It all began when a Virginia man (Umesh) and a Cincinnati-area woman (Kalarani) met on “a dating site.” Neither the opinion nor the Plaintiff’s Complaint specify which one. They met in August of 2014 and broke up around the end of November of 2014 – a grand total of about three months of dating. They only saw each other in person twice. Still, the woman was able to convince the man to send her a bunch of money. A total of $43,500, to be exact. First, she told him she needed money for an attorney and to avoid being held in contempt in a post-Decree Domestic Relations (divorce) case. You would think this would be a red flag. From what I can tell, it appears she may have been looting a “custodial account” set up for her and her ex-husband’s daughter. She supposedly had to replenish that account so the DR Court wouldn’t come down hard on her.But she didn’t stop there. She told the man she needed a $15,000 loan for a down payment on a condo she wanted to buy. He gave her the money, but she never bought the condo. She also got him to pay $5,000 in order to retain a family law attorney and $1,000 directly to the DR Court to cover GAL fees. He claimed it was all a loan, the whole $43,500, whereas she claimed everything other than the $15,000 was a gift. This was dubious, in part because the man produced an email at trial from the woman to the family law attorney (who knows how he got it or why it was not excluded as privileged) stating that she had borrowed the $5,000 from a friend. It appears the man and woman intended to get married, and the Trial Court characterized some of the money as being a gift in anticipation of marriage, but the Court of Appeals did not go into detail about that.
Apparently the parties were unable to settle. The case was tried to a Judge, who found the woman and her mother liable for fraud, conversion, and unjust enrichment. The Court also found the woman liable for breach of contract for failing to repay the $43,500 in loans to the man. In the alternative, the court found that even if the $43,500 at issue had been a gift, it had been a gift given in contemplation of a marriage that never occurred. The Court awarded the man $43,500 in compensatory damages and $70,000 in punitive damages. Based on the fact that it had awarded punitive damages, the Court also awarded the man $43,341.45 in attorney fees – a true “home run” for the man, to be sure. He and his attorney must have been celebrating. But then the woman and her mother appealed.
not sufficiently clear, payment becomes due upon demand.” The woman had argued that even if there was a contract there was no breach since there was no deadline for repayment, but since the man had demanded repayment of the money it became due immediately and she was in breach at that point. So the man still gets his $43,500.
that there was insufficient evidence to prove fraud against either one of them. They
a fact, (b) which is material to the transaction at hand, (c) made
falsely, with knowledge of its falsity, or with such utter disregard and
recklessness as to whether it is true or false that knowledge may be
inferred, (d) with the intent of misleading another into relying on it,
(e) justifiable reliance upon the representation or concealment, and
(f) a resulting injury proximately caused by the reliance.
Wiley v. Good Samaritan Hosp., 1st Dist. Hamilton Nos. C-030131 and C-030181,
2004-Ohio-763, ¶ 9, quoting Burr v. Stark Cty. Bd. of Commrs., 23 Ohio St.3d 69,
491 N.E. 2d 1101 (1986), paragraph two of the syllabus.
situation and had also misrepresented why she needed the money. The trial court determined that Kodu relied on these representations to his detriment by agreeing to loan her money. The trial court’s judgment fails for two main reasons. First, Kalarani did not misrepresent her income. The bank records admitted at trial showed that Kalarani’s pay was what she had told Kudo it was—approximately $75,000 a year. While the trial court found that Kalarani had had money available to her in her parents’ account, there is nothing in the record to support a finding that Kalarani had permission to use her parents’ money as she saw fit. Kalarani testified that she did not, and neither of her parents were called as witnesses. Second, Kodu admits on appeal that Kalarani was “undoubtedly * * * truthful when she told Kodu she needed the money for replenishing the custodial accounts, to retain an attorney, and to purchase a condo.” The fact that Kalarani may not have ultimately used some of the money that Kodu had loaned her as intended was irrelevant, because Kodu’s “resulting injury” occurred when Kalarani refused to repay him, and not because Kalarani did not use some of the money as she had allegedly said that she would. Because Kodu could not prove a materially false representation leading to his injury, Kodu failed to prove the elements of fraud as to Kalarani.
Eastley, 123 Ohio St.3d 328, 2012-Ohio-2179, 972 N.E.2d 517, at ¶ 11. We sustain the
second assignment of error.
that there was insufficient evidence presented to the trial court to prove conversion.
They are correct.
exclusion of the rights of the owner, or withholding it from his possession under a
claim inconsistent with his rights. Joyce v. Gen. Motors Corp., 49 Ohio St.3d 93, 96,
551 N.E.2d 172 (1990). “It is fundamental that a plaintiff in a conversion action must
show title or rightful ownership of the chattel, including money, at the time of the
alleged conversion.” Levens Corp. v. Aberth, 9th Dist. No. 15661, 1993 Ohio App.
LEXIS 727, *7, (Feb. 10, 1993). In keeping with this requirement, a claim for
conversion of money will lie only when the money at issue is earmarked or is capable
of identification, such as money in a specific bag or certain coins or notes that have
been entrusted to a defendant’s care. Smith v. Boston Mut. Life Ins. Co, 1st Dist.
Hamilton No. C-120668, 2013-Ohio-2510, ¶ 11. Further, the plaintiff must prove that
there was an obligation to keep intact and deliver the specific, earmarked money
rather than merely deliver a certain sum. Id.
therefore erred in holding Kalarani and Jhansirani liable for conversion, as its
judgment was not supported by sufficient evidence. See Eastley, 123 Ohio St.3d 328,
2012-Ohio-2179, 972 N.E.2d 517, at ¶ 11. The third assignment of error is sustained.
Jhansirani contend that the trial court erred in imposing punitive damages and
attorney fees. We address these assignments of error, together.
or malice. Columbus Fin., Inc. v. Howard, 42 Ohio St.2d 178, 183, 327 N.E.2d 654
(1975). “If punitive damages are proper, the aggrieved party may also recover
reasonable attorney fees.” Id; see Fulwiler v. Schneider, 104 Ohio App.3d 398, 411,
662 N.E.2d 82 (1st Dist.1995). Here, the trial court awarded punitive damages on
the basis that Kalarani and Jhansirani were liable for fraud and conversion and
found an award of attorney fees to be proper based on its award of punitive damages.
We have determined that the trial court improperly held Kalarani and Jhansirani
liable for fraud and conversion. The trial court’s award of punitive damages was therefore improper, as was its award of attorney fees. We sustain Kalarani and
Jhansirani’s sixth and seventh assignments of error.
Builders, Inc. (Feb. 23, 1993), Franklin
App. No. 92AP–1445, unreported (citations omitted). It would be interesting to know if, under Virginia law and civil procedure rules, the man could have sued in Virginia and if it would have been more favorable to him to do so.Additional side note: the Court of Appeals also threw out the “unjust enrichment” verdict because a claim for unjust enrichment generally will not lie where there is a valid claim for breach of contract.