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Lawnfield Properties, LLC v. City of Mentor

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Lake

June 25, 2018

THE CITY OF MENTOR, Defendant-Appellee.

          Civil Appeal from the Lake County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2017 CV 000571.

          James V. Aveni and Joshua T. Morrow, Ranallo & Aveni, L.L.C. For Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Richard A. Hennig, Hennig, Szeman & Klammer Co., L.P.A., For Defendant-Appellee.



         {¶1} Appellant, Lawnfield Properties, LLC, appeals the judgment of the Lake County Court of Common Pleas granting appellee, the city of Mentor's, Civ.R. 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss appellant's amended complaint for an injunction. This case involves the taking by Mentor of a strip of appellant's property for a road-widening project. The main issue is whether the trial court erred in finding that the Lake County Probate Court, rather than the trial court, has jurisdiction to adjudicate appellant's entitlement to residual damages. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         {¶2} The statement of facts that follows is derived from appellant's amended complaint and its attachments. Appellant owns a hotel/restaurant on Mentor Ave. in Mentor, Ohio. In early 2016, Mentor advised appellant that it intended to appropriate a strip of frontage of its property along Mentor Ave. for the purpose of widening that road. Shortly thereafter, appellant attended an on-site meeting with Dennis Keeney, Mentor's appraiser, during which appellant advised him of specific items of residual damage that it expected as a result of the appropriation. These included the relocation of a sign, the loss of parking spaces in its parking lot, the loss of one of its multiple curb cuts, and the temporary loss of use of its outdoor patio and swimming pool during construction of the project.

         {¶3} Mr. Keeney, in his April 13, 2016 appraisal report, concluded the fair market value of the property to be appropriated was $37, 665. He further concluded that the instant appropriation would not result in residual damage.

         {¶4} On June 20, 2016, Mentor provided appellant with a copy of Mr. Keeney's appraisal and a formal offer to purchase the property for the amount determined by Mr. Keeney to be the fair market value of the property.

         {¶5} One month later, on July 22, 2016, appellant's counsel sent a letter to Mentor, rejecting its offer, citing Mr. Keeney's failure to appraise the value of appellant's anticipated residual damage. In that letter, appellant's counsel stated that appellant had retained another appraiser, Tom Horner, to evaluate Mr. Keeney's appraisal, and that appellant would provide a settlement demand to Mentor once Mr. Horner completed his review. However, appellant never provided Mentor with its own appraisal or with a settlement demand. On October 11, 2016, appellant's counsel sent Mentor a second letter supplementing his first. In this letter, appellant's counsel asserted that the city's reliance on Mr. Keeney's appraisal was "unwarranted" and "unlawful" and accused Mentor of not making a good faith offer. Contrary to appellant's argument on appeal, his counsel in these two letters never asked Mentor to obtain an amended appraisal to value its residual damage or to present a new offer in accord with same; appellant simply rejected Mentor's offer.

         {¶6} On October 24, 2016, Mentor initiated appropriation proceedings by serving appellant with its Notice of Intent, which included Mr. Keeney's appraisal and Mentor's "good faith offer" to purchase the property based on Mr. Keeney's appraisal.

         {¶7} Thereafter, on December 22, 2016, Mentor filed an appropriation action in the Lake County Probate Court, Mentor v. Lawnfield Properties, LLC, Case No. 16-CV-189, which remains pending. Appellant concedes that, because Mentor's appropriation action was a "quick take" for road construction purposes, appellant was statutorily barred from seeking to enjoin Mentor from the actual taking of the property.

         {¶8} Instead, on April 13, 2017, appellant filed a complaint for an injunction in the trial court (general division), alleging that Mentor's appropriation action was procedurally defective because it failed to include a good faith offer that compensated appellant for the alleged residual damage to its property. In its amended complaint, appellant requested that the trial court enjoin Mentor from pursuing its appropriation action until such time as Mentor obtains an amended appraisal that values appellant's residual damage and makes an offer based on such amended appraisal.

         {¶9} On June 1, 2017, Mentor filed a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss appellant's complaint for failure to state a claim. After considering the parties' briefs, the trial court granted Mentor's motion to dismiss, finding that appellant's challenge "should be brought before the Lake County Probate Court in the pending appropriation case where the issue of just compensation can be determined." Appellant appeals the trial court's judgment, asserting two assignments of error. For its first, it alleges:

         {¶10} "The trial court erred by holding that the Lake County Probate Court maintains competent jurisdiction to rule upon ...

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