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Huffman v. Huntington Bancshares, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

June 25, 2019

Virginia Huffman, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Huntington Bancshares, Inc., et al. Defendants-Appellees.

          APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas (C.P.C. No. 16CV-10108)

         On brief:

          DeSanto & McNichols, and Debra J. DeSanto, for appellant.

          Reminger Co., L.PA., and Melvin J. Davis, for appellees Pappas Gibson, LLC, et al.

         Argued:

          Melvin J. Davis.

          DECISION

          NELSON, J.

         {¶ 1} The essential facts of this case are not nearly as difficult to figure out as the claimed theories of legal harm that plaintiff-appellant Virginia Huffman has sought to maintain in the trial court and on this appeal from the summary judgment ruling against her.

         {¶ 2} The record is clear that Ms. Huffman has experienced credit difficulties, and that here, in the end, she was excused from liabilities of more than $100, 000. Because she was delinquent in identifying any expert who could explain and support her claimed basis for legal malpractice, and because the trial court further found her asserted damages to be speculative at best, she lost on the summary judgment that we now affirm.

         {¶ 3} In a nutshell, drawing from Ms. Huffman's complaint and her own deposition testimony, she sought to acquire the home of her late father by taking over his mortgage obligations on the house. See, e.g., Huffman Depo. at 39 (consensus that "it was a good decision, there was equity in the house"), 43 ("Everybody agreed, oh, yeah, this way we won't have to sell the house. We can close the estate; everybody would be happy"), 51 (father earlier had taken out "a loan or a mortgage * * * * I don't understand the bank stuff), 62 (intent "to assume the mortgage"). Her lawyers at Pappas Gibson, LLC (collectively, defendant-appellees "Pappas Gibson") facilitated the transmission from lender Huntington Bank of a "SINGLE LOAN GUARANTEE" of her father's debt on the home mortgage loan. Id. at 58-60 (correspondence referencing single loan guarantee; "I was made aware that I had to sign documents to get the house"); see also Plaintiffs Ex. B (Single Loan Guarantee). "The property was transferred to Plaintiff Huffman on October 31, 2012, Complaint at ¶ 10, and she signed the single loan guarantee about three weeks later, on November 19, 2012. Id. at ¶ 14. She signed the document without reading it, she says, because her lawyers had told her "this was what I needed to do to assume the loan." Huffman Depo. at 62-63.

         {¶ 4} While that original loan to her father had been in the amount of $140, 477.49 (on a house valued at his death at around $170, 000), id. at 60, 32, the loan had been paid down to roughly $124, 000 by the time she signed the single loan guarantee. Id. at 76, 108-09. Ms. Huffman moved into the home in early 2013, id. at 72, and lived there until she sold it in October of 2015, id. at 75. Over that time, she made approximately $23, 000 in payments on the debt. Id. at 78. Thus, at the time of her sale, the debt on the home loan stood at approximately $101, 000. Id. at 80, 109.

         {¶ 5} Ms. Huffman sold the house for around $229, 000. Id. at 80. She says that after taxes and fees, she was paid something on the order of $209, 000 for the sale. Id. at 89. Although she says that she had put some money into improving the house, she admits that she made a profit on the sale. Id. at 90-91. That profit proved to be larger than one might have anticipated because she did not pay Huntington Bank the $101, 000 balance on its loan after she learned "there was no lien on the home." Id. at 84 (Q: "After you sold the house, you would agree you did not make any attempts to pay off the $101, 000?" A: "No, because they told me there was no lien on the home."). The sale proceeds were deposited into Ms. Huffman's account at Huntington Bank, and she promptly "went to the bank and took every penny out of Huntington." Id. at 88. The bank eventually wrote off the loan. Id. at 95, 129.

         {¶ 6} So then…Ms. Huffman sued the bank. And she sued her lawyers who had facilitated her uninterrupted acquisition and possession of the house through the single loan guarantee device. The bank counterclaimed, seeking repayment of the $101, 000 it was out; Ms. Huffman and the bank then agreed to drop all claims and counterclaims between them, and the trial court entered a Stipulated Entry of Dismissal with prejudice of those bank-related claims. May 16, 2018 Stipulated Entry; see also July 11, 2018 Decision and Entry Granting Pappas Gibson Mot. for Summ. Jgmt. at 2. The matter before us, therefore, involves only Ms. Huffman's legal malpractice claim against Pappas Gibson.

         {¶ 7} Ms. Huffman seems somewhat ambivalent about having acquired the home. Although conceding that in conversations with her family, "they all thought it would be a great idea for me to buy the house," Huffman Depo. at 39, and that "I was made aware that I had to sign documents to get the house," id. at 59, and that "if I would not have taken the house I would not have made that profit," id. at 91, when asked, "[h]ow do you believe you were damaged by taking the home?", she responds: "this was the home of my mom and dad. My mom died in the bedroom. I watched my dad come close to ...


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