FREDERICK S. "RICK" SPENCER APPELLANT
AIR EVAC EMS, INC. A/K/A AIR EVAC LIFETEAM APPELLEE
FROM THE BAXTER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 03CV-15-299]
HONORABLE GORDON WEBB, JUDGE
Frederick S. "Rick" Spencer, for appellant.
Quattlebam, Grooms & Tull PLLC, by: E.B. Chiles IV and
Sarah Keith-Bolden, for appellee.
PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge
"Rick" Spencer appeals a Baxter County Circuit
Court order dismissing his quantum meruit claim against Air
Evac EMS, Inc. a/k/a Air Evac Lifeteam (Air Evac) for lack of
jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. Because we
agree with the circuit court that Spencer has failed to state
a claim for unjust enrichment, we affirm.
facts are straightforward and arise from a workers'
compensation claim. Greg Prock and Matt Edmisten were injured
in a workplace explosion. Air Evac provided air ambulance
service for Prock and Edmisten after the accident but did not
receive compensation because the employer denied
compensability. Rick Spencer is an attorney licensed to
practice law in the State of Arkansas. In 2008, Spencer began
representing Prock and Edmisten in a workers'
compensation action against their employer. The case
proceeded all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which in
2014 found their injuries compensable. Edmisten v. Bull
Shoals Landing, 2014 Ark. 89, 432 S.W.3d 25; Prock
v. Bull Shoals Boat Landing, 2014 Ark. 93, 431 S.W.3d
858. After the supreme court decision, Air Evac received
compensation from the employer. Spencer attempted to enter
into an agreement with Air Evac for compensation for his
legal services in obtaining payments from the employer for
Air Evac's medical-care services, but Air Evac refused to
voluntarily enter into such an agreement.
October 2015, Spencer filed a quantum meruit suit in circuit
court against Air Evac to recover attorney's fees for his
professional services performed in recovering payment for Air
Evac's bills from Prock's and Edmisten's
employer. Air Evac moved to dismiss on two grounds: (1) that
the Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) had
exclusive jurisdiction over attorney's fees in
workers' compensation matters and (2) that Arkansas law
prohibits withholding attorney's fees from amounts paid
to a medical provider unless the attorney can show that the
medical provider voluntarily agreed to pay the fees, and Air
Evac had not done so.
responded to the motion to dismiss, arguing that his claim
was an equitable action in quantum meruit and therefore was
properly brought before the circuit court. As to Air
Evac's argument that he was not entitled to compensation
because no agreement had been reached, he argued that the
equitable theory of quantum meruit allowed for actions to
recover the reasonable value of services/work performed
regardless of whether there was a contract between the
parties. He argued that to allow Air Evac to benefit from his
services without proper compensation ran afoul of public
policy and served to dis-incentivize claimants' attorneys
from zealously advocating for injured workers. He also argued
that, because the parties had entered a joint petition to
settle the claim, the Commission lost jurisdiction over the
hearing on the motion to dismiss was held in which the
parties further addressed the above arguments. After hearing
the arguments of counsel, the circuit court issued a letter
opinion on July 27, 2016, outlining its decision to grant Air
Evac's motion to dismiss:
The Court grants [Air Evac's] Motion to Dismiss,
specifically on the grounds stated in [Air Evac's] brief.
On a Motion to Dismiss, the Court is to consider the facts
alleged by [Spencer] to be true and grant the Motion only if,
as a matter of law, [Spencer] has no basis to proceed. This
Court finds that [Spencer] lacks any legal basis for the
claim he asserts.
One of the fundamental principles of equity jurisdiction is
that equity applies in those areas where the statutory law
does not adequately provide a remedy. In this case, the
Worker's Compensation Law fully addresses issues of
attorney's fees in Worker's Compensation cases. While
this Court may have jurisdiction to hear a properly pled
matter in equity, this case is not properly heard in equity
as there is law that fully addresses the subject matter.
[Spencer] makes an argument that the Court hear and decide
this case based on a public policy argument that will
encourage attorneys to more diligently pursue Worker's
Compensation cases. Mr. Spencer is to be complimented for his
zealous, long-term representation of his client over eight
years in the original worker's compensation case.
However, that is what every attorney should do. Public policy
changes to established law should be left to the legislature
formal order echoing the letter opinion was filed on August
12, 2016. Spencer appeals the decision of the circuit court.
we address the specific arguments that Spencer raises on
appeal, we first address a jurisdictional issue. We note that
Spencer filed two separate notices of appeal in this matter,
and both designated the July 27, 2016 letter opinion, rather
than the August 12, 2016 order, as the order being appealed.
In the past, we have dismissed such appeals for lack of
jurisdiction. See Clark v. Ark. Dep't of Human
Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 286; Wilkinson v. Smith,
2012 Ark.App. 604. We have ruled that letter opinions do not
constitute a judgment or decree; they merely form the basis
on which the judgment or decree is subsequently to be
rendered and are not conclusive unless incorporated in a
judgment. Thomas v. McElroy, 243 Ark. 465, 420
S.W.2d 530 (1967); Moses v. Dautartas, 53 Ark.App.