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Butler v. Finley

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

February 4, 2015

LOUIS BUTLER, APPELLANT
v.
LOVER FINLEY, APPELLEE

Page 767

APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIFTH DIVISION. NO. 60CV-08-13331. HONORABLE WENDELL GRIFFEN, JUDGE.

Michael F. Jones, for appellant.

The Henry Firm, P.A., by: Matthew Henry, for appellee.

ROBERT J. GLADWIN, Chief Judge. VIRDEN and HIXSON, JJ., agree.

OPINION

Page 768

ROBERT J. GLADWIN, Chief Judge

Appellant Louis Butler appeals the February 21, 2014 order of the Pulaski County Circuit Court awarding appellee Lover Finley $35,286.39 in actual damages and $100,000 in punitive damages. He argues that there was insufficient evidence that he committed the tort of conversion. We affirm.

Dearel and Phyllis Wilbert, husband and wife, owned a home at 4127 Arapaho Trail Road, Little Rock, Arkansas, a rental property for them, upon which they had a mortgage. The Wilberts filed for bankruptcy and were contacted by appellant regarding the purchase of the property. Appellant found a buyer for the home, and the Wilberts quitclaimed the property to Vicki Haynes. Haynes then quitclaimed her interest in the property to appellee, and appellee and her husband, Lurone Coakley, began making payments to Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, which held the mortgage on the property. The Wilberts never notified Wells Fargo that they were no longer making the mortgage payments.

Appellee purchased an insurance policy from Farmers Insurance Company on the house when she and her husband moved into it. The policy was for approximately $160,000. Subsequently, the house burned, and Farmers sent appellee a check for $81,680.30 made payable to her and Wells Fargo. Appellee endorsed the check and sent it to Wells Fargo, which paid off the mortgage balance and returned the difference, $35,286.39, to the Wilberts, whose names were listed as payees on the check.

Appellee attempted to determine from Wells Fargo why her name was not on the check and contacted appellant, who arranged for appellee to meet with the Wilberts. The parties met at a restaurant, and the Wilberts refused to endorse the check in favor of appellee.

Sometime after the first check had been sent, Wells Fargo sent a second check, also made payable to the Wilberts, directly to appellant's office. Appellant telephoned Mrs. Wilbert and asked her to sign the check; she again refused and hung up on him. The Wilberts never endorsed any check and never authorized anyone to endorse the check. Appellant's sister then endorsed the check and deposited the check into appellant's personal bank account.

Appellee and her husband filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo, the Wilberts, the City of Little Rock, and appellant. All defendants except appellant were dismissed from the case. Those dismissals are not appealed. A jury found appellant liable to appellee for conversion and awarded $35,286.39 actual damages and $100,000 punitive damages, which was reflected in the February 21, 2014 order. Appellant filed a motion for a new trial on March 6, 2014, which was deemed denied because the circuit court took no action on it. He then filed a notice of appeal on May 2, 2014.

On appeal of a denial of a motion for directed verdict, it is not an appellate court's place to try issues of fact; the appellate court simply reviews the record for substantial evidence to support the jury's verdict. Ark. Realtors Ass'n v. Real Forms, LLC, 2014 Ark. 385, 442 S.W.3d 845. The Arkansas Supreme Court has held that " [a] motion for directed verdict should be granted only when the ...


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