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Helton v. Joseph D. Calhoun, Ltd.

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

September 6, 2017

BILL HELTON APPELLANT
v.
JOSEPH D. CALHOUN, LTD. D/B/A CALHOUN LAW FIRM APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE FAULKNER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 23CV-15-2] HONORABLE MIKE MURPHY, JUDGE AFFIRMED

          Sutter & Gillham, P.L.L.C., by: Luther Oneal Sutter and Luther Sutter, for appellant.

          Calhoun Law Firm, by: Joe D. Calhoun, for appellee.

          OPINION

          RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, Judge

         Bill Helton appeals the Faulkner County Circuit Court order denying his motion to dismiss and to set aside a judgment confirming an arbitration award in favor of Joseph D. Calhoun, LTD (Calhoun). On appeal, Helton argues that the circuit court erred in confirming the award because (1) he did not receive a proper summons of the petition; (2) the Arkansas Arbitration Act (AAA) is unconstitutional; (3) he did not enter into a valid agreement to arbitrate; and (4) Faulkner County was an improper venue for the petition. We affirm.

         Helton retained Calhoun to represent him in an infringement lawsuit. Their fee agreement provided that

[a]ny fee dispute or other controversy arising out of or relating to this engagement must be resolved by the first-initiated binding arbitration (by ADR, Inc., and its rules) or court proceeding administered in Little Rock; and judgment upon any arbitration award may be enforced in any court having jurisdiction.

         After the infringement lawsuit had concluded, Helton refused to pay Calhoun, and Calhoun filed an arbitration complaint with ADR, Inc., in Little Rock, alleging that Helton owed him more than $30, 000 in attorney's fees.[1] On November 13, 2013, the arbitrator served Helton with Calhoun's arbitration complaint and provided notice that a response must be submitted by December 16, 2013.

         On December 13, 2013, Helton submitted a response by fax. In the response, Helton disagreed with the fee amount he owed to Calhoun. On March 17, 2014, the arbitrator mailed Helton a letter notifying him of an April 1, 2014 hearing. On March 31, 2014, Calhoun initiated a conference call with Helton and the arbitrator. In the call, Helton denied receiving notice of the April hearing date and informed the arbitrator that he did not intend to attend the hearing. The arbitration hearing occurred on April 1, 2014. On October 3, 2014, the arbitrator entered a judgment awarding Calhoun $43, 278.82 in attorney's fees with interest, as well as costs and expenses to be incurred in collecting the judgment. The arbitrator sent Helton a copy of the judgment the same day.

         On January 5, 2015, Calhoun filed a petition for registration of a foreign judgment in the Faulkner County Circuit Court. Calhoun informed the court of the arbitration award and asked the court to register the judgment. On that same day, the Faulkner County Circuit Clerk sent Helton notice of the petition by certified mail along with a copy of the arbitration award. In the January 5, 2015 letter, the clerk incorrectly referenced the arbitration judgment as a judgment from the Pulaski County Circuit Court. Therefore, on January 8, 2015, the clerk sent Helton by certified mail a corrected letter stating that an arbitration award from ADR, Inc., in Pulaski County had been filed in the Faulkner County Circuit Court. The court set a hearing date for March 3, 2015. On February 3, 2015, Calhoun sent notice of the hearing date to Helton by regular mail.

         Helton did not appear at the March 3 hearing, and the court orally noted that Helton had been notified of the proceedings by both regular mail and certified mail. On the same day as the hearing, the circuit court entered an order confirming the arbitration award. On March 9, 2015, Calhoun served Helton with the confirmation order by certified mail.

         On July 27, 2015, Helton filed a motion to dismiss and to set aside the arbitration judgment. In the motion, he argued that the court should set aside its confirmation of the judgment because (1) he did not receive a proper summons along with the petition; (2) the AAA is unconstitutional; (3) he did not enter into a valid agreement to arbitrate; and (4) Faulkner County was an improper venue for the petition. Following a hearing, on March 28, 2016, the court entered an order denying Helton's motion to dismiss and ordering him to provide Calhoun with a verified schedule of all his real and personal property. Helton timely appealed the order to this court.

         On appeal, Helton first argues that the circuit court erred in confirming the award because he did not receive a summons along with Calhoun's petition. He claims that section 205 of the AAA applies to the petition and that section 205(b) requires a summons pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 4. We need not decide whether section 205 applies to the instant petition because section 205 does not require a summons. Section 205 provides that "notice of an initial motion to the court under this subchapter must be served in the manner provided by law for the service of a summons in a civil action." Ark. Code Ann. § 16-108-205(b)(Repl. 2016)(emphasis added).[2]

         Helton claims that if the AAA does not require a summons, the AAA violates his procedural due-process rights. He cites caselaw that holds that strict compliance with the Rule 4 requirements for a summons is necessary to satisfy due-process requirements. See, e.g., Thompson v. Potlatch Corp., 326 Ark. 244, 930 S.W.2d 355 (1996). However, Helton has failed to cite any authority that a Rule 4 summons applies to a petition for confirmation of an arbitration award, and his constitutional argument is undeveloped. We will not reverse when a point on appeal is unsupported by convincing arguments or sufficient citation to legal authority. Ressler v. State, 2017 Ark.App. 208, 518 S.W.3d 690. We further note that this court has stated that "[a]rbitration . . . is a form of alternative dispute resolution outside of conventional litigation." Keahey v. Plumlee, 94 Ark.App. 121, 226 S.W.3d 31 (2006) (holding that Ark. Code Ann. § 17-42-107(b)(Supp. 2005), which states that no executive or associate broker may sue for commission unless the action is against the principal broker, did not prevent appellant from filing a petition to confirm an arbitration award against a nonprincipal broker) (citing Edward Dauer, Manual of Dispute Resolution § 5.02 (1994)). "[T]he confirmation of an arbitration award is a continuation of the arbitration process rather than a lawsuit in the ordinarily understood sense." Id. The confirmation of an arbitration award cannot be likened to filing suit, and it has been described as a mere summary proceeding whereby the court converts an arbitration award into a final judgment. ...


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