William L. Burton, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.
John M. Halliday, and Jared T. Erb, for Defendants-Appellees.
DECISION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY
Marie Hoover, Judge
(¶ 1} The plaintiffs-appellants, Troy Parks, Concetta Parks, Douglas Parks, Mary Ann Parks, Dana Parks, Mary Kay Parks, Rebecca Hilverding, and Matthew Hilverding, filed this case alleging breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, and fraud against the defendants-appellees, Dale Parks and Gale Parks. The claims arose from the transfer, by general warranty deed, of the parties' family farm from the appellants and appellees as joint owners, to appellees as sole owners. On appeal, appellants contest the decision of the Washington County Common Pleas Court, which directed a verdict in favor of appellees on appellants' claims of fraud and unjust enrichment. As to their unjust enrichment claim, appellants assert that they never received a full copy of the deed; that they signed blank signature pages with the belief that they were granting the appellees the right to live on the farm (not with the intent to transfer their interest in the farm); and that they were never paid for their interest in the property. For their fraud claim, appellants argue that the appellees retained the deed and only distributed the signature pages among the family members for execution and notarization. Because we conclude that insufficient evidence was adduced for the jury to consider appellants' claims of fraud and unjust enrichment, we affirm the directed verdict of the trial court.
(¶ 2} Appellants also contend on appeal that the trial court "abused its discretion in that the manifest weight of the evidence was in favor of the plaintiffs." However, the determination of whether or not to grant a motion for directed verdict is a question of law and does not permit courts to weigh the evidence or make factual determinations. See Parrish v. Jones, 4th Dist. No. 11CA3238, 2012-Ohio-1145, ¶ 11 ("A motion for directed verdict presents a question of law, rather than factual issues."). Accordingly, appellants' argument that the manifest weight of the evidence was in their favor is without merit.
(¶ 3} The record reveals the following facts and procedural history. Ralph Parks (deceased), has six children: (1) Troy Parks, (2) Douglas Parks, (3) Dana Parks, (4) Rebecca Hilverding, (5) Dale Parks, and (6) Gale Parks. From approximately 1992 until 2007, all six children and Ralph Parks owned a 1/7th interest in the family farm, located at 36600 State Route 260, Graysville, Ohio 45734. While Troy, Douglas, Dana, and Rebecca no longer participated in the farming business; the appellees resided with their father at the farm and made their living farming the property.
(¶ 4} In 2006, Ralph Parks, who had been experiencing health problems, contacted his lawyer James Peters, of Woodsfield, Ohio. Ralph Parks requested that the farm be transferred to the appellees, as sole owners. Attorney Peters informed Ralph Parks, via letter, that in order to carry out his wishes the other Parks children and their spouses would have to sign a deed transferring the property to the appellees as sole owners. In 2007, a general warranty deed was prepared and signed by Ralph Parks and the appellees. Attorney Peters then mailed the deed to Troy and Concetta Parks (husband and wife) with instructions to sign the deed. Troy and Concetta Parks signed the deed and had their signatures notarized, but instead of returning the deed to Attorney Peters as instructed, the deed was mailed to Ralph Parks, at the farm.
(¶ 5} Thereafter, all the remaining appellants voluntarily signed the deed and each signature was attested before a notary. However, the appellants, with the exception of Troy and Concetta Parks, now assert that they only received the signature pages.  They further contend that they signed the signature pages without reading the entire deed because they believed, based upon conversations with Ralph Parks, that they were merely granting appellees the right to live on the farm for the remainder of the appellees' lives. Appellees, on the other hand, contend that the deed was returned via mail to the farm by Troy and Concetta Parks in a manila envelope. Appellees further contend that they did not open the envelope to view its contents prior to distributing the envelope to the remaining appellants for signature; and thus, they do not know whether the appellants received the full deed or just the signature pages. In any event, the deed was eventually signed by all the parties including Ralph Parks. The deed was properly notarized and was returned to Attorney Peters' office. The deed was recorded in the office of the Monroe County Recorder on October 17, 2007. After Ralph Parks died in 2008, a dispute over the ownership of the farm developed among the parties.
(¶ 6} The appellants brought suit against appellees to recover their ownership interest in the property alleging fraud, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment. A jury trial was held in the Washington County Common Pleas Court. After the appellants closed their case, appellees moved for a directed verdict. The trial court granted the appellees' motion for a directed verdict as to all counts of the complaint.
(¶ 7} Appellants filed a timely appeal raising three assignments of error for review.
First Assignment of Error:
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING DEFENDANTS A DIRECTED VERDICT ON PLAINTIFFS' UNJUST ENRICHMENT CLAIM.
Second Assignment of Error:
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING DEFENDANTS A DIRECTED VERDICT ON ...