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Hemingway v. Scott

Court of Appeals of Indiana

December 30, 2016

Tina L. Hemingway, Appellant-Petitioner/Counter-Respondent,
v.
John P. Scott, Appellee-Respondent/Counter-Petitioner

         Interlocutory Appeal from the Jefferson Circuit Court The Honorable Darrell M. Auxier, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 39C01-1509-PL-698

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT A. David Hutson Hutson Legal Jeffersonville, Indiana.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE Mark Wynn Jenner, Pattison, Sutter & Wynn, LLP Madison, Indiana.

          Crone, Judge.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] John Scott conveyed his property to himself and his girlfriend Tina Hemingway. Earlier that day, Hemingway had signed a contract agreeing that if she cheated on Scott or failed to contribute to the property's maintenance and expenses, she would reconvey her interest in the property to him. Hemingway later filed a real property partition action against Scott, who filed a counterclaim for breach of contract and replevin. The trial court found Hemingway to be in breach of contract and ordered that she execute a quitclaim deed conveying to Scott all her rights, title, and interest in the property. Hemingway seeks review of the trial court's interlocutory order, arguing that the deed extinguished the contract pursuant to the doctrine of merger and that the contract was unenforceable as against public policy. Finding that the doctrine of merger does not apply and that the contract is not rendered unenforceable for public policy reasons, we affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] In 2001, Scott inherited a ten-acre parcel of land ("the Property") from his father. In 2004, Hemingway and Scott began a relationship, and Hemingway moved in with Scott. The couple broke up for a time, and Hemingway moved out. On February 17, 2012, the couple executed a handwritten contract, penned by Hemingway and signed by both, pursuant to which Scott promised to convey the Property from himself to himself and Hemingway. The contract included a list of conditions that would constitute a breach, including "cheating" by either party. Appellant's App. at 35. The contract also required both parties to contribute to the care and upkeep of the Property, including the house, and the expenses attributable to it. The remedies clause stated that any breach by Hemingway would require her to reconvey her interest in the Property to Scott via quitclaim deed. According to the express language, the contract would "be attached to the property deed pertaining to [the] property at [the listed address]." Id. That same day, Scott executed a deed conveying the Property to himself and Hemingway as joint tenants. The contract was neither referenced in the deed nor filed with the deed for recording purposes.

         [¶3] Hemingway resumed living with Scott. About two months after the contract and conveyance, Hemingway was impregnated by another man. She delivered the child on January 6, 2013, and the parties agree that Scott is not the child's father. Hemingway moved out in early June 2013, after which she no longer contributed financially or otherwise to the household or Property. On June 17, 2013, Scott sent Hemingway written notice that she was in breach of the contract and must convey her interest in the Property back to him pursuant to the terms of the contract.

         [¶4] On September 17, 2015, Hemingway filed a petition for partition of the Property. Scott filed a counterclaim for breach of contract and replevin, seeking a court-ordered conveyance of the Property back to him by quitclaim deed. On March 28, 2016, the trial court conducted a hearing on Scott's counterclaim. On April 1, 2016, the trial court issued an order with findings in favor of Scott, concluding that Hemingway breached the contract and ordering her to convey her interest in the Property back to Scott by quitclaim deed.

         [¶5] Upon Hemingway's request, the trial court certified the order for interlocutory appeal, and we accepted jurisdiction. Additional facts will be provided as necessary.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶6] Hemingway challenges the trial court's interlocutory order finding her in breach of contract and ordering her to reconvey her interest in the Property to Scott. Here, the trial court issued its order with findings of fact pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 52(A). In such cases, we review for clear error, first determining whether the evidence supports the findings and then whether the findings support the judgment. Baird v. ASA Collections, 910 N.E.2d 780, 785 (Ind.Ct.App. 2009), trans. denied (2010). We will reverse only if the trial court's findings are unsupported by any evidence or reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence or if the judgment is unsupported by the findings and conclusions. Id. In conducting our review, we neither reweigh evidence nor judge witness credibility; rather, we consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the judgment. Id. With respect to the trial court's findings of fact, we defer substantially; with respect to its conclusions of law, we apply a de novo standard. Id.

         Section 1 - The doctrine of merger does not extinguish the contract or its express provisions concerning acts ...


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