Akin v. Simons

Decision Date30 December 2021
Docket NumberCourt of Appeals Case No. 21A-PL-620
Citation180 N.E.3d 366
Parties Michael AKIN, Appellant-Plaintiff, v. Katherine SIMONS, Appellee-Defendant.
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

Attorneys for Appellant: Raegan M. Gibson, Mackenzie E. Skalski, Joey K. Wright, Paganelli Law Group, Indianapolis, Indiana

Attorney for Appellee: Curtis E. Shirley, Carmel, Indiana

Najam, Judge.

Statement of the Case

[1] In 2012, Michael Akin transferred $229,227.05 to his former spouse, Katherine Simons, and Simons used the money to purchase a home. Akin claimed that, under an oral agreement, $130,000 of the money he provided to Simons was a loan and that the remaining $100,000 value in the home would be held in trust for the benefit of the parties’ granddaughter ("Granddaughter"). Simons countered that the entire amount was a gift. In 2014, Akin sued, and Simons filed a motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that the alleged agreement was unenforceable under the Statute of Frauds. Following a hearing, the trial court granted Simons's motion. Akin appeals from the trial court's grant of partial summary judgment in favor of Simons and raises the following issues for our review:

1. Whether there are genuine issues of material fact regarding whether the Statute of Frauds applies to the parties’ oral agreement.
2. Whether there are genuine issues of material fact regarding whether exceptions to the Statute of Frauds apply.

[2] We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[3] Akin and Simons were married but, at some point, they divorced. Their daughter gave birth to Granddaughter, and Akin and Simons became co-guardians of Granddaughter. In 2012, Akin and Simons rekindled their romantic relationship. Eventually, however, their romantic relationship ended, the instant litigation began, and the parties engaged in a separate custody and visitation action over Granddaughter.

[4] Akin filed a complaint against Simons alleging claims of breach of contract and for the imposition of a constructive trust, and he also alleged that Simons "has been unjustly enriched." Appellant's App. Vol. 2 at 49-50. In particular, the complaint alleged that, in May 2012, Akin "transferred $229,227.05 to [Simons] to use for the benefit of [Granddaughter] ... to provide her a home in which to live with [Simons]" and that Simons used the money to buy a home in Carmel which she titled in her name only. Id. at 49. The complaint further alleged that the parties had agreed that, within thirty days: (1) Simons would repay Akin $130,000 of the money he had provided by obtaining a mortgage on the home; and (2) the remainder of the interest in the home would be held in trust for Granddaughter. The complaint also alleged that Simons had "paid a total of $10,000 on the loan" and that Simons had "refused [Akin's] demand to formally transfer [Granddaughter's] interest in the [home] to [Granddaughter] or to a trust for [Granddaughter's] benefit." Id. at 49-50. Akin also filed a Notice of Lis Pendens on the Carmel property.

[5] Simons filed an answer to Akin's complaint in which Simons denied she had agreed to repay Akin $130,000 of the money he had provided by obtaining a mortgage on the home, or that she had agreed to create a trust for Granddaughter, and she alleged counterclaims for malicious prosecution, abuse of process, slander of title, and pursuit of frivolous litigation.

[6] On December 28, 2020, Simons filed a motion for partial summary judgment, contending that the approximately $230,000 was a gift and that there is "no document showing the $230,000 transfer was a loan to be secured by a mortgage." Id. at 36. In her brief in support of her motion, Simons argued that Akin's action on the oral agreement is barred by the Statute of Frauds because Akin's complaint "attempt[ed] to call a gift a loan to be secured by a mortgage[,]" the complaint "did not mention or attach a loan agreement[,]" and the complaint "admit[ed] there is no mortgage." Id. at 38. Akin filed a brief and an affidavit in opposition to Simons's motion for partial summary judgment in which he argued that the Statute of Frauds did not apply, he mentioned unjust enrichment, and he argued the doctrine of promissory estoppel as an exception to the Statute of Frauds. Id. at 47-48.

[7] After a hearing on Simons's motion, the trial court granted the motion and entered judgment in favor of Simons and against Akin on all of Akin's claims. The court also ordered Akin to release the lis pendens notice within ten days, and the court limited the scope of the upcoming jury trial to Simons's counterclaims.1 Specifically, the court found as follows in its order:

Akin filed a complaint asserting he loaned money to Simons. But there is no evidence of any writing signed by Simons to support such a claim. No loan agreement; no mortgage; no Trust; no email or text or letter. Without a document, there is no admissible designated evidence creating a dispute for the Court or Jury to resolve. Akin's testimony alone is not sufficient where there is no writing showing a loan agreement.
Akin argues an exception to the Statute of Frauds because of promissory estoppel. However there is no evidence Akin relied on any promise of Simons independent of the purported loan agreement. See Brown[ v.Branch , 758 N.E.2d 48, 52 (Ind. 2001)]. Akin has not designated any evidence showing he relied on anything Simons said, other than wanting the benefit of a purported oral loan agreement.

Id. at 18. The trial court made its order a final judgment, stating: "There being no just reason for delay, the [c]ourt now directs entry of judgment[.]" See Ind. Trial Rule 56(C) ; Appellant's App. Vol. 2 at 18. This appeal ensued.

Discussion and Decision
Standard of Review

[8] Our standard of review on appeal from the entry of summary judgment is well settled:

[S]ummary judgment is appropriate only where the evidence shows there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. All facts and reasonable inferences drawn from those facts are construed in favor of the nonmoving party. The review of a summary judgment motion is limited to those materials designated to the trial court. We must carefully review decisions on summary judgment motions to ensure that the parties were not improperly denied their day in court.

Tom-Wat, Inc. v. Fink , 741 N.E.2d 343, 346 (Ind. 2001) (citations omitted).

[9] The purpose of summary judgment is to terminate litigation about which there can be no material factual dispute and which can be resolved as a matter of law." Ebersol v. Mishler , 775 N.E.2d 373, 378 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002), trans. denied. Therefore, "[a] party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of showing the absence of a factual issue and [its] entitlement to judgment as a matter of law." Harco, Inc. of Indianapolis v. Plainfield Interstate Fam. Dining Assoc. , 758 N.E.2d 931, 937 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001). All pleadings, affidavits, and testimony are construed liberally and in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Baker v. Heye-Am. , 799 N.E.2d 1135, 1139 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003), trans. denied. For summary judgment purposes,

[a] genuine issue of material fact exists where facts concerning an issue that would dispose of the litigation are in dispute or where the undisputed material facts are capable of supporting conflicting inferences on such an issue. To be considered genuine ..., a material issue of fact must be established by sufficient evidence in support of the claimed factual dispute to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties’ differing versions of the truth at trial. A fact is material when its existence facilitates resolution of any of the issues involved.

Id. (citations omitted, emphasis added). "[A]ny doubt as to the existence of an issue of material fact, or an inference to be drawn from the facts, must be resolved in favor of the nonmoving party." Am. Mgmt., Inc. v. MIF Realty, L.P. , 666 N.E.2d 424, 428 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996).

[10] "Even if it appears that the non-moving party will not succeed at trial, summary judgment is inappropriate where material facts conflict or undisputed facts lead to conflicting inferences." Link v. Breen , 649 N.E.2d 126, 128 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995), trans. denied ; see also Brunner v. Trs. of Purdue Univ. , 702 N.E.2d 759, 760 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998) ("Summary judgment should not be used as an abbreviated trial."), trans. denied. Finally, "[o]ur analysis proceeds from the premise that summary judgment is a lethal weapon and courts must be ever mindful of its aims and targets and beware of overkill in its use." Bunch v. Tiwari , 711 N.E.2d 844, 847 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999).

[11] The trial court made findings and conclusions in support of its entry of partial summary judgment. Special findings are not required in summary judgment proceedings and are not binding on appeal. AutoXchange.com. Inc. v. Dreyer & Reinbold, Inc. , 816 N.E.2d 40, 48 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004). However, such findings offer this court valuable insight into the trial court's rationale for its review and facilitate appellate review. Id.

Issue One: Statute of Frauds

[12] Akin first contends that the trial court erred when it granted Simons's motion for partial summary judgment because, according to Akin, there are genuine issues of material fact regarding whether the Statute of Frauds applies to the alleged oral agreement. We conclude, for the reasons that follow, that whether the money Akin provided Simons was a loan or a gift, the Statute of Frauds applies to the parties’ agreement, and the material facts alleged in Akin's complaint, lis pendens notice, and affidavit support that conclusion. In the simplest of terms, this is a breach of contract case – as alleged in Akin's complaint – and Akin has failed to show with admissible evidence that there was a genuine issue of material fact on the question of whether there was a meeting of the minds of the parties. See Jernas v. Gumz , 53 N.E.3d 434, 445 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016) (...

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