CONNIE WATKINS AND RICHARD WATKINS, HUSBAND AND WIFE APPELLANTS
PARAGOULD LIGHT & WATER COMMISSION AND CITY OF PARAGOULD APPELLEES
FROM THE GREENE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 28CV-2006-335]
HONORABLE MELISSA BRISTOW RICHARDSON; HONORABLE PAMELA
HONEYCUTT; HONORABLE DAVID N. LASER; HONORABLE VICTOR L.
Richard and Connie Watkins, pro se appellants.
Michael Mosley and Scurlock Law Firm, by: James V. Scurlock
II, for appellees.
J. GLADWIN, Chief Judge
ten years ago, appellee Paragould Light & Water
Commission (PLWC) petitioned the Greene County Circuit Court
to enjoin appellants Connie and Richard Watkins from
interfering with PLWC's efforts to trim trees around its
electrical power lines. The lawsuit grew in size and complexity
when Mr. and Mrs. Watkins filed a pro se counterclaim that
asserted over twenty causes of action ranging from breach of
contract to intentional torts to civil-rights violations. The
counterclaim was ultimately dismissed by summary judgment,
and the circuit court entered an order enjoining Mr. and Mrs.
Watkins from interfering with PLWC's tree trimming.
pro se appeal, Mr. and Mrs. Watkins argue that several errors
occurred over the lengthy history of the case, which saw four
separate circuit judges presiding. We find no merit in
appellants' arguments and affirm the circuit court's
Factual Background and Procedural History
appellants do not directly challenge either the sufficiency
of the evidence to support the injunction or the propriety of
granting summary judgment on their counterclaim, we set forth
only those facts necessary for an understanding of the issues
live on a residential lot which has a number of trees along
its northern and southern borders. The trees on the southern
border are interspersed along an old fence row between
appellants' lot and an open field farther to the south. A
major PLWC electrical-distribution line runs east and west
along that fence row, and at least one power pole is located
along the row, at or near the corner of appellants' lot.
The proof below revealed that PLWC's line had been in
place since at least 1983 and that PLWC had trimmed the trees
around the line for many years.
in 1999, appellants and PLWC experienced a series of
conflicts over PLWC's tree-trimming methods. That year,
Mrs. Watkins alleged that the trees in her front yard were
trimmed improperly while she was out of town. In 2002, she
sued PLWC in small-claims court for damage to her trees but
later nonsuited the action. In 2003, Bill Fisher, the CEO and
general manager of PLWC, agreed that appellants could trim
their own trees. Despite this agreement, appellants requested
PLWC's assistance in 2004 to trim the trees in the
northern, or front, part of their property. When the crew
arrived, Mrs. Watkins objected to the personnel that PLWC had
sent to do the job. According to witnesses, she became quite
confrontational with the workers and with Bill Fisher. Near
this same time, Mr. Watkins attempted to trim a tree himself
and caused a limb to fall on a power line. Consequently, PLWC
informed appellants that they could trim their own trees if
they did so in a manner that met electric-safety codes but
that, unless they removed encroaching vegetation by May 1,
2004, PLWC crews would remove it.
April 2006, Bill Fisher sent appellants a letter reserving
PLWC's right to trim trees on the City's
rights-of-way or easements. PLWC also commissioned a survey
of appellants' property that, unlike previous surveys,
located most, if not all, of the southern fence-row trees
even farther south, off appellants' property.
this survey in hand, PLWC attempted to trim the trees near
the southern part of appellants' lot in July 2006.
However, the trimming crew was met with resistance by Mrs.
Watkins and did not accomplish the task. A few months later,
on November 9, 2006, PLWC crews arrived at appellants'
property to trim the trees on the northern part of the lot.
Mrs. Watkins got involved in the process, attempted to direct
the tree trimming, and, according to witnesses, insulted and
cursed the workers.
that winter weather was on the horizon, PLWC planned to trim
the trees along appellants' southern border on November
28, 2006. Given PLWC's history with appellants, Bill
Fisher was concerned about the possibility of a
confrontation. He therefore asked the Paragould Police
Department to provide officers for a civil standby during the
tree trimming. PLWC crews, along with two police officers,
arrived in the open field south of appellants' property
on the morning of November 28.
who had learned of the trimming, appeared at the work site
and tried to stop the trimming. Witnesses would later testify
that Mrs. Watkins rushed at the crew, yelled and cursed at
them, refused to leave the restricted work area, and slapped
a police officer's arm when the officer tried to move her
away. As a result, Mrs. Watkins was handcuffed at the scene
and taken to the police station. She was later convicted of
misdemeanor disorderly conduct in connection with the
incident. Our court affirmed the conviction in Watkins v.
State, 2010 Ark.App. 85, 377 S.W.3d 286, cert.
denied, 562 U.S. 892 (2010).
days after the above-described confrontation, PLWC filed a
petition in the circuit court alleging that it owned, or had
acquired by prescription, "right of way easements for
the erection, maintenance, repair, removal and replacement of
its electrical transmission lines . . . on, over, across and
through [appellants'] property." PLWC asked that
appellants be enjoined from interfering with the easement.
Appellants counterclaimed that PLWC had engaged in improper
tree trimming and had, among other things, engineered Mrs.
Watkins's arrest, defamed her, and interfered with her
right to complain publicly about the tree-trimming situation.
March 2009, Judge Victor Hill dismissed several of the counts
in appellants' counterclaim by summary judgment. He
ordered that the remaining counts be tried separately from
PLWC's claim for an injunction. The case was later
transferred to Judge David Laser, who conducted a bench trial
on the injunction issue over the course of six days in June
and September 2011.
the trial, Judge Laser granted PLWC's request for an
injunction in an order entered May 10, 2012. Judge Laser
ruled that PLWC had maintained the power lines over
appellants' property for more than thirty years; that
appellants had acquiesced in PLWC's line ...