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Board of Directors v. Army

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District, Van Wert

December 18, 2017

BOARD OF DIRECTORS, MAUMEE WATERSHED CONSERVANCY DISTRICT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
KEDAR ARMY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.

         Appeal from Van Wert County Common Pleas Court Trial Court No. CV16-10-154

          Timothy S. Holtsberry for Appellants

          Scott R. Gordon for Appellee

          OPINION

          ZIMMERMAN, J.

         {¶1} Defendant-Appellants Kedar Army, Mary Lou Army, Kedar Army as Trustee of the Kedar D. Army Revocable Living Trust and Mary Lou Army, as Trustee of the Mary Lou Army Revocable Living Trust (collectively referred to as "Appellants"), appeal the decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Van Wert County, Ohio granting summary judgment in favor of the Plaintiff-Appellee, the Board of Directors of the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District.

         {¶2} On appeal, Appellants assert that: 1) the trial court erred in granting summary judgment pursuant to Civil Rule 56 when genuine issues of material fact existed; 2) the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because Appellants were not allowed to conduct discovery since their continuance request was denied; 3) the trial court erred in granting summary judgment when no metes and bounds description existed for certain parts of Appellee's easement; 4) the trial court erred in granting summary judgment when it expanded the terms of Appellee's easement; 5) the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because the Appellee had not maintained its easement causing a nuisance and therefore abandoned the easement; and 6) the trial court abused its discretion in not allowing the Appellants to file a counterclaim. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the ruling of the trial court.

         Facts

         {¶3} In 1994, the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District (the "District") obtained a land right easement from Searle and Elsie Taylor, as part of its Little Auglaize River Watershed Project, PL-566. (Doc. No. 42 at 866-67). At that time, Searle and Elsie Taylor were the landowners of the real property located at 11580 Fife Road, in Van Wert, Ohio. (Id.). The easement was recorded with the Van Wert County Recorder's Office on June 27, 1994 and the landowners' real estate property taxes were extinguished by the Van Wert County Auditor's Office. (Id.).

         {¶4} Sometime in early 2012, the District became aware that Appellants had purchased the real property located at 11580 Fife Road in Van Wert, Ohio from the Taylors[1] and were planning to develop the property subject to the easement. (Id.). As a result, Clark Lynn Army, ("Clark") General Manager of the District, met with Appellants to explain the restrictions that the recorded easement placed upon their property.[2] (Id.).

         {¶5} Later in 2012, a dispute arose between the District and Appellants concerning a second and unrecorded easement, pertaining to the real property. (Id.). The District acknowledged the existence of the second unrecorded easement, but reaffirmed that the recorded easement placed limitations on Appellants' use of their real property. (Id. at 868).

         {¶6} Between 2013 and 2015, Clark met with Kedar and Kedar's tenant farmer to discuss issues regarding the use of the property in relation to the easement. (Id.). At that meeting, Clark told Kedar that he was permitted to create an access driveway on his property and could run a tile from the woods (on the property) to a creek for drainage purposes. (Id.).

         {¶7} Nonetheless, in early August, 2016, the District learned from the Van Wert County Ditch Supervisor that the Appellants had cut down trees and had drained a pond on the real property. (Id.). As a result, the Board of Directors for the District directed its attorney to send a registered letter informing Appellants that these activities on the property were in contradiction to the easement. (Id.). Such letter was sent and Appellants never responded. (Id.).

         {¶8} In early October, 2016, Clark inspected the real estate and observed someone removing a spoil pile and excavating dirt on the property, which was contrary to the terms of the recorded easement. (Id.). Clark confronted Appellants and learned that Kedar planned to go forward with his development of the real estate. (Id.).

         {¶9} At the October 11, 2016 District Board meeting, the Board passed a resolution authorizing legal action against the Appellants. (Id.).

         Procedural History

         {¶10} On October 24, 2016 the District filed a complaint in the trial court against Kedar and Mary Lou Army. In their complaint, the District alleged that Appellants had violated the terms of the recorded easement on the property. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 23). Specifically, the complaint alleged that Appellants had demolished a "spoil pile" and had drained the "oxbow pond of water, " contrary to terms of the recorded easement. (Id.). As a result, the District was seeking a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, a permanent injunction, money damages, and a fine against Appellants. (Id. at ¶¶ 26-48).

         {¶11} On December 21, 2016, Appellants filed their answer, denying the allegations contained in the District's complaint. (Doc. No. 13 at ¶¶ 4-5). Appellants' answer also asserted that the District failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and that the District was barred from equitable relief by virtue of the doctrine of unclean hands. (Id. at 1-2).

         {¶12} On January 5, 2017, the District requested permission to amend their complaint to add additional parties. Specifically, the District requested that the Kedar D. Army Revocable Living Trust (with Kedar Army as Trustee) and the Mary Lou Army Revocable Living Trust (with Mary Lou Army as Trustee) be made parties to the lawsuit. (Doc. No. 15 at 2). Appellants agreed to the District's motion to amend its complaint and on March 20, 2017, they filed an answer to the District's amended complaint. (Doc. Nos. 17; 25).

         {¶13} On April 3, 2017, the District filed its motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 27). The District asserted that there was no genuine issue of material fact and that it was therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Id.). On April 19, 2017, Appellants filed their reply to the District's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 31). Specifically, Appellants argued that there were genuine issues of fact regarding the parties' interpretation and application of the easement, whether either party violated the easement, and the extent of environmental ramifications and damages alleged by the District. (Id. at 1).

         {¶14} In addition to responding to the Districts' summary judgment motion, Appellants also filed a counter complaint[3] for damages and a petition for declaratory judgment on April 19, 2017. The District then filed a motion to dismiss these pleadings, pursuant to Civ.R. 12. (Doc. Nos. 32; 33). Specifically, the District argued that the Appellants' counter complaint and declaratory judgment request were filed out of rule and without leave of court. (Id.). Thereafter, on May 2, 2017, Appellants filed a motion for leave to file an amended answer. (Doc. No. 35).

         {¶15} On June 7, 2017, the trial court overruled Appellants' counterclaim and petition for declaratory judgment, as well as Appellants' motion for leave to file an amended answer. (Doc. No. 41). In its ruling, the trial court found that Appellants' requests were out of rule. (Id.). On the same date the trial court also filed its decision granting the District's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 42). In granting the motion for summary judgment, the trial court held:

The District argues that summary judgment should be granted to it because the defendants [Appellants] presented no admissible Civ R [sic] 56 evidence to refute the expert witnesses presented in the District's motion. This Court agrees with that argument. The evidence presented is undisputed that the defendants violated the terms of easement even after they were warned not to do so.

(Id. at 875). As a result of granting the motion for summary judgment, the trial court awarded the District $8, 599.10 in damages, a permanent injunction, expert witness fess, court costs, interest on the judgment from the date of filing, and fined Appellants $200.00. (Id. at 875-76). It is from this decision that Appellants appeal, presenting the following assignments of error for our review:

ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. I
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT PURSUANT TO CIVIL RULE 56 WHEN GENUINE ISSUES OF MATERIAL FACT EXISTED.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. II
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT PURSUANT TO CIVIL RULE 56 WHEN APPELLANT WAS NOT ALLOWED TO CONDUCT DISCOVERY WHEN A CONTINUANCE WAS REQUESTED.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. III
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT PURSUANT TO CIVIL RULE 56 WHEN NO METES AND BOUNDS DESCRIPTION EXISTED FOR CERTAIN ELEMENTS OF THE EASEMENT.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. IV
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT PURSUANT TO CIVIL RULE 56 WHEN IT EXPANDED THE TERMS OF THE EASEMENT.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. V
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT PURSUANT TO CIVIL RULE 56 WHEN THE APPELLEES HAD NOT MAINTAINED THEIR EASEMENT CAUSING A NUISANCE AND THEREFORE ABANDONED THE EASEMENT.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. VI
THE TRIAL COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN NOT ALLOWING THE APPELLANTS TO FILE A COUNTERCLAIM.

         {¶16} For ease of analysis, interrelated assignments of error ...


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