ESTATE OF WILLIAM O. GRAVIS Appellee
MICHAEL COFFEE, et al. Appellants
FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF
SUMMIT, OHIO CASE No. 2016-CV-094.
W. BERNLOHR and SUSAN K. ZERRUSEN, Attorneys at Law, for
MICHAEL J. KAPLAN, Attorney at Law, for Appellee.
DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY
A. TEODOSIO, JUDGE.
Michael Coffee and Thomas Coffee appeal the judgment of the
Summit County Court of Common Pleas, Probate Division,
dismissing their counterclaim. We affirm.
Mr. William O. Gravis passed away on August 16, 2016. Prior
to his death, Vanessa Wollet filed an application to be the
guardian of his person and estate. Mr. Gravis, as the
proposed ward, was served with notice of the application on
June 8, 2015. A second application for guardianship was filed
by Jacki Lynn Hastings on June 17, 2015. A hearing was held
before the magistrate on July 21, 2015, with the magistrate
issuing a decision on July 27, 2015, finding Mr. Gravis
incompetent, recommending the appointment of Ms. Wollet as
guardian of the person, and recommending Attorney John Greven
to be appointed as guardian of the estate.
On August 20, 2015, the trial court entered judgment finding
Mr. Gravis to be incompetent by reason of mental and physical
disability, and incapable of taking proper care of his self
or property, thereby appointing Ms. Wollet as the guardian of
his person. On November 25, 2015, Mr. Greven applied for
guardianship of the estate and the trial court entered
judgment appointing him as such.
The matter before us for review was initiated in September
2016 by the estate of William O. Gravis ("the
Estate"), which filed a complaint for declaratory
judgment, unjust enrichment, and constructive trust. Michael
Coffee and Thomas Coffee filed their joint answer and
counterclaims in October 2016. The trial court granted
judgment on the pleadings in favor of the estate as to all
but one of the counterclaims. The remaining counterclaim
sought declaratory judgment on the issue of the ownership of
real property located in Bath, Ohio.
The dispute over the ownership of the real property arose out
of the challenged validity of a transfer on death designation
affidavit executed by Mr. Gravis on November 23, 2015, to
transfer certain real property to Michael and Thomas Coffee.
The affidavit was prepared and notarized by the attorney for
the Coffees: Mark Pirozzi. At the time the affidavit was
signed, Mr. Pirozzi was aware that Ms. Wollet had been
appointed as the guardian for the person of Mr. Gravis. The
Coffees sought to have the transfer on death designation
declared valid and motioned the trial court for summary
judgment in their favor both on the Estate's claims and
on their remaining counterclaim for declaratory judgment.
Conversely, the Estate argued the designation was invalid due
to the trial court having previously declared Mr. Gravis to
be incompetent. Initially the trial court denied summary
judgment, finding that there were "genuine issues of
material fact" concerning the decedent's competence.
However, on September 20, 2017, the court sua sponte entered
a judgment entry (followed by an amended judgment entry on
September 21, 2017, which attached the property description),
citing to its inherent powers under R.C. 2104.24(C). In
dismissing the remaining counterclaim, the trial court found
that there was "no genuine issue of fact" and that
the Estate was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. We
note that the Coffees do not raise any potential procedural
errors by the trial court in their assignment of error, and
we decline to raise the argument for them. See Pascual v.
Pascual, 9th Dist. Medina No. 12CA0036-M,
2012-Ohio-5819, ¶ 6. (stating that "[i]t is the
appellant's burden to affirmatively demonstrate error on
appeal * * * [and] where an appellant has failed to develop
an argument on appeal, complete with citations to law, it is
not this Court's duty to create an argument for
Following the trial court's amended judgment entry, the
Estate filed a voluntary dismissal of the second and third
counts of the complaint "pursuant to Rule 41." The
Estate also filed a motion for a judgment entry concluding
the litigation, arguing that the trial court's September
20, 2017, entry dismissing the remaining counterclaim had
also resolved the first count of the Estate's complaint,
and that the litigation was complete. On September 21, 2017,
the trial court granted the Estate's motion and issued a
final judgment. Michael and Thomas Coffee now appeal, raising
one assignment of error.
As a preliminary matter, we are obligated to raise sua sponte
the question of our jurisdiction. See Whitaker-Merrell
Co. v. Geupel Constr. Co., 29 Ohio St.2d 184, 186
(1972). This Court has jurisdiction to hear appeals only from
final judgments. Article IV, Section 3(B)(2), Ohio
Constitution; R.C. 2501.02. "In the absence of a final,
appealable order, this Court must dismiss the appeal for lack
of subject matter jurisdiction." Smirz v.
Smirz, 9th Dist. Lorain No. 13CA010408, 2014-Ohio-3869,
¶ 8. Although not raised by the parties, this case
implicates two issues concerning the matter of jurisdiction
that we will consider at the outset. The first issue involves
the finality of the trial court's entry purporting to
resolve the Estate's claim for declaratory judgment; the
second issue is with regard to the Estate's voluntary
dismissal of its second and third causes of action.
R.C. 2721.02(A), setting forth the force and effect of
declaratory judgments, provides: "[C]ourts of record may
declare rights, status, and other legal relations whether or
not further relief is or could be claimed." "The
declaration may be either affirmative or negative in form and
effect [and] has the effect of a final judgment or
"[I]n the context of a declaratory judgment action,
merely entering judgment in favor of one party, without
further elaboration, does not constitute a final judgment
sufficient to give this Court jurisdiction over an
appeal." Peavy v. Thompson, 9th Dist. Summit
No. 25440, 2011-Ohio-1902, ¶ 10. "In order to
properly enter judgment in a declaratory judgment action, the
trial court must set forth its construction of the disputed
document or law, and must expressly declare the parties'
respective rights and obligations." Miller Lakes
Community Assn. v. Schmitt, 9th Dist. Wayne No.
11CA0053, 2012-Ohio-5116, ¶ 8. "If the trial court
fails to fulfill these requirements, its judgment is not
final and appealable." Id. However, we have
also stated: "Where the denial of a motion for summary
judgment in the context of declaratory judgment gives rise,
however, to the ...