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Asheville Lakeview Properties, LLC v. Lake View Park Commission, Inc.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

July 18, 2017

ASHEVILLE LAKEVIEW PROPERTIES, LLC PETER PINHOLSTER, JR., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
LAKE VIEW PARK COMMISSION, INC., ROBERT H. FARBREY, et al., Defendants.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 9 August 2016.

         Appeal by plaintiffs from orders entered 1 and 17 July 2015 by Judge Marvin P. Pope, Jr., in Buncombe County Superior Court, No. 15 CVS 2009

          Ward and Smith, P.A., by Grant B. Osborne and Alexander C. Dale, for plaintiff-appellants.

          Deutsch & Gottschalk, P.A., by Tikkun A.S. Gottschalk and Robert J. Deutsch, for defendant-appellees.

          BRYANT, Judge.

         Where plaintiffs' underlying claims are barred by statutes of limitations, the Declaratory Judgments Act will not allow relief, and therefore, we affirm the trial court order granting defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).

         On 28 May 2015, plaintiffs Asheville Lakeview Properties, LLC; Peter Pinholster, Jr.; Jennifer Pinholster; and John K. Mascari filed a complaint in Buncombe County Superior Court against defendants Lake View Park Commission, Inc. (the Commission); Robert H. Fabrey and Anne Robinson, as the 1996 Commissioners of the Commission (collectively, the "1996 Commissioner defendants"); and Mike Nery, Barbara Hart, Gary Ross, Kevin Saum, and Keith Pandres (all of whom are collectively referenced as the "defendants") seeking an order canceling a 1996 deed, a declaratory judgment against the levy of assessments, a declaratory judgment against compelled membership in the Commission for Lake View Park lot owners, and a declaratory judgment directing that monetary assessments be held in a constructive trust in favor of the lot owners.

         Allegations of Complaint

         The complaint describes Lake View Park as a residential subdivision surrounding a lake (Beaver Lake) in Asheville. The lots which plaintiffs now own were described in a deed filed with the Register of Deeds in the Buncombe County Registry in 1938. That deed contains express covenants obligating each property owner to pay the Park Commission[1] an assessment for preservation, improvement, and repair of the public areas-sidewalks, parkways, public streets, and driveways- and establishing that the lot owners would annually elect three commissioners to administer the public property and a treasurer to disburse funds as directed. In 1942, a deed was filed conveying Beaver Lake and certain adjacent real property (the "trust property") to the Park Commission and directed that those elected members of the Park Commission and their successors hold the deeded property "in trust to be used for park purposes for the benefit of the owners of lots in the Lake View Park Subdivision." Then, in 1983, articles of incorporation were filed with the North Carolina Secretary of State for the Commission.

[T]he Commission is formed . . . to enhance and to preserve the beauty and quality of the Lake View Park Subdivision . . . . All areas located in the geographical section of Buncombe County known as Lake View Park . . . shall be deemed the geographical area within which the Commission shall exercise its authority.

Pursuant to the articles of incorporation, the Commission was empowered to "perform all of the duties as set forth in the Lake View Park deeds" as well as "[f]ix, levy and collect property assessments." The articles further provided that " '[a]ll property owners of Lake View Park shall be members' of the [Commission]." In 1996, a deed was filed with the Buncombe County Register by the 1996 Commissioner defendants and three others [E.H. Lederer, John F. Barber, M.D., and John M. Johnston].[2] "The express purpose of the 1996 Deed was 'to transfer all real estate of the previously unincorporated Lake View Park Commission' to [the newly incorporated Commission], which 'real estate' encompasses all of the Trust Property."[3]

         Posted on the Commission's website, on 20 October 2014, was a plan to assert possession of the trust property that lies adjacent to plaintiffs' properties to construct a "south trail" to run between plaintiffs' property lots and the lake. In their action for declaratory judgment, plaintiffs alleged the Commission has no authority to levy assessments against property owners or to build and maintain a trail on the trust property, because the Commission does not hold lawful title to the property. Plaintiffs sought equitable relief in the form of invalidating the 1996 deed.

         Plaintiffs allege that neither the 1938 deed nor 1942 deed authorized the Commissioners to convey title of the deeded trust property of Lake View Park, assign the right to collect assessments from Lake View Park lot owners, or to increase the assessments to more than "ten cents per front foot of lot [(as set out in the 1938 deed)]."

         On 5 June 2015, the Commission moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) asserting statute of limitations defenses. The Commission asserted its possession of Lake View Park has been "actual, open, hostile, exclusive, and continuous" since at least 1996, if not 1983. In its 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Commission also noted "[p]laintiffs admit that [the Commission] was formed on December 15, 1983, and recite portions of [the Commission's] Articles of Incorporation showing that [the Commission] has 'exercised its authority' over Lake View Park since 1983."

         Following a hearing in Buncombe County Superior Court before the Honorable Marvin P. Pope, Jr., Judge presiding, Judge Pope entered an order on 1 July 2015 granting defendants' motion to dismiss "as to every claim for relief set forth in the complaint." Plaintiffs filed a motion for relief pursuant to Rule 60(b)(6), or alternatively, a motion for reconsideration. The motion was denied by order entered 17 July 2015.

         Plaintiffs appeal from the orders entered 1 and 17 July 2015, dismissing plaintiffs' claim and denying plaintiffs' Rule 60(b) motion and alternative motion for reconsideration.

         On appeal, plaintiffs' primary argument is that the trial court erred by granting defendants' 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. We disagree. Plaintiffs challenge the ruling that their complaint was barred by the statute of limitations and further assert the trial court erred by denying plaintiffs' motion for 60(b) relief or alternative motion for reconsideration.

         Analysis

         Plaintiffs argue that the trial court erred by granting defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the complaint.

The motion to dismiss under N.C. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. In ruling on the motion, the allegations of the complaint must be viewed as admitted, and on that basis the court must determine as a matter of law whether the allegations state a claim for which relief may be granted.

Kohn v. Firsthealth Moore Reg'l Hosp., 229 N.C.App. 19, 21, 747 S.E.2d 395, 397 (2013) (quoting Stanback v. Stanback, 297 N.C. 181, 185, 254 S.E.2d 611, 615 (1979)).

It is well-settled that a plaintiff's claim is properly dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) when one of the following three conditions is satisfied: (1) the complaint on its face reveals that no law supports the claim; (2) the complaint on its face reveals the absence of facts sufficient to make a valid claim; or (3) the complaint discloses some fact that necessarily defeats the claim.

Grich v. Mantelco, LLC, 228 N.C.App. 587, 589, 746 S.E.2d 316, 318 (2013) (citation omitted). This Court reviews a trial court's ruling on a motion for Rule 12(b)(6) de novo. Id. "Where a trial court has reached the correct result, the judgment will not be disturbed on appeal even where a different reason is assigned to the decision." Eways v. Governor's Island, 326 N.C. 552, 554, 391 S.E.2d 182, 183 (1990).

The statute of limitations may be raised as a defense by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss if it appears on the face of the complaint that such a statute bars the plaintiff's action. It is well-established that once a defendant raises the affirmative defense of the statute of limitations, the burden shifts ...

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