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Shirley Weathington, et al v. Ralph Hill

November 14, 2011


Appeal from Marion County Common Pleas Court Trial Court No. 10 CIV 52422

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Willamowski, J.

Cite as Weathington v. Hill,


Judgment Reversed and Cause Remanded

{¶1} Defendant-Appellant, Ralph E. Hill, Jr. ("Ralph"), appeals the judgment of the Marion County Court of Common Pleas, Probate Division, finding in favor of his six brothers and sisters, Plaintiffs-Appellees*fn1 ("the Siblings" or "Appellees"), in their declaratory judgment action to determine the parties' interests in the real property that was owned by their mother prior to her death in 1966. On appeal, Ralph contends that the trial court erred in finding that his affirmative defenses of statute of limitations, adverse possession and laches were without merit, and that the probate court erred in denying his motion to dismiss based upon lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. For the reasons set forth below, the judgment is reversed.

{¶2} On July 29, 2010, the Siblings filed a complaint (Case No. 10 CIV 52422) requesting the probate court to make a declaratory judgment regarding the parties' respective ownership interests in real estate located at 608 Jefferson Street, Marion, Ohio (hereinafter, "the Property"), that was previously owned by the parties' deceased parents, Ralph E. Hill, Sr. ("Father") and Ida Loree Hill ("Mother"). The primary issue to be decided concerned what interests, if any, the Siblings own in the Property, also known as Lot 6451 ("Lot 1") and Lot 6452 ("Lot 2"), that may have passed to them from their Mother upon her death in 1966.

{¶3} On December 4, 1966, the parties' Mother died intestate, survived by her husband and the seven children. At that time, the Mother and the Father each owned a one-half interest in the Property, as tenants in common. Since the Mother died intestate, her one-half ownership interest in each lot was subject to the statute of descent and distribution in effect in at that time. Therefore, R.C. 2105.06(C)*fn2 specified how her surviving spouse and children should share in the distribution of her one-half interest in the Property.

{¶4} According to the statute that was in effect in 1966, the Father was entitled to a one-third interest of the Mother's half interest (resulting in a 2/3 interest in the total Property), and the seven children were entitled to inherit a twothirds interest of the Mother's half interest (resulting in a 1/3 interest in the total Property). Therefore, each of the seven children was entitled to inherit a 1/21st interest (1/3 interest divided by 7) in the Property. No estate was opened at the time of the Mother's death and the Father continued to live on the Property. The children, except for Ralph, eventually moved out of state.

{¶5} In 1984 or 1985, the Father became ill and was hospitalized for more than a month. In an affidavit, Ralph stated that he made and helped pay for improvements to the property so that his Father could return to the home after his hospitalization. Ralph further stated that he and his wife assumed full, round-the- clock care for his Father from the time of his release from the hospital until his Father's death in 1989.

{¶6} On November 24, 1987, the Father signed a General Warranty Deed transferring his ownership interest in the Property to Ralph, although the General Warranty Deed was not recorded at that time. In January of 1988, Ralph opened an estate for his Mother in the Probate Court of Marion County (Case No. 40592). At that time, four of the Siblings (Deborah, Earl, Shirley and Marilyn) signed waivers agreeing to have Ralph administer the estate of their Mother. On January 11, 1988, the probate court issued a Certificate of Transfer transferring the Mother's half interest in Lot 1 to the Father, as her surviving spouse. The estate was released from administration, pursuant to R.C. 2113.03, which exempts estates of small monetary value from administration.

{¶7} On January 12, 1988, the Father and Ralph entered into a Land Installment Contract for the purchase of Lot 1 and Lot 2, and the contract was recorded. On March 2, 1988, a release of the Land Installment Contract was executed and recorded. Also on that date, the previously executed General Warranty Deed was recorded, transferring ownership of Lots 1 and 2 to Ralph.

{¶8} On December 16, 1989, the Father died. There is nothing in the record pertaining to the administration of the Father's estate. Ralph claims he has resided on the Property from at least March 2, 1988, through the current court proceedings. In his affidavit, Ralph represents that at the time of their Father's death in 1989, all family members agreed Ralph was the owner of the Property with full, 100% ownership interests. (Affid. of Ralph Hill, Jr., Feb. 11, 2011.)

{¶9} On May 1, 1996, Ralph filed an Affidavit for Transfer concerning the transfer his Mother's interest in Lot 2 because the original Certificate of Transfer issued in January of 1988 only pertained to Lot 1. Ralph did not re-open his Mother's estate when he filed the Affidavit for Transfer. The Affidavit set forth the Mother's interest in the lot; attested to the Father's transfer of his interest to Ralph by General Warranty Deed on March 2, 1988; and stated that at the time that the Father conveyed the Property to Ralph, the Father "was seized in fee simple to title" to both of the Lots. (Ex. C to Plaintiff's Complaint for Declaratory Judgment.)

{¶10} In 2009, the Siblings contacted an attorney to investigate their potential ownership interests in the Property. On July 17, 2009, the Siblings filed an "Affidavit Relating to Title" per R.C. 5301.252, making several assertions concerning the "actual ownership" of the Property. The affidavit stated that the Siblings were all entitled to an interest in the Property upon their Mother's death, pursuant to R.C. 2105.06(C); that a fractional interest should have automatically vested in each child at the time of the Mother's death; that the 1988 Certificate of Transfer and the 1996 Affidavit of Transfer were defective and could not have been used to convey an ownership interest that would have overridden each of the Siblings' statutory ownership interests; that there was no recorded document that ever attempted to convey the Mother's interest in Lot 2 to the Father; that the 1988 release from administration proceedings were jurisdictionally suspect because the cap for such a proceeding in 1966 was only $2,000; and, that there were other irregularities in the proceedings, such as no appraisal and improper waiver forms. The affidavit further stated that it was filed to recognize the 1/21st fractional interest of each of the Siblings in the Property. (Affidavit re Permanent parcel No. 12-119000.0500; File No. 2009-00004331, Book: 1099, Page: 500.)

{¶11} On July 29, 2010, the Siblings filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment against Ralph in the probate court seeking judgment in their favor on the matters set forth in their Affidavit Relating to Title. They contend that the Father could not have transferred a greater interest than he possessed to Ralph, and that the Father's only interest in the Property was his original half-interest and the one- third interest that he inherited upon his wife's death. Therefore, they maintain that the transfers of the portion of the Property that should have passed to the Siblings upon the Mother's death were null and void. They asked the probate court to declare that they each had a 1/21st interest in the Property.

{ΒΆ12} Ralph filed an Answer generally denying the allegations in the Complaint. Ralph further asserted several affirmative defenses, including failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and the doctrines of unclean hands, estoppel, waiver, and laches. Ralph also claimed that the Siblings had failed to mitigate or minimize their ...

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