The court of appeals found that the main issue raised as to the summary judgment was the reformation of the legal description. The Court then stated the relevant law:
Reformation of an instrument [such as a deed] is an equitable remedy whereby a court modifies the instrument which, due to a mutual mistake on the part of the original parties to the instrument, does not evince the actual intention of those parties. A person seeking reformation of a written instrument must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the mistake was mutual.
This seems like a favorable recitation of the law for the homeowner. It is a fairly high burden of proof placed on the lender that it must overcome to have the mortgage reformed; it must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the mistake was mutual.
So what was the mistake that the homeowner had an issue with? Here is the Court's explanation:
In the case sub judice, the description attached to the mortgage failed to include the term "aluminum" in identifying the type of identification cap used on the survey marker. The legal description attached to the mortgage at issue currently reads, in pertinent part: "The iron pins set are 19 mm (3/4 inch) diameter rebars; 762 mm (30 inches) in length topped with a 38 mm (1-1/2 inch) diameter identification cap marked 'ODOT R/W, George A. Hofmann, P.S. 7652'".
It is undisputed that the portion of the legal description should read, in pertinent part: "The iron pins set are 19 mm (3/4 inch) diameter rebars; 762 mm (30 inches) in length topped with a 38 mm (1-1/2 inch) diameter aluminum identification cap marked 'ODOT R/W, George A. Hofmann, P.S. 7652'".
The Court found that it was irrelevant whether the mistake was mutual, because the missing word is not material to the legal description. A mortgage is valid when "in substance" it follows the statutory form: a description of the land or interest in land and encumbrances, reservations, and exceptions, if any. "In other words, Ohio mortgage law does not set forth a precise legal description that must be included on a mortgage. A description of legal property is sufficient if it is such as to indicate the land intended to be conveyed, so as to enable a person to locate it."
In this case, the homeowner was unable to show that they were prejudiced by the reformation of the legal description. Therefore, even if the trial court erred by finding "mutual mistake" and granting the reformation claim, it was harmless error. Regardless of the type of metal used on the cap, there was no dispute over the existence or location of the cap. And there was no demonstration that the mortgage was intended to apply to any property other than that which was the subject of the lender's foreclosure action.
Of course, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court's order granting summary judgment.
This seems to be very close to a frivolous action. I find it hard to believe that the attorney for the homeowner had any good-faith belief that the law supported his arguments for the appeal. Perhaps he was taking a flier to try to delay the eviction of his client. Perhaps, there was good reason to do so. Perhaps, there is a greater moral good served here than the record reflects. I'd like to give this attorney the benefit of the doubt.
Motivations aside, I don't think any of us here would object to the sufficiency of the legal description because it did not identify the cap as being made of "aluminum." Now you can "not object" with the certainty and peace of mind that a court agrees with you.
Nimble Corp. v. Wilson, 2013-Ohio-3112 (5th Dist. 2013).