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Douglas v. Shelby Taylor Trucking, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

March 8, 2017

MICHAEL DOUGLAS, APPELLANT
v.
SHELBY TAYLOR TRUCKING, INC., APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE GRANT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 27CV-15-64] HONORABLE CHRIS E WILLIAMS, JUDGE

          Nixon & Light, by: John B. Buzbee, for appellant.

          Friday, Eldredge & Clark, LLP, by: Bruce B. Tidwell, for appellee.

          KENNETH S. HIXSON, Judge

         Appellant Michael Douglas appeals from the Grant County Circuit Court's judgment awarding appellee Shelby Taylor Trucking, Inc. (Shelby) damages for unjust enrichment. On appeal, appellant contends that the trial court erred when it entered judgment against him for unjust enrichment. We agree and reverse.

         Douglas owned forty acres of timber land in Grant County, Arkansas. Douglas retained Derrell Taylor Forest Management (Taylor Management), a forestry-management company, to solicit bids to sell the timber on his land. Shelby submitted the highest bid of $65, 837.80 to Taylor Management. The payment was divided into two payments-one to Douglas in the amount of $59, 254.02 and the other to Taylor Management for its commission in the amount of $6, 583.78. On January 5, 2013, a timber deed, (Timber Deed), prepared by Taylor Management, was executed by Douglas and provided to Shelby. In pertinent part, the Timber Deed provided,

Unless extension of time is granted in writing by Sellers, the timber sold under this agreement shall be cut and removed from the above described land by 31 December 2014. Title to any timber sold under this agreement and remaining on the lands described above after such deadline or any extension thereof shall revert to Seller. Purchaser should follow [Best Management Practices] as prescribed by the Arkansas Forestry Commission. Wet weather logging will not be allowed.

         After over twenty months into the twenty-four-month contract, Shelby contacted Derrell Taylor (Derrell), with Taylor Management, to obtain an extension of the deed. On November 12, 2014, Derrell sent an email to Douglas that stated,

Shelby Taylor Trucking is going to need an extension to get the timber harvested on the 40 acres. It was scheduled for this year, but it has stayed wet all year long and cannot be logged without tearing the place all to pieces (if it could be done at all). Some folks just let them have the extension but it is not unusual for the owner to charge something. 10% is not uncommon . . . it's up to you . . . How would you like to proceed.

         In response, Douglas sent the following email to Derrell on November 13, 2014:

This is unexpected. I have a guy who looks after the 40 for me. I'll talk to him as soon as this coming bad weather passes. He checks the place almost every day and knows the conditions there.

         There was no evidence that Douglas's November 13, 2014 email to Derrell was ever forwarded or communicated to Shelby, nor did Douglas extend the contract. The Timber Deed expired by its own terms on December 31, 2014.

         Shelby filed a complaint against Douglas for declaratory judgment, unjust enrichment, and injunctive relief. Shelby alleged that the summers of 2013 and 2014 were unusually wet, and Shelby was unable to remove the timber under the conditions imposed by the Timber Deed. Shelby further alleged that although it sought an extension because of the wet weather, "Douglas and his agent delayed providing a response to the request for an extension until after December 31, 2014." Douglas filed an answer to the complaint, generally denying the allegations. He specifically alleged that Shelby had waived its right to harvest the timber pursuant to the explicit terms of the Timber Deed and by Shelby's failure to act in a timely and reasonable manner.

         Douglas subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment. After a hearing, the trial court denied the motion for summary judgment. In its order denying Douglas's motion, the trial court found that although no ambiguity existed in the contract, a factual question still existed as to whether Shelby had ...


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