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Maria Barnett v. Scott Combs

November 18, 2011

MARIA BARNETT PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
SCOTT COMBS, ET AL. DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



T.C. NO. 08CV7517 (Civil appeal from Common Pleas Court)

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

Cite as Barnett v. Combs,

OPINION

{¶1} Scott Combs appeals from a judgment of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, which found that Combs had purchased the property located at 2440 Merrill Road for $150,000, that he had paid approximately $70,000, roximately $80,000 to Maria Barnett. Combs claims that there was no evidence that $50,000 of the $80,000 was owed to Barnett. He asserts that, if owed to anyone, the $50,000 was owed to Howard Miles.

{¶2} This litigation arose out of a series of transactions to purchase the Merrill Road property. After a bench trial, the trial court found the following facts:

{¶3} "1. This journey, fueled by family dynamics, the desire to avoid the grasp of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Great Recession, and a bit of greed, began when Clifford Browning, Maria Barnett's ex-husband and Kent Browning's father, purchased the real estate located at 2440 Merrill Road, Dayton, Ohio 45414 for Howard and Leah Miles. Mr. and Mrs. Miles, pursuant to the parties' unconventional arrangement, paid Clifford Browning $75,000.00 of the home's $125,000.00 purchase [price] with the remaining $50,000.00 owing but with no arrangement concerning when or how this amount would be paid. The agreement between Clifford Browning and Mr. and Mrs. Miles was not reduced to writing, and the deed to the real estate remained in Clifford Browning's name. Years passed, some ten or so, without any reduction in the $50,000.00 balance so that when Scott Combs purchased the real estate Mr. and Mrs. Miles still owed Clifford Browning the $50,000.00 balance;

{¶4} "2. Mr. and Mrs. Miles, in 2007, contemplated a move to a home in Hillsboro, Ohio, but in order to do so, they needed to sell the Merrill Road property to generate the $100,000.00 needed to purchase the Hillsboro home. This is what prompted the involvement of Kent Browning, Maria Barnett, and Scott Combs;

{¶5} "3. Scott Combs is a plumber who has operated a small plumbing business for a number of years. Mr. Combs, over the years, has failed to pay income taxes on income generated by the plumbing business with the resulting, and inevitable, IRS involvement. Mr. Combs, in the period leading up to his purchase of the Merrill Road property, was doing quite well based upon a contract with Ryan Homes for the installation of plumbing into newly constructed homes;

{¶6} "4. Kent Browning lives at 2500 Merrill Road which is located next to 2440 Merrill Road. Scott Combs and Kent Browning were boyhood friends who, for many years, lost contact with each other. Kent Browning and Mr. Combs reconnected in late 2006 or early 2007. Kent Browning was aware of Mr. and Mrs. Miles' desire to sale 2440 Merrill Road, and, suspecting Mr. Combs might have an interest in the property, he introduced Mr. Combs to Howard Miles. This introduction lead [sic] to Mr. Combs and Mr. Miles reaching, in early June 2007, an agreement concerning the sale of 2440 Merrill Road. The terms of the agreement, never reduced to any writing (at least as to Mr. Combs and Mr. Miles), included a purchase price of $150,000.00 with a $100,000.00 down payment. There was no specific agreement concerning how or exactly when the remaining $50,000.00 would be paid, with this amount being, of course, the amount Mr. Miles owned Clifford Browning. Further, there was no agreement concerning any interest rate on the $50,000.00 balance;

{¶7} "5. Scott Combs, using income generated from his business and other sources, quickly paid Mr. Miles $70,000.00 of the agreed upon $100,000.00 down payment. The remaining $30,000.00 is the factor that brought Maria Barnett into the mix;

{¶8} "6. Scott Combs, because of his IRS difficulties, could not secure a loan for the $30,000.00 gap. Kent Browning, therefore, and somewhat inexplicably, persuaded his mother, Maria Barnett, to obtain a $30,000.00 loan to fill the gap;

{¶9} "7. Ms. Barnett, on July 13, 2007, obtained a $30,000.00 loan from National City Bank (National City). The loan's term was for fifteen years at 7.498% interest creating for Ms. Barnett a $279.92 monthly payment. (Exhibit 3) The loan proceeds were paid to Howard Miles completing the $100,000.00 Mr. and Mrs. Miles needed. No specific agreement was reached concerning the terms of the repayment of the $30,000.00. Mr. Combs, however, indicated he would repay the $30,000.00 as quickly as possible, with the anticipation being that the repayment would only take a few months. Further, Mr. Combs agreed that until he paid off the loan he would be responsible for Mrs. Barnett's loan payment, including interest. Mr. Combs, additionally, agreed to pay and hold Ms. Barnett harmless for any expenses associated with the home including property taxes, insurance, and trash pick-up;

{¶10} "8. Clifford Browning executed a quit claim deed transferring his interest in 2440 Merrill Road to Maria Barnett. The deed was recorded on July 16, 2007. The deed, it is noted, reflects a purchase price of $125,000.00. Ms. Barnet did not pay Clifford Browning any amount and no explanation was presented concerning why the deed reflects a purchase price;

{ΒΆ11} "9. The above events lead [sic] to Maria Barnett and Scott Combs, on August 1, 2007, signing a document created by Kent Browning indicating that Scott Combs purchased 2440 Merrill Road from Maria Barnett, that the purchase price was $150,000.00, that Scott Combs paid $70,000.00 and that when the $80,000.00 balance is paid ...


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