JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A family that owned a restaurant in Bay St. Louis before Hurricane Katrina has won $644,000 in a lawsuit, with jurors ruling that land Mississippi took to build a new small-craft harbor was private property, not state tideland.
The verdict came Monday after a weeklong trial in Hancock County, Paul Scott, a lawyer for the Murphy family, said.
Testimony showed that the Murphy family, which operated Dan B's beachfront restaurant, had deeds showing their property extended beyond a decades-old retaining wall to the water's edge, Scott said. The Murphys had owned the land since the 1980s, he said.
Pamela Weaver, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, declined to comment Wednesday. Hosemann's office administers state tidelands. The state could choose to pay the judgment or appeal.
The state's position was that everything from the seawall to St. Louis Bay was public property. State law says that everything seaward of the average high tide line belongs to the state. In cases where there is a seawall and a beach has had sand added to it below the seawall, the state owns everything from the bottom of the wall.
Scott said this case was different because, although there was a wall, the beach had not been renourished, and the land below the seawall belonged to the Murphys.
"The deeds all back through the years refer to their property going down to the water's edge," he said. "They used to mow the grass on that land beyond the wall."
The restaurant, like many other structures, was destroyed by 2005's Hurricane Katrina. After the storm, the state took most of the land and leased it to Bay St. Louis for the city's new $21 million harbor, which opened last month. The city was dropped from the lawsuit over the land, and the state's loss does not affect the harbor.
"It was never going to affect the operation of the harbor," Scott said
The family still owns about 3,500 square feet of land adjoining the site.
Scott said that he represents two other property owners who are suing over land they say was improperly taken for the harbor and that those cases could go to trial next year.