Judge rules in favor of Washington County in property dispute

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Editor’s note: This story was updated on Thursday, Feb. 15, from an initial version.

A civil lawsuit filed against Washington County over a property dispute will not go to trial.

What’s called a summary judgment has been issued in the County’s favor, which means the County does not have to present evidence on their side. In layman’s terms, the matter is essentially considered resolved. 

Candice Blackmon sued the County in 2023 seeking to restore a title to Wayside Park and as described on a deed from Blackmon’s father, Hal E. Kirk, who also previously sued the County. Blackmon sought damages based on a claimed wrongful land assessment by Property Appraiser Gil Carter and other claims.

Kirk’s lawsuit against the County was also decided in favor of the County.

During a Washington County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, Feb. 15, County Attorney Clay Milton said the court was in agreement with the County that the issue had been resolved in 2014 and the County owned the boat ramp, parking area, and driveway.

“It was our position that the case was unfounded, that the case had been resolved in 2014,” Milton said.

The issue reportedly came to the County’s attention when Blackmon attempted to sell the property. The County put in the boat ramp at Wayside Park using grant funds. 

“There is no dispute, and Plaintiff herself acknowledges entry of final judgment in favor of the County, quieting title to ‘the property described in its [Defendant, Washington County’s] Amended Counterclaim’ from the 2012-330CA lawsuit,” a court finding said.

The filing further said there are “no disputed facts that the parcel which is the subject of this litigation has been used by the public as a park for in excess of fifty (50) years.”

The County’s position is “the case lacks sufficient factual or legal support and that Ms. Blackmon and her attorney should have known that before they filed it,” Milton said. 

“It is undisputed that public funds have been used to build structures, to maintain and to make improvements to the ‘Wayside Park,’” the court filing said. 

The parcel owners prior to Blackmon, by “affirmative acts, permissive conduct and acquiescence,” and as relied “upon by state, county and local governmental entities,”

establish as a “matter of law” that Wayside Park has been “acquired by dedication to the general public for their continued use and enjoyment.”

The County’s defense claims included that Blackmon;s lands adjoin a public road and are not “hemmed-in” by lands of Washington County.

“It further appears from the aerial photographs offered to the Court by both Plaintiff and the County herein that Plaintiff has access to her remaining lands directly to adjoining public roads,” the court finding said. “As a result, there is no issue that Plaintiff’s lands are not ‘hemmed in’ or landlocked. Plaintiff’s fifth and sixth counts both require that the claimant’s lands are either ‘inaccessible except over the land which the person conveyed’ or are shut off or hemmed in so that ‘no practicable route” is available to the nearest public road.”

Blackmon’s lands adjoin Highway 79.

“It is undisputed that, not only is Plaintiff not ‘hemmed in’ by the County’s parcel, but rather it is the County’s parcel that provides Plaintiff direct access to a public road, either (or both) of which defeats Plaintiff’s claims under Counts V and VI,” the court finding said.

Blackmon’s claims of damages were dismissed with prejudice. The County is immune to sovereign damages in the case.

“No attempt has been made by Plaintiff to proceed under Fla. St. Section  768.28…as no tort claim notice (Section 768.28(6)(a)) was served on the County prior to initiating this lawsuit,” the court finding said. “Even had such condition precedent been met and a notice been served, the County would not be liable for the Property Appraiser’s actions. A governmental or political subdivision, such as the County, is liable for its own negligence, and then only if it is demonstrated that the governmental entity owed the specific claimant either a ‘statutory’ or ‘common law’ duty of care that was breached.”

During the Feb. 15 BOCC meeting, the BOCC unanimously decided to not recoup incurred legal fees if Blackmon agrees to waive appellate rights and sign a quitclaim deed acknowledging that the case is over. Commissioner David Corbin made the motion for the decision after Milton suggested it as one of several next steps, calling it the “best” option. 

Should Blackmon not waive her rights and sign a deed, the County will move forward on recouping fees. 

Milton estimated the fees could be in the range of $8,000 to $10,000 to $12,000.

“Just for the hearing alone, I probably spent five or six hours just preparing for that one hearing,” Milton said. “We had depositions. We had motions that were filed. Additional hearings.”

The quitclaim deed would represent that the case is over and be a recorded document acknowledging such from Blackmon, though isn’t necessary from a title standpoint since the title is already in the County’s name, Milton said.

Commissioner Alan T. Bush said Blackmon signing the quitclaim deed would prevent the BOCC from going through the same situation.

 “I can’t say that definitively because anybody can bring a lawsuit for any reason but it would be very cut-and-dry, from my opinion, and it would be very difficult–if not impossible–for anybody to say, hey, I didn’t sign that deed,” Milton said. “I mean, it’s a recorded deed.”

Bush said he didn’t “feel it’s right for us to have expended $10 to $12 thousand dollars on this and then win and then not try to get the taxpayers’ money back,” though ultimately voted for the initial decision to not seek sanctions if Blackmon signs the quitclaim deed. 

Blackmon reportedly said she paid taxes on the property.

“That’s something the tax collector and the property appraiser handles,” Milton said. “She still has the right to pursue recovering those taxes through the tax collector, if that’s what she wants to do. This did not make any ruling on that whatsoever. This does not affect that at all.” 

Vernon resident James Brooks said Blackmon paid taxes on the property for 10 years.

“Who dropped the ball on having her pay 10 years of taxes? Which lawyer or which County official can we look to recoup those funds?” Brooks said. “She’s not here. It’s been trying for her and her family. They believe they own that property and they believe that hashtag map is bogus, whatever that judge says. He’s for the County, so we know that.”

“She doesn’t have the resources that (County Clerk of Court officials) have to use (County Administrator Jeff Massey) and you say taxpayer money?” he continued. “She doesn’t have unlimited funds to protect her property. (The County) does.”