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Lee v. Cooper

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

June 6, 2017

CECIL KENT LEE, JR., and CHRISTY LEE, Plaintiffs,
v.
MARTHA COOPER, Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 20 February 2017.

         Appeal by Defendant and cross-appeal by Plaintiffs from order entered 1 June 2016 by Judge David L. Hall in Guilford County Superior Court Guilford County, No. 15 CVS 8933.

          Sharpless & Stavola, by Eugene E. Lester, III, for the Plaintiffs-Appellees.

          Benson, Brown & Faucher, PLLC, by James R. Faucher, for the Defendant-Appellant.

          DILLON, Judge.

         Plaintiffs appeal from an order granting Defendant's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims. Defendant cross-appeals from the same order which also granted Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on Defendant's counterclaim. For the following reasons, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

         I. Background

         Defendant Martha Cooper ("Owner") owns legal title to a certain single-family home (the "Property") that was secured by an adjustable rate mortgage. In 2011, Owner desired to sell the Property for a little over her mortgage balance, which was then approximately $366, 000; however, the Property was in some disrepair, making it hard to sell.

         Plaintiffs Kent and Christy Lee ("Tenants") desired to purchase the Property, but their credit did not allow them to qualify for a loan in 2011.

         The parties, therefore, entered into an agreement styled "Lease and Option to Purchase Agreement" (the "Agreement") to allow Tenants to lease the Property for a term of four years (through June 2015), during which time Tenants could qualify for a loan and purchase the Property for a price equal to Owner's mortgage balance. The Agreement called for Tenants to make monthly rental payments equal to the Owner's mortgage payment, which would reduce Owner's mortgage balance. The rental payments would adjust as Owner's mortgage payment adjusted. The Agreement also called for Tenants to make an initial $31, 500 payment as an "option fee." According to Tenants' deposition testimony, this "option fee" was applied to Owner's mortgage balance in order to reduce the monthly mortgage payment, and thereby reduce Tenants' rental payment to a more manageable level.

         Tenants remained in the Property past June 2015 without exercising their option to purchase the Property. Tenants also allegedly defaulted on their rental payments.

         In October 2015, Owner obtained an order of summary ejectment, which returned possession of the Property to her. Tenants did not appeal that order.

         Shortly thereafter, Tenants commenced this action, alleging various claims including a claim to recover "equity" that they accrued in the Property during the four years they made payments pursuant to the Agreement. Owner counterclaimed for unpaid rent and for damage to the Property.

         The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. The trial court essentially dismissed all claims and counterclaims, entering summary judgment for Owner on Tenants' claims and entering summary judgment ...


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