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Brown v. Thompson

Court of Appeals of Oklahoma, Division I

November 7, 2017

CANDACE JOAN BROWN, Plaintiff/Appellee,
v.
MARY C. THOMPSON, an Individual, Defendant/Appellant, and Scott Douglas Thompson and Gary S. Thompson, as Individuals, and Drakestone Farms, LLC, Edmond Farms, LLC, and Westminster Farms, LLC, as Oklahoma Limited Liability Companies, Defendants.

          Mandate Issued: 03/21/2018

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF OKLAHOMA COUNTY, OKLAHOMA HONORABLE BARBARA G. SWINTON, JUDGE

          David L. Thomas, THOMAS & TERRELL, PLLC, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Noble McIntyre, McINTYRE LAW, P.C., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff/Appellee,

          H. Craig Pitts, Larry E. Finn, RUBENSTEIN & PITTS, P.L.L.C., Edmond, Oklahoma, for Defendant/Appellant.

          ROBERT D. BELL, JUDGE.

         ¶1 Defendant/Appellant, Mary C. Thompson, appeals from the trial court's judgment dissolving the partnership of Plaintiff/Appellee, Candace Joan Brown, and Defendant Scott Douglas Thompson, and dividing the partnership assets. In essence, Appellant contends (1) there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that Plaintiff and Scott were partners and (2) the trial judge erred by allegedly denying Appellant's request to present evidence regarding her supposed interest in the subject assets during the second stage bench proceeding. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         ¶2 Plaintiff and Scott Thompson met and began dating in 2001. At that time, Scott lived in Oklahoma City with his parents, Gary S. Thompson (Defendant) and Mary C. Thompson (Appellant), and he owned a lawn mowing service. Plaintiff lived in a mobile home she owned in Yukon and she worked at a hotel. Soon thereafter, the two began living together. Plaintiff testified the couple then began formulating a plan to acquire real estate, primarily in the area around Jones and Luther in Northeast Oklahoma County. Plaintiff explained that they wanted to acquire rental property to generate income when they retired. In 2003, the couple purchased their first piece of property and a mobile home together, where they began living. Plaintiff testified proceeds from the sale of her mobile home were used to help with the land and new mobile home purchases.

         ¶3 Over the course of the next decade, the parties acquired numerous rent houses and parcels of raw land. During that period, Plaintiff testified she was responsible for locating many of the properties and she worked alongside Scott in preparing the properties for use by tenants and in property upkeep. Plaintiff also worked at Scott's mowing service and his funeral home display business. Rather than pay Plaintiff for all of the work she performed, the couple agreed Plaintiff's income would be combined with rental income to acquire additional properties. Plaintiff also testified she contributed to the joint venture substantial sums of her own money, including $35, 000.00 from an automobile accident settlement, $29, 000.00 in back child support payments from her former husband and a $9, 500.00 Social Security disability lump sum payment. Scott handled all of the couple's finances. The majority of rental income was paid in cash, which Scott conceded was kept in a large home safe or in a bank safety deposit box. Plaintiff had access to neither.

         ¶4 On January 1, 2013, Scott told Plaintiff their relationship was over and he demanded she move out of their house. Plaintiff initially brought an action for divorce, alleging the parties had a common law marriage and seeking an equitable division of the marital estate. After Scott denied the existence of a marriage and denied Plaintiff was entitled to any of the real estate holdings, Plaintiff dismissed the divorce action.

         ¶5 Plaintiff filed the present action alleging she and Scott were partners in a real estate venture, and she was entitled to her share of those properties. The petition named as defendants Scott and his mother (Appellant). Appellant was named as a defendant because Plaintiff learned that title to several of the partnership properties had been transferred to Appellant. Plaintiff maintained Appellant was not involved with, nor had contributed to, the joint venture. Plaintiff subsequently amended her petition to add as defendants Scott's father, Gary S. Thompson, as well as three limited liability companies, after discovering Scott had transferred title to several other partnership properties to his father or those companies. As with the putative transfers to Appellant, Plaintiff alleged the transfers to Gary and the limited liability companies were undertaken by Scott in an effort to shield those properties from Plaintiff's claims.

         ¶6 The combined Answer of the defendants simply denied the existence of a partnership between Plaintiff and Scott. The Answer contained no affirmative defenses and no counterclaims. [1] Appellant never pled that she had any interest in the subject properties. Similarly, none of the defendants, including Appellant, asserted during the pretrial conference that Appellant had any interest in those properties. The Court bifurcated the proceedings for trial. The issue of the existence of a partnership/joint venture was tried to a jury in January 2016.

         ¶7 In addition to the facts set forth above, Plaintiff presented inter alia documentary evidence and the testimony of both an appraiser and an expert economist. The appraiser valued the couple's twenty-eight (28) properties at between two and two and one-half million dollars ($2, 000, 000.00 to $2, 500, 000.00). The appraiser noted the majority of the properties were not financed, but were purchased with cash. The appraiser also estimated the properties were capable of producing, as of January 1, 2013, between $22, 700.00 and $25, 650.00 in rental income per month. Plaintiff's economist determined her contributions to the joint venture, either in cash or as in-kind contributions, totaled $528, 000.00.

         ¶8 Scott denied the existence of any joint venture agreement with Plaintiff and claimed she was not entitled to any of the subject properties. Appellant and her now former husband, Gary, testified, albeit unconvincingly, they were Scott's partners in a real estate business. The jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Plaintiff and against the defendants.

         ¶9 On February 17, 2016, the parties appeared for a non-jury trial. At that time, Scott's attorney sought to introduce evidence regarding ownership of the 28 properties identified in the jury trial portion of the proceedings. The trial court first questioned the timeliness of the documentary evidence sought to be introduced by Scott's attorney and noted Scott's failure to comply with a previous discovery order concerning tax returns. The court then reiterated that the non-jury proceeding was for determining damages and dividing partnership property. The judge specifically noted that during the jury trial, all parties considered the 28 properties listed on Plaintiff's Exhibit 8 were the partnership assets. Because the jury had already determined Plaintiff and Scott were in a partnership with respect to those properties, the court ruled there was no need for further evidence in this regard. Appellant was represented by her own counsel, who did not object to the trial court's ...


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