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Lake v. Love

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Butler

May 8, 2017

MICHAEL L. LAKE, Plaintiff-Appellee,
LEE C. LOVE, Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff-Appellant,
MICHELLE LAKE, Third-Party Defendant-Appellee.


          Michael and Michelle Lake, plaintiff-appellee and third-party defendant-appellee, pro se

          Fred Miller, Mark W. Raines, Baden & Jones Bldg., for defendant-appellant


          HENDRICKSON, P.J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant/third-party plaintiff-appellant, Lee C. Love, appeals from a judgment entered after a bench trial in the Butler County Court of Common Pleas in favor of plaintiff- appellee, Michael L. Lake, and third-party defendant-appellee, Michelle Lake (collectively, "the Lakes") on claims of conversion made by Michael and by Love. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         {¶ 2} Michelle and Michael are husband and wife. Michelle and Love are half-siblings, who share the same father. After Michelle's mother passed away in the mid-1990s, Love was put on the deed to the property that Michelle's mother and Michelle's and Love's father shared in Hamilton, Butler County, Ohio. This property contained a house and a large pole barn.

         {¶ 3} In June 2003, Michelle and Love's father passed away, and the property passed to Love. At the time of his death, Michelle and Love's father was the only individual living in the home. Love, however, had personal items stored inside the pole barn on the property.

         {¶ 4} Love and the Lakes reached an agreement wherein the Lakes would lease the home from Love with the goal of later purchasing the property. Love, with help from Michael, made some renovations to the home. Love spent around $15, 000 to make the improvements. By January 2004, the Lakes moved into the home. The parties later entered into a written month-to-month lease for the property, which was backdated by the parties. The lease agreement did not provide Love with any right to occupy the property during the term of the lease. Nonetheless, Love believed he retained possession of the pole barn.

         {¶ 5} Around July 2003, Love purchased a Craftsman lawn mower. [1] The Lakes claimed Love gifted the lawn mower to them and that they exclusively used the lawn mower to mow the property. Love acknowledged that the Lakes exclusively used the mower after they moved into the property's home, but he claimed he did not "give it to [them] to possess it."

         {¶ 6} While the Lakes leased the property from Love, Love stored personal items in the pole barn, including a 1992 Rinker V260 boat and a 1996 Kawasaki jet ski. Then, in the winter of 2009, without any discussion with the Lakes, Love began to reside in his boat inside the pole barn. Love, with help from Michael, made certain improvements to the pole barn to make it habitable, including adding insulation, heating and air conditioning, and plumbing for the installation of a shower, sink, and toilet. In the summer of 2012, Love purchased a small, wooden storage shed and had it installed on the property so that the Lakes would have something to store their personal belongings in as Love was still residing in the pole barn.

         {¶ 7} The Lakes purchased the property from Love near the end of April 2013. Less than a month later, in May 2013, the Lakes asked Love to pay $250 a month in rent for his use of the pole barn to defray the cost of the utilities he used. This request resulted in discord between the parties, and Michael ended up placing a note on Love's refrigerator asking him to vacate the property. Ultimately, the parties reached an agreement whereby Love would vacate the property but would be permitted to leave his personal items in the pole barn until he completed construction of a pole barn on another piece of property. The Lakes believed they had agreed to store Love's items for three months while the pole barn was being constructed, whereas Love believed the time-period to complete construction of his new pole barn while storing items in the Lakes' pole barn was open ended.

         {¶ 8} Love vacated the Lakes' pole barn on June 6, 2013, leaving his boat, jet ski, furniture, tools, and other items behind. In August 2013, Love returned to the property and removed some items stored in the pole barn. Among the items removed by Love were tools and the Craftsman lawn mower. Love's boat and jet ski remained in the pole barn.

         {¶ 9} The Lakes disputed that the items removed by Love belonged to him. The parties began quarreling over the ownership of the items Love removed. Love sent numerous disparaging text messages to Michelle and was eventually charged and convicted of telecommunications harassment in December 2014 in the Butler County Area II Court. Thereafter, communications between the parties occurred through their respective lawyers.

         {¶ 10} In September or October 2014, the Lakes moved the items belonging to Love out of the pole barn and either into Love's boat or into the wooden storage shed so that they could begin using the pole barn. The Lakes then moved Love's boat and jet ski outside. The Lakes covered the boat and jet ski, but neither item was winterized. Love became aware that the boat and jet ski had been moved outdoors no later than November 17, 2014, when he came to the property to remove more of his belongings. This date marked the first big snowstorm of the season, and, due to the weather, the police officer supervising Love's removal of his belongings would not permit Love to drive his vehicle into the yard to hook up his boat. Additionally, the officer only allowed Love 25 to 30 minutes to collect his items, which was insufficient for Love to remove all of his items. Consequently, Love left his boat, jet ski, and other personal items behind.

         {¶ 11} Love did not ask the Lakes if the boat and jet ski had been winterized; nor did he provide instructions on how to winterize the items. Rather, he assumed that the Lakes had properly winterized his boat and jet ski before moving them outside because ...

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