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Meyers Lake Sportman's Club, Inc. v. Meyers Lake Preserve, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District

July 22, 2013

MEYERS LAKE SPORTMAN'S CLUB, INC. Plaintiff-Appellee.
v.
MEYERS LAKE PRESERVE, INC. Defendant-Appellant.

Appeal from the Stark County Court of Appeals, Case No. 2011-CV-01990

For Plaintiff-Appellee: MARK A. GREER TIMOTHY J. FITZGERALD SHANE A. LAWSON Gallagher Sharp, JAMES T. ROBERTSON Robertson & Pidcock The Carnegie Building ALLEN SCHULMAN, JR. Schulman, Zimmerman & Associates

For Defendant-Appellant AMANDA MARTINSEK Thacker Martinsek LPA, NICHOLAS J. HAMMOND Thacker Martinsek LPA CRAIG G. PELINI KRISTEN E. CAMPBELL Pelini, Campbell, Williams and Traub

Hon. John W. Wise, P.J. Hon. Patricia A. Delaney, J. Hon. Craig R. Baldwin, J.

OPINION

Baldwin, J.

{¶1} Defendant-appellant Meyers Lake Preserve, Inc. appeals from the October 1, 2012 Judgment Entry of the Stark County Court of Common Pleas granting the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by plaintiff-appellee Meyer's Lake Sportsman's Club, Inc. while denying its Motion for Summary Judgment.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS AND CASE

{¶2} Meyers Lake is a private, non-navigable body of water located in Stark County, Ohio that consists of 144 acres. Appellee Meyer's Lake Sportsman's Club was formed in approximately 1951 as a social welfare club and used the lake. At such time, the lake and all of the property surrounding it was owned by the Sinclair-Junger Partnership which was controlled by George Sinclair. George Sinclair, who was a member of the Sportsman's Club, provided facilities for the club, including a club house and docks and/or boat ramps, and granted appellee's members permission to use the lake for boating, fishing and swimming.

{¶3} In 1974, the Sportsman's Club was incorporated. The stated purposes of such club included social activities and protecting and preserving wildlife and natural resources.

{¶4} Pursuant to a general warranty deed that was recorded in 1981, the Sinclair-Junger Partnership transferred 1.644 acres of lakefront land to appellee Meyer's Lake Sportsman's Club, Inc. The deed provided that the property shall be used solely for Sportsman's Club purposes and that in the event that the property was no longer used for such purposes, title would revert back to the "Sinclair-Junger Partnership, their heirs, assigns or successors in interest." The deed made no reference to lake or lake rights.

{¶5} At the time the property was purchased by appellee, it was used as a landfill for dirt, gravel and chunks of concrete. After purchasing the property, appellee made numerous improvements to the same including adding a parking lot, building a lodge, adding a new boat ramp, building two fishing piers, and constructing boat docks.

{¶6} In mid-1993, the Sinclair-Junger Partnership decided to sell the lake and all remaining lakefront land. A group of five individual owners of lakefront property pooled their money in order to purchase the lake as well as several adjacent lots. The adjacent lots were later sold for development. The five owners formed appellant Meyers Lake Preserve, Inc. which was incorporated in 1994 as a non-profit organization "organized exclusively for charitable, educational and scientific purposes." Appellant then applied to the Internal Revenue Service to become a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization. In its application, appellant indicated that the lake "has traditionally been used by both adjoining property owners and others for fishing and boating." Appellant further represented on its application that it would not limit its benefit, services or products to specific individuals or classes of them. Appellant was granted tax-exempt status.

{¶7} After purchasing the lake, appellant entered into a Management Agreement in July of 1996 with Meyers Lake Fish Dock, Inc, an entity separate and distinct from appellee Sportsman's Club but comprised mostly of the same members as the club. Under the terms of such agreement, the Fish Dock agreed to operate and manage the lake, to run the docks on appellee's property and to collect lake fees for appellant. In exchange, appellant paid the Fish Dock's expenses for managing and operating the lake and allowed Fish Dock employees and members of the Sportsman's Club to use the lake without having to pay the yearly usage fee. The agreement specifically states, in relevant part, as follows: " WHEREAS, MANAGER (Fish Dock) desires to operate a public fishing pier/dock and the Meyer's Lake Sportsman's Club, Inc. desires to make use of the LAKE for its members and their immediate family and guests, and by non-member ASSOCIATES…"w. MANAGER [Meyer's Lake Fish Dock, Inc.] and the Meyer's Lake Sportsman's Club, Inc. and their members and guests shall not be required to contribute to or pay any lake maintenance or user fees." The Fish Dock operated a boat ramp and a marina on appellee's property. The ramp provided exclusive access to the docks on which lake residents and others kept their boats.

{¶8} Thereafter, on December 27, 2010, appellant cancelled its Management Agreement with the Fish Dock and proposed a new agreement. Under the terms of the new agreement, appellee's and Fish Dock members would be required to pay to use the lake. The Fish Dock rejected such agreement and appellee threatened a "lock-out" of non-members. In response, appellant's president, on or about April 18, 2011, sent a letter to both appellee and Fish Dock stating that appellant had decided to withdraw its proposed management agreement. The letter further directed them to remove their fishing piers as well as any and all docks that they owned on appellant's property.

{ΒΆ9} On June 30, 2011, appellee filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, trespass, and quiet title against appellant. Appellee, in its complaint, sought punitive damages. On July 1, 2011, appellee filed a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction. With leave of court, appellee filed an amended complaint adding claims alleging breach of contract and tortious interference with contract and adding new parties in order to quiet title. On September 30, 2011, appellant filed an answer and counterclaim seeking a declaratory judgment that neither the Fish Dock nor appellee had any vested property right ...


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