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Chambers v. Bockman

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Clermont

September 3, 2019

REBECCA C. CHAMBERS, Appellee,
v.
DAVID C. BOCKMAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF JOSEPH R. FELTER, et al., Appellants.

          APPEAL FROM CLERMONT COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS PROBATE DIVISION Case No. 18CV00292

          Finney Law Firm LLC, Isaac T. Heintz, Casey A. Taylor, for appellee.

          Aronoff, Rosen & Hunt, Kevin L. Swick, for appellants.

          OPINION

          M. POWELL, J.

         {¶ 1} Appellant, David Bockman, appeals a decision of the Clermont County Court of Common Pleas, Probate Division, granting summary judgment to appellee, Rebecca Chambers.

         {¶ 2} Joseph Feltner ("Decedent") and Chambers were married in 2009. At the time of the marriage, Chambers was living on Tener Road in Peebles, Ohio; Decedent was living on State Route 131 in Miami Township, Ohio. Decedent's property consisted of two lots: a 1.08-acre tract with a house in which Decedent lived ("Decedent's Home"), and a separate, adjacent 55-acre tract where Decedent raised cattle and kept horses ("Decedent's Farm") (the two lots will be referred collectively as the "Property"). The two lots were separated by a fence to prevent the animals from getting out. Following the marriage, the couple maintained and continued to live in their respective residences to a great extent. Decedent further purchased a tract of land on Tener Road, adjacent to Chambers' home. The property was used as rental property ("Rental Property").

         {¶ 3} Decedent died testate on June 27, 2017. At the time of his death, he owned the Decedent's Home, the Decedent's Farm, and the Rental Property. His will nominated appellant, a long-time friend, as the executor of his estate. Item II of the will devised the Rental Property to Chambers. Item III of the will devised the residue of Decedent's estate to appellant as follows:

All of the rest, residue and remainder of my property, real, personal and/or mixed, of which I shall die seized, or to which I may be entitled, or over which I shall possess any power of appointment by Will at the time of my decease and wheresoever situated, whether acquired before or after the execution of this, my Will, to my friend, David C. Bockman, absolutely and in fee simple.

         The Decedent's Home and Decedent's Farm were subsequently appraised as a single property and valued at $378, 000.

         {¶ 4} On July 6, 2018, Chambers filed a complaint in the probate court to purchase "the mansion house located [on] State Route 131, * * * the parcel of land on which it is situated, and the lot of land adjacent to the mansion house, which is used in conjunction with it * * * for the price of [$378.000]." That is, Chambers, as surviving spouse, sought to purchase the Property as its appraised value pursuant to R.C. 2106.16(A). The complaint named appellant as a defendant, individually and as executor of the Decedent's estate.

         {¶ 5} Appellant filed an answer, arguing that Chambers was not entitled to purchase the Property at its appraised value. Specifically, appellant asserted that (1) the Decedent's Home did not qualify as a mansion house because Chambers never resided there, (2) Item III of the Decedent's will specifically devised the Property, including the Decedent's Home, to appellant, and (3) in any event, Chambers was not entitled to purchase the Decedent's Farm.

         {¶ 6} Chambers moved for summary judgment. Appellant filed a memorandum in opposition. On March 6, 2019, the probate court granted summary judgment in favor of Chambers. The probate court found that Chambers was entitled to purchase the Property at its appraised value because (1) it was not necessary for Chambers, as surviving spouse, to reside in the Decedent's Home for it to be considered the "mansion house," (2) Item III of the Decedent's will was simply a general bequest and devise of the Property to appellant, not a specific one, and (3) Chambers was entitled to purchase both the Decedent's Home and the adjacent Decedent's Farm under R.C. 2106.16.

         {¶ 7} Appellant now appeals, raising three assignments of error.

         {¶ 8} An appellate court reviews a trial court's decision on a motion for summary judgment de novo, independently, and without deference to the decision of the trial court. Flagstar Bank, FSB v. Sellers, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA2009-11 -287, 2010-Ohio-3951, ¶ 7. Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material fact remaining for trial, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and reasonable minds can only come to a conclusion adverse to the nonmoving party, construing the evidence most strongly in that party's favor. See Civ.R. 56(C); Harless v. Willis Day Warehousing Co., 54 Ohio St.2d 64 (1978).

         {¶ 9} Assignment of Error No. 1:

         {¶ 10} THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN HOLDING THAT THE SUBJECT REAL PROPERTY CONSTITUTED A MANSION HOUSE UNDER R.C. 2106.16.

         {¶ 11} Appellant argues the probate court erred in finding that the Decedent's Home was a mansion house, whether or not Chambers resided there. Appellant asserts that "a 'mansion house,' as referred to in R.C. 2106.16, is the joint residence of a decedent and their spouse." Appellant asserts that because Chambers never resided in the Decedent's Home, such was not a mansion house under R.C. 2106.16 and Chambers was therefore not entitled to purchase it. That is, appellant asserts that a surviving spouse's residency in the "family home" is a necessary element for the property to be considered the mansion house under R.C. 2106.16(A). In support of his argument, appellant cites Scobey v. Fair,70 Ohio App. 51 (5th Dist.1942); In re Estate of Johnson,14 Ohio App.3d 235 (3d Dist.1984); and a ...


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