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Barton v. Retherford

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Butler

May 29, 2018

JACQUELINE C. BARTON, Plaintiff-Appellee,
TODD R. RETHERFORD, Defendant-Appellant.


          Davidson Law Offices Co., L.P.A., Matthew D. Davidson and David T. Davidson, 127 North Second Street, P.O. Box 567, Hamilton, OH 45011, for plaintiff-appellee

          Picard Law Firm, Daniel J. Picard, 110 Old Street, Monroe, OH 45050, for defendant-appellant


          S. POWELL, P.J.

         {¶ 1} Appellant, Todd R. Retherford, appeals from the decision of the Butler County Court of Common Pleas granting a judgment to appellee, Jacqueline C. Barton, following a bench trial. For the reasons outlined below, we affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         {¶ 2} Barton and Retherford were married in Dayton, Ohio on October 11, 1988. After being married for over 25 years, Barton filed for divorce in the Circuit Court of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, in and for Orange County, Florida on March 14, 2014. On August 5, 2016, the Florida Circuit Court issued a final judgment of dissolution dissolving the parties' marriage. Although dissolving the parties' marriage, the Florida Circuit Court did not make any decision regarding the distribution of the parties' real or personal property.

         The Documents

         {¶ 3} As discussed more fully below, at the heart of this appeal are two documents Retherford executed during his marriage to Barton.

         Notice of Release of Liability of Marital Debt

         {¶ 4} In the first document entitled "Notice of release of liability of marital debt" and executed on October 14, 2009 ("Notice"), Retherford initially agreed not to hold Barton responsible for any marital debt incurred after September 29, 2009 in consideration for Barton assuming "all of the joint and her individual marital debt, up until September 29, 2009, at which time [she] filed bankruptcy in her name only." Retherford further agreed to share with Barton a one-half interest in the inheritance he was to receive upon his father's death ("Inheritance") "in consideration of the care [Barton] has provided for [his] father during the months of June, July, August, September, 2009 and beyond." According to the Notice, the Inheritance was estimated to consist of "$250, 000 home, $100, 000 cash at U.S. Bank, $100, 000 investment account at Edward Jones, " thereby consisting of $450, 000 in assets.

         Quitclaim Deed

         {¶ 5} By the second document, a quitclaim deed Retherford executed on November 24, 2010 ("Quitclaim Deed"), Retherford deeded Barton a one-half interest in the real property located at 5742 River Road, Fairfield, Butler County, Ohio ("Property"). It is undisputed that the Property subject to the Quitclaim Deed was Retherford's father's home described in the Notice as the "$250, 000 home" that Retherford received as part of the Inheritance following his father's death on January 15, 2010. Similar to the Notice discussed above, the Quitclaim Deed specifically stated that "valuable consideration" was given for its execution.

         Complaint and Counterclaim

         {¶ 6} On December 6, 2016, Barton filed a "Complaint in Partition" naming Retherford and the Butler County Treasurer as defendants. In support of her complaint, Barton alleged she was the owner of an undivided one-half interest in fee simple in the Property as evidenced by the Quitclaim Deed recorded in Volume 8284, Page 1490 of the Official Records of the Butler County Recorder, whereas Retherford was the owner of the other corresponding undivided one-half interest in fee simple in the Property. Barton further alleged that she and Retherford were unable to agree on the distribution of their respective ownership interests in the Property. As such, Barton requested a judgment of partition in her favor and that the Property "be appraised and sold and the proceeds paid to the parties as their interests may appear;" specifically, one-half to her and the other one-half to Retherford.

         {¶ 7} On December 28, 2016, Retherford filed an answer generally denying Barton's claims. Although not part of this appeal, we note that Retherford thereafter filed a counterclaim asking the trial court to award him "one-half of the value of the real property which is subject of this litigation, " "the gun which he owned while married, " and "one-half of the value of the 401K retirement which [Barton] earned during the marriage." Barton denied these claims in her reply filed on January 12, 2017.

         {¶ 8} On January 24, 2017, Barton amended her complaint to include three additional claims against Retherford. The first claim, which Barton entitled "Reasonable Rental Value, " requested the trial court award Barton reasonable rental value in the Property commensurate with her purported undivided one-half interest in fee simple in the Property as evidenced by the Quitclaim Deed. The second claim, which Barton entitled "Breach of Contract, " alleged Retherford "failed to fulfill his contractual obligations pursuant to the [Notice]" by not sharing with her a one-half interest in the Inheritance, "including half of the value of the [Property], half of a U.S. Bank account, and half of [an] investment account at Edward Jones." The third claim, which Barton entitled "Intentional Conversion, " alleged Retherford had "wrongfully interfered" with her property rights as to the Inheritance, the Property, and her personal property located therein. Retherford denied these claims in his answer filed later that same day.

         The Trial

         {¶ 9} After the trial court denied the parties' competing motions for summary judgment, the matter proceeded to a one-day bench trial held before a trial court magistrate on August 14, 2017. At trial, the magistrate heard testimony from three witnesses, Barton, Retherford, and John Thomas, a realtor working as an independent contractor with Realty First hired by Barton to appraise the reasonable rental value of the Property. The following is a summary of the relevant testimony and evidence presented at the one-day bench trial.

         Barton's Testimony

         {¶ 10} Between 2006 to 2010, Barton and Retherford lived together in Florida. Unfortunately, during the summer of 2009, Barton lost her job. As a result, in June of 2009, Barton agreed to come to Ohio and take care of Retherford's father who was suffering from terminal cancer. This included doing his laundry, driving him to his appointments, buying his groceries, and cooking, among other activities. Shortly thereafter, in September of 2009, Retherford, who had been working at a trucking company in Florida, also lost his job. After Retherford lost his job, Barton returned to Florida to be with the parties' teenage daughter, whereas Retherford went to Ohio to take care of his ailing father.

         {¶ 11} In November of 2009, after taking care of his father for approximately one month, Retherford moved his father into a mobile home in Florida that he and Barton had purchased "a couple of miles away from where [they] lived." Once there, Barton testified that "our family cared for [Retherford's father] while he was in Florida until the time of his death in January of 2010." ...

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