COA: Oral agreement between former couple unenforceable by Statute of Frauds

A man who gave his ex-wife nearly $230,000 was unsuccessful in convincing the Court of Appeals of Indiana that they had previously agreed to use the money for a specific purpose and that their oral agreement wasn’t unenforceable under the Statute of Frauds.

Not long after going their separate ways in 2012 following a rekindled relationship, divorced couple Michael Akin and Katherine Simons got into a legal battle over a chunk of money Akin gave Simons.

Specifically, Akin transferred $229,227.05 to Simons, which she used to purchase a home. But Akin claimed that under an oral agreement, they agreed that $130,000 of the money was a loan and the remaining $100,000 value in the home would be held in trust for the benefit of the parties’ granddaughter.

However, Simons claimed that the money was a gift to her.

In 2014, Akin sued and Simons filed a motion for partial summary judgment, arguing the alleged agreement was unenforceable under the Statute of Frauds.

The Hamilton Superior Court granted Simons’ motion, finding Akin had not designated any evidence showing he relied on anything Simons said, other than wanting the benefit of a purported oral loan agreement.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, first concluding 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,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the COA.

It concluded that Akin’s action against Simons was one involving a “contract for the sale of land” as contemplated by the Statute of Frauds. It was thus undisputed, the COA determined, that Akin provided the money for Simons to purchase a home and that any agreement between them was not in writing.

“As such, the Statute of Frauds applies to the agreement, and the agreement cannot be enforced, if it involved ‘any contract which seeks to convey an interest in land[.]’ And there is no requirement that Akin himself have obtained an interest in the land for the Statute of Frauds to apply,” it wrote.

Turning to Akin’s filed Lis Pendens Notice, the COA concluded that the notice established a direct nexus between Akin’s action against Simon to enforce an alleged oral agreement and “an action involving any contract for the sale of the land,” which implicates the Statute of Frauds.

It also emphasized that the notice was part of the evidentiary footprint before the trial court for purposes of summary judgment and that the trial court properly ordered Akin to release the notice.

“On remand, Simons’s counterclaim for slander of title based on the notice remains to be determined,” the COA wrote.

“We also hold that Akin has failed to show that the alleged oral agreement to create a trust, even if it were proven, would be enforceable as a matter of law. And we hold that Akin has waived his claims that the part performance and unjust enrichment exceptions apply and that he has failed to demonstrate that the promissory estoppel exception applies,” it concluded.

The case is Michael Akin v. Katherine Simons, 21A-PL-620.

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