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Roberts v. Wortz

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

May 31, 2017

PHILIP ROBERTS APPELLANT
v.
ED DELL WORTZ APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT [NO. 66CV-2013-101] HONORABLE STEPHEN TABOR, JUDGE

          Chaney Law Firm, P.A., by: Don P. Chaney, for appellant.

          Huckabay Law Firm, PLC, by: D. Michael Huckabay, Jr., and Kathryn B. Knisley, for appellee.

          RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, Judge

         Philip Roberts appeals the Sebastian County Circuit Court's dismissal of his complaint with prejudice. On appeal, Roberts argues that the circuit court abused its discretion in dismissing his complaint for failing to supplement his discovery responses. We disagree and affirm.

         This case has an extensive procedural history that involves two criminal prosecutions against Roberts in the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas. We begin by discussing the first criminal case. Specifically, on June 29, 2000, a federal jury convicted Roberts of two counts of willfully failing to file income tax returns for the 1993 and 1994 tax years in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7203. The district court sentenced Roberts to sixteen months' imprisonment and a one-year term of supervised release. Roberts was released from prison on December 19, 2001.

         On November 28, 2006, Roberts's car collided with Ed Dell Wortz's vehicle. On January 24, 2013, Roberts filed a complaint in the Sebastian County Circuit Court against Wortz for negligence arising out of the car accident.[1] Among other damages, Roberts asked for loss of future income and loss of earning capacity. The court set a discovery deadline for October 19, 2014, and a trial date for December 8, 2014.

         On February 13, 2014, Roberts responded to Wortz's written discovery request that Roberts "list all lawsuits, civil, and criminal, in which [he had] ever been involved as a party." Roberts responded that he had been a party in a divorce proceeding and "a criminal lawsuit with the [Internal Revenue Service (IRS)] in 2000 in the Western District of Arkansas."

         After Roberts had served Wortz with the response, on June 25, 2014, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas filed a criminal indictment against Roberts for interfering with the administration of the IRS by impeding or obstructing the duties of an IRS agent in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7212(a). Roberts did not supplement his discovery response with the new indictment.

         On October 24, 2014, Roberts filed a motion in limine in his civil lawsuit against Wortz requesting the court to exclude evidence of his 2000 tax conviction. He argued that the conviction is inadmissible under Arkansas Rule of Evidence 609 because ten years had elapsed since the conviction. He further asserted that the conviction would result in embarrassment, annoyance, and unfair prejudice to him. Also on October 24, 2014, Roberts filed a motion in limine asking the court to exclude from evidence his IRS file, which showed his outstanding tax lien. He asserted that the file was irrelevant to his negligence claim and could reveal inadmissible and prejudicial evidence regarding his 2000 tax conviction. Roberts did not reference his 2014 criminal indictment in either motion.

         On November 21, 2014, Wortz filed a motion to dismiss Roberts's complaint. She informed the court that she had independently learned that Roberts had an interest in Spinal Health & Wellness Research Center, LLC, and that Roberts had failed to disclose his interest in response to her discovery request for disclosures of any entities in which he has or had an interest. On December 4, 2014, the court issued a letter denying Wortz's motion to dismiss. The court stated:

It appears to me there was in fact a discovery violation, however inadvertent it might have been. It also appears on the surface to be one that would likely have no impact on the issues to be tried. On the other hand this is according to each of you a multi-million dollar case that has been in litigation for years. I understand [Wortz's counsel]'s desire to investigate the matter fully and to not be forced into a situation where he is forced to take [Roberts]'s word on the matter without further inquiry on his part. Because the violation does not appear to have resulted from a sinister plan on behalf of [Roberts] or his witness, I will not dismiss the complaint nor will I prohibit evidence from being presented to support [Roberts]'s economic damage claim as requested in the motion.

         On December 5, 2014, the court entered an order resetting the jury trial from December 8, 2014, to July 13, 2015.

         On June 1, 2015, the circuit court entered an order denying Roberts's motion in limine to exclude his tax records. The court found that Roberts's tax records were relevant to his claim for loss of income. The court granted ...


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