The City of Clearwater scored a victory on Friday when the 2nd District Court of Appeals (DCA) for Florida overturned a circuit court decision involving submerged land in waters off of Clearwater Bay. The Guardian wrote about that decision last year, which was a summary judgment. Such judgments are rarely overturned, which makes the DCA decision all the more noteworthy.
In its 3-0 decision, the DCA reversed the lower court’s decision, and ordered the lower court “to enter final summary judgment quieting title in favor of the City of Clearwater.”
“We are pleased with the outcome,” city attorney Pam Akin wrote to the Guardian in an e-mail.
“We will request a rehearing, and appeal to the Florida Supreme Court if necessary,” said Bill Blackwood, the owner of Bayesplanade.Com LLC, the plaintiff in the case.
The City is involved in another land dispute with Blackwood, that dispute involving land under the Clearwater Beach Recreation center. More on that matter later.
In a nuance-rich case, the DCA found that a 1934 conveyance of “all lands” was unambiguous. Because there was no ambiguity, the lower court was not allowed to consider so-called “parol evidence” or extrinsic evidence.
The lower court had ruled, among other things, that since “all lands” had been conveyed “together with all riparian rights”, the deed was ambiguous because “riparian rights are only associated with uplands.” In legal parlance, “uplands” is essentially dry land.
Furthermore, in a 1935 lease with the Clearwater Yacht Club, the City had specifically stated that it did not “warrant or covenant that it has any right, title or interest” in the disputed submerged land. To which a good attorney might respond: just because we would not warrant that we had those rights in that Depression-era lease doesn’t mean that we didn’t have those rights.
However, that fact and its counter-argument, along with the 30+ facts considered by the circuit court, were all disregarded by the DCA because the DCA found not even a latent ambiguity existed in the conveyance.
Meanwhile, there are developments in Blackwood’s dispute with the city over the land beneath Clearwater Beach Recreation Center. In a different court case, the court ruled in April that Blackwood owns that land. Blackwood’s attorney has now sent a letter to the city demanding “back and future rent and/or removal of” the building that is the Rec Center.
The original action to quiet title about some submerged land will ultimately quiet that title, but has led to unquiet about dry land. All is certainly not quiet in the battle for land on the Western Front of Clearwater.
With Florida’s population now 21+ million people, having more than tripled in the last 50 years, legal disputes over land and land use are likely to increase in frequency. The outcome of cases like this one could affect many Florida property owners, depending of whether the DCA just affirmed or upset what the term “all lands” means in Florida real estate law.
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