FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT
[NO. CV-2013-251] HONORABLE JAMES O. COX, JUDGE
Ledbetter, Cogbill, Arnold & Harrison, LLP, by: Ronald D.
Harrison and Victor L. Crowell, for appellant.
Cohen & Horan, PLC, by: Matthew T. Horan, for appellee.
W. GRUBER, JUDGE
the second appeal by appellant Florida Oil Investment Group,
LLC, (Florida Oil) in a lawsuit brought by appellee Goodwin
& Goodwin, Inc. (Goodwin), to foreclose a
materialmen's lien on property owned by Florida Oil. In
the first appeal, Florida Oil appealed the circuit
court's order foreclosing the materialmen's lien of
Goodwin and awarding attorney's fees to Goodwin. We
reversed the circuit court's order-holding that the lien
was invalid and, consequently, that attorney's fees were
not authorized-and remanded for proceedings consistent with
our opinion. Florida Oil Inv. Grp., LLC v. Goodwin &
Goodwin, Inc., 2015 Ark.App. 209, 463 S.W.3d 323. On
remand, Florida Oil filed a motion for attorney's fees
under Arkansas Code Annotated section 18-44-128(b)(Repl.
2015), which the circuit court denied. The sole issue on
appeal is whether the circuit court erred in denying the
motion. We hold that the circuit court did err in denying
Florida Oil's fee request, and we reverse its order.
purposes of this appeal, the basic facts are these. Goodwin,
a general contractor, performed work that included installing
utilities, roofing, plumbing, and landscaping on certain
property in Sebastian County referred to herein, and in our
previous opinion, as the Fort Chaffee site. At the time the
work was done, Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA)
owned the property. When Goodwin had completed the work and
had been paid only part of the bill, despite its demand for
complete payment, it served a notice of intent to file lien
on FCRA-and on the entity for whom it allegedly performed the
work. On February 23, 2012, Goodwin filed a lien
for the unpaid balance on the Fort Chaffee site. On May 17,
2012, Florida Oil purchased the property from FCRA, and on
March 1, 2013, Goodwin filed this lawsuit. The circuit court
entered judgment on May 13, 2014, foreclosing the lien
against the Fort Chaffee site and awarded attorney's fees
to Goodwin under Ark. Code Ann. § 18-44-128(a). We
reversed the circuit court's judgment on April 1, 2015.
we remanded the case to the circuit court, Florida Oil filed
a motion for attorney's fees and costs pursuant to Ark.
Code Ann. § 18-44-128(b) as the prevailing party in the
lawsuit. The relevant statute provides in its entirety as
(a) When any contractor, subcontractor, laborer, or material
supplier who has filed a lien, as provided for in this
chapter, gives notice thereof to the owner of property by any
method permitted under § 18-44-115(b)(5) and the claim
has not been paid within twenty (20) days from the date of
service of the notice, and if the contractor, subcontractor,
laborer, or material supplier is required to sue for the
enforcement of his or her claim, the court shall allow the
successful contractor, subcontractor, laborer, or material
supplier a reasonable attorney's fee in addition to other
relief to which he or she may be entitled.
(b) If the owner is the prevailing party in the
action, the court shall allow the owner a reasonable
attorney's fee in addition to any other relief to which
the owner may be entitled.
Ark. Code Ann. § 18-44-128 (emphasis added). The
"owner" of property under this subchapter includes
"the owner of the legal title to property." Ark.
Code Ann. § 18-44-106.
circuit court found that section 128(b) does not authorize
"every" owner who is successful in a suit brought
to enforce a materialmen's lien on its property to
recover attorney's fees. Rather, the circuit court
determined that section 128(b) refers only to those owners
who received notice of intent to file lien before it was
actually filed. Thus, according to the circuit court, since
Florida Oil was not notified of the intent to file lien
because it did not own the property at that time, Florida Oil
is not an owner that can recover attorney's fees under
section 128(b). The court found this in spite of the fact
that Florida Oil was the owner of legal title to the property
at the time the lawsuit was filed, was the only defendant
named in the lawsuit, and was the "prevailing
party" in the lawsuit. The circuit court reasoned that
an owner of property who purchases after a lien has been
filed is on notice of the lien and thus
"presumably" incorporates the risk of a lawsuit
into its purchase price for the property.
issue before this court is whether the circuit court properly
construed section 128(b). The correct application and
interpretation of an Arkansas statute is a question of law,
which this court decides de novo. Cent. Okla. Pipeline,
Inc. v. Hawk Field Servs., LLC, 2012 Ark. 157, at 9, 400
S.W.3d 701, 707. It is for this court to decide what a
statute means, and we are not bound by the circuit
court's interpretation. Id. The first rule in
considering the meaning and effect of a statute is to
construe it just as it reads, giving the words their ordinary
and usually accepted meaning in common language. Id.
Moreover, we construe lien statutes strictly, as they are in
derogation of common law. Simmons First Bank of Ark. v.
Bob Callahan Servs., Inc., 340 Ark. 692, 696, 13 S.W.3d
570, 573 (2000). Strict construction means narrow
construction and requires that nothing be taken as intended
that is not clearly expressed. Id.
court does not incorporate its view on public policy when it
interprets a statute: those decisions are for the legislature
when it enacts a statute. The myriad risks assumed by those
involved in property-acquisition negotiations are also beyond
the scope of this opinion. The sole issue before us is
whether section 128(b) authorizes Florida Oil to recover
attorney's fees in this case. We hold that it does. In no
uncertain terms, the statute provides, "If the owner is
the prevailing party in the action, the court shall allow the
owner a reasonable attorney's fee[.]" The statute
does not limit recovery to those owners who received notice
of the intent to file lien, to those who owned at the time
the lien was filed, or to those who owned the property before
the lawsuit was filed. It applies to an "owner" who
is a "prevailing party." We must construe the
statute strictly, taking nothing as intended that is not
clearly expressed. Simmons First Bank of Ark., 340
Ark. at 696, 13 S.W.3d at 573. Florida Oil is and has been
the owner of the legal title to the Fort Chaffee site since
the lawsuit was initiated. See Ark. Code Ann. §
18-44-106. There is no dispute that Florida Oil is the
prevailing party. Thus, the court "shall allow"
Florida Oil a reasonable attorney's fee under section
128(b).Given our holding that Florida Oil is
entitled to attorney's fees under Ark. Code Ann. §
18-44-128, it is unnecessary to address its argument under
Ark. Code Ann. § 16-22-308.
we reverse and remand for the circuit court to enter a