Ownership of land beneath the Caddo Confederate monument hard to determine, says 2002 opinion

Updated: Oct. 19, 2017 at 1:59 PM CDT
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SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - As the Caddo Parish Commission prepares to cast their final vote Thursday afternoon on the removal of the Confederate monument outside the downtown courthouse, one debate still rages over who actually owns the land beneath the monument.

It's still the subject of a current petition for declaratory judgment against the commission and Shreveport Chapter 237 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which owns the monument.

The petition calls for a judge to determine true ownership of the land under the monument.

But this battle over that real estate has been going on for far longer than this year or even the last decade.

KSLA obtained a copy of a 15-year-old title opinion that parish officials requested for Block 23, the parcel of land that the Caddo Parish Courthouse sits on according to the parish assessor's office.

The research in the opinion was conducted by United Title of Louisiana, Inc. in Shreveport. Its then-President and CEO, William Peatross, wrote the opinion for then-Parish Attorney Dannye Malone back on March 27, 2002.

According to Caddo Parish Public Information Officer Krystle Grindley, the parish legal department "has relied on this title opinion since it was completed in 2002."

The opinion reads United Title of Louisiana researched the tract books for Block 23 from November 11, 1845 up to March 15, 2002.

Peatross wrote in the opinion that no records show the UDC owning any portion of the courthouse grounds.

"A search of the above listed records revealed no conveyance of any portion of the referenced property into the Daughters of the Confederacy, United Daughters of the Confederacy or Shreveport Chapter 237 of the Daughters of the Confederacy."

However, the opinion also points to no formal parish titles over the land.

"Our records do not disclose a deed," it reads.

But the opinion does read Block 23 did have a specific designation back in the 1850s.

"Plat Book L, page 444....which was recorded in 1857, displayed the words "Court House" at the location of Block 23," it reads.

The opinion does not explicitly read which party actually owns the land but points to a provision in Louisiana Civil Code that grants the right of ownership over time.

"Acquisitive prescription would have long since prevailed over any flaw in the dedication of the subject tract," the opinion concludes.

Peatross explained to KSLA that acquisitive prescription is a means of creating ownership by the passage of time.

According to Louisiana Civil Code Article 3486: "Ownership and other real rights in immovables may be acquired by the prescription of thirty years without the need of just title or possession in good faith."

Some Caddo Parish residents like Art Carmody argue acquisitive prescription points to the UDC being the true owners of the land, considering the minutes from the then-Caddo Parish Police Jury's June 18, 1903 meeting.

In those minutes, police jurors called for "an appropriation of $1,000 for the Confederate monument, at the same time requesting that the monument association be given the front plat or portion of Court House square as a site for the monument."

The minutes read that was unanimously adopted.

Carmody argues that, based on that 1903 ruling and the monument being there since 1906, the UDC has ownership of that land under acquisitive prescription.

"To ignore the opinion of your expert at this time, and to vote to take and do whatever with the monument, would be to dishonor the conclusion of your own agent who was hired with public funds," Carmody wrote in E-mail to commissioners on Wednesday.

The Caddo Parish Commission is set for their final vote on removing the monument during their 3:30 p.m. meeting inside the meeting chambers of Government Plaza.

John Settle, the Caddo Parish resident who filed the petition for declaratory judgment on the property, told KSLA his petition has a hearing before Caddo Parish District Judge Ramon Lafitte on December 11.

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