have these board members resign through petition - but to no avail. They refuse to call an annual meeting and hold elections and they have amended by-laws to allow themselves to stay in place indefinitely. They were "elected" (terms used very loosely) to two year terms almost three years ago. At this point, they are re-writing rules on who can vote and how at any upcoming potential meetings. This whole thing is a sham. May just be best to completely ignore this board and proceed as if they don't exist. Many are no longer paying dues because of the money already spent on their losing lawsuits.

Anonymous said...

Who are these attorneys representing the board in all this nonsense?

Kingfish said...

It would be interesting to see how much the fees are as well as the Board votes to authorize the payment of such fees.

Members should demand an accounting of all HOA accounts, including the escrow account.

PittPanther said...

Why would you jetski in that dinky lake when you have the reservoir right there?

Anonymous said...

The HOA board just mailed the 9 page letter to selected property owners saying your name must be on the deed in order to vote yet one of their newest self appointed board members is not on the deed to the home he resides in! You can't make this stuff up people! We need our own reality show for sure!

Anonymous said...

PittPanther asked why people would jet ski in the lake when the reservoir is right there?
Because property owners deeds came with covenants giving them the "perpetual" use of the lakes.
It's convenient and that's is what the lake was built for. To enjoy water activities. If you have never seen it, you should. It's a beautiful lake!

Blue Peacock in The Madison said...

"Restrictive covenants and ordinances are great but far too many of these HOA’s and cities become out of control loving nothing more than having visual deeds to other people’s property. May 17 @ 9:34"

Reference City Of Madison, Mississippi.

Anonymous said...

@9:50am Barry Hassell (MSB# 101149) Copeland, Cook, Taylor, & Bush is one of them and the other is Steven H. Smith (MSB #7610) Steven H. Smith, PLLC ... these are the names the board has listed in the document residents received yesterday. Kingfish has anyone sent you a copy of the letter mailed to the homeowners yesterday? I

NTV resident said...

The battle over the lake was won. But the war between the property owners and the OUT OF CONTROL HOA board is still going. Kingfish, this is not just about name calling and Culleys versus Watkins. This is also very much about a VAST majority of neighbors versus the rule of a tyrant, Mary Watkins, that has crippled our community in many ways.

Anonymous said...

No one wants to believe a lady of her age could possibly do all these things. She has committed perjury so many times on the stand that she should be banned from every testifying at any trial! I don't know how she sleeps at night! She will look straight at you and lie!

Anonymous said...

Some of you homeowners should have quit paying your dues a long time ago. She could have never recovered it and a lien on your property would be easily thrown out. The homeowners are part of the problem for allowing this old wench to act like she runs things. Someone with some stones should have stood up to her way before it got to this. I wonder how she feels reading these comments? You know she's on here reading them. Hey Mary.

Anonymous said...

@12:58
If this is all about more than Culleys Vs. Watkins, what is the neighbhood doing as a whole to fix this?
No one can save that neighbhood except that neighborhood. You get what you have when people sit back and do nothing.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing how frequently a group of people can get together on a HOA and turn into downright tyrants. Perhaps they never had much standing in life or maybe the perceived power is too intoxicating. Whatever the reason, HOA's frequently get filled up with useless tools who turn into bullies.

PittPanther said...

11:17am, just because they have a home on the lake doesn't mean that lake is the best use for personal watercraft. Sure, drop a kayak into the lake for a pleasant excursion. But a motorized vehicle, you'll need to turn around every 2 minutes. Lame.

Anonymous said...

9;34 - happy now? Does all that bitching about local cities (that obviously have kicked you out of the power group) and their various legal fights make you feel better?

Its Friday. Take the afternoon off, have a drink, and kick back in your Section 8 apartment development and take a Zanex.

Anonymous said...

Why not wait until the Mandate from the Supreme Court gets filed in the chancery court, then file against the HOA and its officers to compel an accounting? It would probably cost a few thousand dollars, but why not just pass the hat around the neighborhood?

Anonymous said...

I'm still predicting there is a fire on the horizon. No, not the torching of an opponent's house - but a fire in which the books are burned to a crisp.

Anonymous said...

In case anybody from outside the Jackson Metro is wondering, 'Natchez Trace Village' is a tired and mostly-forgotten corner of a very nice town. Natchez Trace Village, once upon a time, in Pre-Mary times, was one of those places that dirt-poor families would drive-through, on Sundays, to gawk at "the fine brick dream homes". That was in the late Sixties, when prosperity had not really arrived in Mississippi, and people were astonishingly poor - and mostly ignorant.

Natchez Trace village had some showy houses, which impressed truly gooberesque people - back in the Sixties and early Seventies. They were butt-ugly houses, and the subdivision's entrance signage was even worse. The signage is still horrible - an uneasy cross between 'Park Service' and 'Nixon-era Modern'.

The land is poor, and piney, and the place looks like a bunch of senile redneck jackasses have been running around looking for things to spray with herbicide - which is exactly what has been happening. The already-poor soil has only gotten poorer, as for decades, backward people have been raking and discarding leaves and pinestraw, rather than mulching and composting. It's a dry, ugly wasteland.

And those SURNAMES, straight out of Eudora Welty, are icing on the cake. Welty had the Ponders and the Peacocks. Faulkner had the Snopeses. Natchez Trace Village has the Culleys and the Cockerells.

Anonymous said...

@2:45pm

Your opinion matters none to the families that live there. My family has lived in the village since 1974 and still lives there today. NTV is a special place and clearly you aren’t a part of it.

Anonymous said...

"when prosperity had not really arrived in Mississippi, "

and when, exactly, did the locals start farting through silk drawers in Mississippi?

Anonymous said...

2:45, aka Grandview Gloria-
I recognize your recycled faux-elitist whining from city-data.com, ca. 2017. You obviously married into money (good for you) and have the world and time at your disposal. I’m so sorry that our little corner doesn’t measure up to the billion dollar views you’ve become accustomed to in Aspen or Manhattan (so cliche- did you choose those places based on how they would add panache to your profile?).
I, for one, am quite enchanted with my little spread by the lake in NTV. I live with a plethora of wildlife and sunrises over the water, mostly great neighbors, and none of the pesky crime and holier-than-thou liberals that infest Jackson. And I even mulch my yard!

Anonymous said...

Aspen? There so called ranch is at Woody Creek and easy 15 minutes from Aspen. I guess that didnt sound panache enough.

Manhattan is just true if you count Hells Kitchen. And its only one floor of an old converted factory.

Typical hedgefunders you cant beleive a word they say.

Anonymous said...

Nobody has mentioned the true reason the Culley siblings have started this whole charade of their aunt causing trouble in Natchez Trace village. Listen carefully;
the 29 acres they have for sale on St. Augustine Drive is SUBJECT to covenants
controlled by HOA. That's why it hasn't sold, it has already been platter as a part of the village and also why the Culleys want to
discontinue the HOA. Property owners beware. The Culleys are being deceitful and
could care less what happens to Natchez Trace Village.

Anonymous said...

NATCHEZ TRACE VILLAGE The work has begun at entrance on Rice Road, Danks said Culley group could maintain that entrance, after Madison The City bought the land.New board to be elected at June 27 annual meeting. Continuance granted to Watkins & Sullivan for charges by Danny McElroy for larceny, after removing his signs. The City has sicked their bulldog, Miriam Etheridge, city code enforcer,on residents in the village and she's writing citations right & left.

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