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Coverdell decision set aside, as Branson Landing case goes back to trial court

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Using the “plain error” doctrine, rarely used in civil cases, the Court of Appeals for the Southern District of Missouri, in Empire District Electric Co. v. Coverdell, reversed and remanded a January 14, 2010 jury verdict that had awarded Douglas Coverdell and Coverdell Enterprises the north third of Branson Landing and adjacent areas. This decision is dated June 3, 2011.

The appellate decision is based on the City of Branson’s argument that the trial court made a serious mistake by allowing the jury to enter a verdict affecting the property interests of the City of Branson (and others) who did not participate in the trial.  The appellate court accepted the City’s argument that “plain error review” would be appropriate, because the court’s error was “so egregious as to ‘weaken the very foundation of the process’ and ‘seriously undermine confidence in the outcome of the case.’ ” Empire’s appellate arguments were not addressed in the decision, according to a footnote, since the court’s acceptance of the City’s arguments was sufficient to warrant reversal.

The City of Branson did not participate in the trial held in January 2010, though the City’s attorney was present in the gallery of the court room for much of the trial. In an earlier phase of the case, which took place in 2004, the City had won its effort of affirm its title to the west portion of the peninsula shared with North Beach Park. Thereafter, the City was in a monitoring mode, not aware that title to the City’s land, leased to Branson Landing, would be the subject of the trial.

The appellate court tied its decision to the words of Coverdell’s attorney, spoken to the jury, who told the jury in the January 2010 trial that the dispute with Empire concerned only the east part of the North Park Beach peninsula. Coverdell’s attorney is also quoted as telling the jury that the City “has nothing to do with this dispute between Empire and [Coverdell and Coverdell Enterprises.]”

However, the judgment that Coverdell’s attorneys submitted to the trial judge after the juy verdict included 27 acres that included the Belk store and parking lot at the between North Beach Park and the Belk store, as well as some of the area south and west of the Belk store. The trial court’s mistake was to cloud the title of the City and others who were did not participate in the 2010 trial. The owners of much of the 27 acres were not parties to the suit, which appears to be the fundamental reason for reversal of the trial court’s judgment. The appellate opinion refers to City’s statement that the City “as well as numerous other third parties, have interests in that southern tract of land such that Branson was aggrieved by the 2010 judgment.”

The appellate decision gives the City and Empire the right to amend their claims and face Coverdell in a new trial.

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Branson Landing land titles: how soon we forget how it was just 10 years ago!


Pictures help to tell the story that lies underneath the disputed land titles at the north end of Branson Landing. You can click on these images to enlarge them. Here’s the 1913 plat of Park Addition to the City of Branson.

The southwest corner of the Belk building sits about where Sycamore Street joins what has been called St. Limas Street and Boxcar Willie Drive, now Branson Landing Boulevard. The platted lots in Block 4 of Park Addition were the location of resorts until construction of Branson Landing began. Mang Park, with a baseball diamond and swimming pool, occupied Read the rest of this entry

Jury muddles title to North Beach Park and part of Branson Landing


On January 14, 2010, a Taney County jury rendered its verdict on the counterclaim of Doug Coverdell and Coverdell Enterprises against Empire District Electric Company, the Joplin-based utility that owns Lake Taneycomo and some adjacent land.

Coverdell’s counterclaim apparently sought to determine that Coverdell had better title than Empire to Branson’s North Beach Park and the north end of Branson Landing, possibly extending as far south as the north quarter of the parking garage.

The City of Branson has leased North Beach Park from Empire for decades. The deeds that the jury seemed to affirm include land that the City bought from owners other than Empire as well as land owned by persons not involved in the lawsuit.

A quiet title suit often doesn’t absolutely determine ownership, but only determines which of the litigants has a better claim to title. Without a definite legal description and the participation of all the owners, a verdict like the one here is much less than certain.

As events unfold, I’ll explain more here. If you want to get an email notification of updates to this blog, check the email box in the upper right corner of your screen.

Having reviewed portions of the court file, my tentative conclusion is that the jury’s verdict is a long way from resolving the dispute. Empire has filed a post-trial motion and others will be assessing their options. A judgment does not become final for 30 days, which can be extended by the filing of post-trial motions.

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