Watch Out for the Dotted Line!
This week, the Ohio Sixth District Appellate Court in Toledo dismissed a consumer’s appeal after he claimed he was convinced to sign a consent agreement with the property owner through fraud because he had entered into a contract that barred his case. The lesson to learn from the Sixth District is to be aware of what you sign and how it can affect you into the future.
Charles Hanson was living in a house when Flex Property Management purchased it at a sheriff’s sale. Flex Property gave notice to Mr. Hanson to leave the property, and was directed to vacate by the end of February 2015. Mr. Hanson, representing himself pro se, entered into settlement agreement with Flex Property outside the courtroom. In exchange for $1000 cash, receiving a pre-approval letter from the bank, and an appraisal on the home, Mr. Hanson was permitted to stay in the house and make an offer to purchase. Mr. Hanson signed a consent judgment in April 2015 that was sent along with a drafted purchase agreement for the property.
However, when the two sides returned to the court, Flex Property filed the consent judgment and, according to Mr. Hanson, this showed that Flex Property had no intention of allowing him to purchase the property. With the consent judgment duly filed, the court informed Mr. Hanson that he would be removed from the house on May 30, 2015. Mr. Hanson appealed the court’s order.
The Sixth District court dismissed Mr. Hanson’s appeal.
The key issue identified by the Appellate Court is that a consented judgment entry or settlement agreement is a binding contract between the parties. Generally, one cannot appeal a contract. Since Mr. Hanson did not expressly reserve the right to appeal in the terms of the consent agreement, he was barred from contesting the judgment in that fashion.
Since the fraud that Mr. Hanson alleged to Flex Property occurred outside the courts, there is no evidence of it on the record. As such, Mr. Hanson could not argue the fraudulent inducement claim in a direct appeal either. Instead, the Sixth District instructed that Mr. Hanson would have to petition the court to set aside the judgment under Ohio Rule of Civil Procedure 60(B) and make that case to the trial court. This is a more difficult process than a direct appeal.
Realize that when you sign something, you are likely forming a contract with the other party. Mr. Hanson represented himself and entered into two contracts with Flex Property: the settlement agreement & the consent judgment. Without realizing it, he had given up some of his rights and limited his options for the future.
A contract does not need to be a formal document that reads “Contract” at the top, or have “Wherefores” and “Therefores” sprinkled throughout. If the essential legal elements of a contract (offer, acceptance, and consideration) are met, the court will likely deem an agreement a legally binding contract.
Before you sign anything, ensure that you understand the consequences of each term and element. If you are across from a bank or property management company, you know they have had their attorneys make sure their rights and options are well protected. The best option is to get an attorney on your side to review everything and protect your interests. Contact Doucet & Associates to help ensure that your rights are protected.
Read the decision [Capital Income & Growth Fund, L.L.C. v. Hanson, 2016-Ohio-2973]