When Gary Murphy moved into his girlfriend’s house in rural Cochise County a decade ago he was given permission to build a workshop on the property. But after the relationship soured a few years later, Murphy was kicked off the property and was forced to leave the workshop behind.
Murphy sued his former girlfriend and her new boyfriend in 2018 on multiple claims, such as unjust enrichment, conspiracy to commit conversion, breach of contract, and constructive fraud. But a superior court judge and then the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Murphy had no right to the workshop nor to compensation from the girlfriend.
Those rulings were affirmed last week when the Arizona Supreme Court denied Murphy’s petition for review, putting an end to the lawsuit.
Court records show it is undisputed that Murphy paid for and built the 20 foot by 48 foot insulated workshop, which was anchored to a concrete foundation. The workshop, which Murphy finished in 2013, was served by underground electric.
When the relationship between Murphy and Cheryl Woomer ended in April 2014, Murphy moved out of Woomer’s house and into a motor home he parked on Woomer’s property. He still had access to the workshop, but later was asked to move the motor home and his personal belongings off the property by March 2015.
At some point, Murphy and Woomer discussed options for moving the workshop, although Woomer eventually changed her mind. Murphy vacated the property in August 2015, but continued to have some access to the workshop. That access was finally denied in 2016, according to court records.
In his 2018 lawsuit, Murphy alleged Woomer and her new boyfriend, Edwin A. Groover, were intentionally interfering with his “possession over the workshop” which Murphy considered his personal property. His claim of constructive fraud alleged Woomer had induced Murphy to build the workshop which she then refused to allow him to remove from the property.
Woomer and Groover filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Murphy could not establish the required legal elements to support the claims in his lawsuit. Judge David Thorn of the Cochise County Superior Court agreed, ruling the workshop was a fixture to the real property owned by Woomer, and thus was not Murphy’s personal property.
Thorn granted summary judgment against Murphy in early 2020; the effect being dismissal of the lawsuit.
The Arizona Court of Appeals took up Murphy’s appeal of the summary judgment, and Murphy continued to argue there was no logical justification for Woomer to prevent him from either moving the workshop or being compensated by her for it.
In its November 2020 ruling, the appellate judges noted they viewed the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to Murphy as the party who opposed summary judgment.
“Summary judgment is appropriate only if no genuine issues of material fact exist and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law,” Judge Philip Espinosa wrote in the unanimous decision. Espinosa added that if there had been any issues of material fact in dispute then a motion for summary judgment should be denied and the case moved forward to trial.
According to the court of appeals, there were no facts upon which a jury could conclude a valid contract between the parties existed. And because the workshop was a fixture, it cannot be the basis of a conversion claim, Espinosa noted.
As to Murphy’s claim of unjust enrichment, he failed to make a showing of how it was unjust for Woomer to retain the workshop without compensation, Espinosa noted. Thus, Thorn did not err in granting summary judgment on Murphy’s contract claims, Espinosa wrote in the November 2020 decision.
It would then take more than one year -until Jan. 5, 2022- for the Arizona Supreme Court decide that it would not hear Murphy’s petition for review.
Murphy did, however, win a consolation prize.
Woomer and Groover had asked for a finding that Murphy’s lawsuit was “meritless” and solely for “purposes of harassment.” Although the appellate judges awarded the couple their court costs ($176 for filing fees) for prevailing in the appeal, Espinosa noted the couple’s request for attorney’s fees or sanctions against Murphy was denied.