Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Ashtabula
ASHTABULA COUNTY AIRPORT AUTHORITY, et al., Plaintiff-Appellee,
JOSEPH A. RICH, Defendant-Appellant.
Appeal from the Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas, Case
No. 2015 CV 0097.
E. Pontius and Jason L Fairchild, Andrews & Pontius LLC,
A. McGee, Svete & McGee Co., LPA, (For
Defendant-appellant, Joseph A. Rich, appeals from the
judgments of the Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas,
granting plaintiff-appellee, the Ashtabula County Airport
Authority, $33, 135 in attorney's fees, denying
Rich's request for summary judgment, and clarifying the
scope of the attorney's fees hearing. For the following
reasons, we affirm the judgments of the court below.
On February 17, 2015, Ashtabula Airport Authority and its
president, Dwight Bowden, filed a Complaint against Rich in
the Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas, alleging that he
had breached the terms of his lease agreement with Ashtabula
Airport Authority. After being notified via letter that his
tenancy had been terminated effective September 30, 2013,
Rich failed to vacate until December 2014. The Complaint
raised claims for Breach of Contract for Unpaid Rent and
Indemnification for Attorney's Fees. In Rich's
Answer, he argued, inter alia, that the claims were
"barred by * * * the rules governing compulsory
Ashtabula Airport Authority and Bowden filed a Joint Motion
for Partial Summary Judgment on September 2, 2015, in which
they argued Rich failed to vacate and pay rent payments from
October 1, 2013 to December 15, 2014, and the lease's
indemnification clause required Rich to pay for
attorney's fees incurred from defending prior suits in
relation to the lease and Rich's lack of compliance. Rich
filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Opposition
on January 14, 2016.
The facts giving rise to this lawsuit were demonstrated
through testimony and exhibits presented on summary judgment.
Pursuant to Rich's testimony, he signed an agreement to
lease the hangar for 2013. He subsequently suspended his
electricity and began using a generator in the hangar, in
violation of Airport Rules and Regulations. An August 13,
2013 letter from the Ashtabula Airport Authority's
counsel to Rich indicated that his tenancy would be
terminated on September 30, 2013, for violating the lease and
Airport Rules. Rich agreed that his plane remained in the
hangar from October 2013 through December 15, 2014, when he
vacated, but he paid no rent for those months.
On October 7, 2013, in Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas
Case No. 2013 CV 756, Rich filed a Complaint against
Ashtabula Airport Authority, Bowden, and the Ashtabula County
Airport Authority Board of Trustees, raising claims for
Breach of Contract, Discriminatory Conduct, Breach of Good
Faith, Declaratory Judgment, Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Fraud,
and a violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 88, claims
relating to the attempted termination of the lease. On
December 12, 2014, the court dismissed Rich's claims,
holding that Ashtabula Airport Authority had a right to
terminate the lease.
Ashtabula Airport Authority filed a Complaint on October 25,
2013, in the Ashtabula County Court, Eastern Division, asking
for restitution of the premises and rent. The court dismissed
the matter on November 25, 2013, as being raised in the
incorrect court, which decision was affirmed on appeal.
Ashtabula Cty. Airport Auth. v. Rich, 11 th Dist.
Ashtabula No. 2013-A-0069, 2014-Ohio-4288.
In the present matter, based on the foregoing facts, the
trial court issued a March 30, 2016 Judgment Entry, granting
the Ashtabula Airport Authority and Bowden's Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment and denying Rich's Motion for
Summary Judgment. In addition to finding the rent claim was
properly raised, the court concluded the lease's
indemnification clause was enforceable. Following a hearing
on the issue of damages at which expert testimony was
presented regarding the reasonableness of attorney's
fees, the court awarded Ashtabula Airport Authority $57, 575
for attorney's fees and $3, 132.38 for unpaid rent, and
Bowden $101, 930 for attorney's fees.
On appeal, Rich argued that the claim for rent and request
for attorney's fees were compulsory counterclaims that
should have been raised in the prior litigation, in Case No.
2013 CV 756. This court held that the rent claim was not
compulsory since it had not accrued at the time Rich
commenced litigation in 2013. Ashtabula Cty. Airport
Auth. v. Rich, 2017-Ohio-9263, 103 N.E.3d 51, ¶
31 (11th Dist.). As to attorney's fees, we held:
Since the issue of attorney's fees in the underlying
proceeding was a compulsory counterclaim [in Case No. 2013 CV
756], we reverse the court's judgment awarding
attorney's fees in favor of the appellees. However, as to
the award of rent in the present proceedings, since it was
properly raised in this matter, attorney's fees that were
expended in litigating that claim only may be
awarded. On that basis, we remand to the trial court for the
sole issue of determining and awarding the amount of
attorney's fees expended only in relation to the
collection of rent owed by Rich to the Ashtabula Airport
Authority that was sought in the present lawsuit.
Id. at ¶ 41.
On remand, Rich filed a June 22, 2018 Motion for Summary
Judgment, arguing that no attorney's fees should be
ordered since the airport had refused to accept his rent
payments. Ashtabula Airport Authority filed its Brief in
Opposition and Motion for Summary Judgment on June 29, 2018,
requesting attorney's fees in the amount of $33, 030.
On October 12, 2018, the court issued a Judgment Entry
denying the motions. It found Rich's argument had already
been rejected and lacked merit. As to Ashtabula Airport
Authority, it found that the itemized billings provided
"do not clearly demonstrate that the work cited was
performed in order to collect rent" and that
"[f]urther context is necessary for the Court to make
Ashtabula Airport Authority filed a motion for clarification
on what matters would be presented at the scheduled damages
hearing. In an October 19, 2018 Judgment Entry, the court
clarified that no testimony would be permitted as to the
reasonableness and necessity of attorney's fees and that
the purpose of the hearing was to "determine and award
the specific amount of attorney's fees that were expended
in relation to the collection of rent owed by Rich to the
Ashtabula County Airport, as opposed to those that were
expended in relation to this entire matter."
On December 14, 2018, the trial court held the hearing on
attorney's fees, again clarifying that it was for the
limited purpose of considering fees in relation to the
collection of rent. The court stated it would not be taking
expert testimony as to the ...