FROM THE NEVADA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 50CV-14-64]
HONORABLE RANDY WRIGHT, JUDGE.
Bequette & Billingsly, P. A., by: George J. Bequette,
Jr., for appellant.
Harrelson Law Firm, P.A., by: Steve Harrelson, for appellee.
PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge.
Prescott School District appeals a Nevada County jury award
in favor of Patricia Steed on her breach-of-contract action.
We cannot reach the merits of the District's argument at
this time because we lack a final, appealable order.
Steed was hired by the Prescott School District to teach
English during the 2013-2014 school year. At the time she was
hired, Steed did not possess an Arkansas teaching license but
was enrolled in courses to obtain her license. Steed signed an
employment contract with the District; however, the District
failed to execute it. The District asserted that because
Steed did not have the requisite certification, she had been
hired as a nonlicensed substitute, rather than pursuant to
the contract. Steed was informed by the District in April
2014 that her services were no longer required.
December 2014, Steed filed a complaint against the District
alleging three causes of action: breach of contract;
violation of the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act (ATFDA);
and reckless infliction of emotional distress (denoted by
Steed in her complaint as "outrage"). Our analysis
of finality will address how each of these causes of action
was litigated at the trial level.
February 2014 after the District filed a motion to dismiss
alleging that it was entitled to absolute immunity for tort,
Steed filed a notice of partial nonsuit of her
"outrage" claim. Steed's notice stated that the
nonsuit of that claim was being taken without prejudice.
However, the court did not enter any order of dismissal when
the notice of nonsuit was filed. Later, the court entered an
order denying the District's motion to dismiss. In it,
the court noted that Steed's "outrage" claim
should be dismissed, but it did not expressly dismiss the
parties proceeded to a jury trial on the breach-of-contract
and the ATFDA causes of action in October 2015. The parties
did not submit the ATFDA claim to the jury but did submit the
breach-of-contract claim. The jury returned a verdict in
favor of Steed on her breach-of-contract claim and awarded
her $10, 793 in damages. However, the judgment did not
resolve the two other causes of action: the ATFDA and
the parties and the court recognized there were finality
issues. In an order dated July 28, 2016, the trial court
acknowledged that Steed's ATFDA claim had not been
presented to the jury or adjudicated by the court and
reserved its ruling on certain posttrial motions until a
hearing on Steed's ATFDA claim could be held. Thereafter,
Steed filed a notice of partial nonsuit of her ATFDA claim.
the District filed its notice of appeal, Steed filed a motion
to dismiss the appeal, arguing that it was untimely because
more than thirty days had passed since the entry of the
judgment. The District responded that the order was not final
until Steed took a voluntary nonsuit of her ATFDA claim.
Steed then filed a supplemental motion to dismiss the appeal
on the basis that the record had not been lodged within
ninety days as required by the rules. The District responded
that the record had not been filed because our clerk's
office had advised that a final order had not been entered.
Finally, on December 9, 2016, the trial court entered an
order dismissing Steed's "outrage" and ATFDA
claims. The order, however, did not specify whether
Steed's claims were being dismissed with or without
Rule of Appellate Procedure-Civil 2(a)(1) provides that an
appeal may be taken only from a final judgment or decree
entered by the circuit court. Arkansas Rule of Civil
Procedure 54(b) provides that when more than one claim for
relief is presented in an action or when multiple parties are
involved, an order that adjudicates fewer than all the claims
or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties
is not a final, appealable order. Miracle Kids Success
Acad., Inc. v. Maurras, 2016 Ark.App. 445, at 2-3, 503
S.W.3d 94, 95. Rule 54(b) allows a trial court, when it finds
no just reason for delaying an appeal, to direct entry of a
final judgment as to fewer than all the claims or parties by
executing a certification of final judgment as it appears in
Rule 54(b)(1). However, absent this required certification,
any judgment, order, or other form of decision that
adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and
liabilities of fewer than all the parties shall not terminate
the action. Miracle Kids, supra. No such
certification was made in this case.
Steed took a voluntary nonsuit of two of her claims:
"outrage" and ATFDA. Her nonsuit of the
"outrage" claim was expressly "without
prejudice"; the nonsuit of the ATFDA claim was silent as
to disposition. While Steed entered notices of partial
nonsuit of these claims in February 2015 and August 2016, her
nonsuits were not effective until the court entered an order
dismissing the claims in December 2016. See Ark. R.
Civ. P. 41(a)(1) (stating that while an action may be
dismissed as a matter or right, it is effective only upon
entry of a court order dismissing the action). The December
2016 order just "dismissed" the remaining claims;
it did not dismiss them with prejudice. There is no evidence
in our record that these claims had ever been filed before or
that they would otherwise operate as an adjudication on the
a trial court's order granting a nonsuit and dismissing
claims without prejudice is not a final order or an
adjudication on the merits because the merits of the cause
are not finally determined. Beverly Enters.-Ark., Inc. v.
Hillier,341 Ark. 1, 3, 14 S.W.3d 487, 488 (2000). When
a nonsuit has been made effective, a new action may be filed
within one year of the nonsuit or within the applicable
statute of limitations, whichever is longer. Ark. Code Ann.
§ 16-56-126(a)(1) (Repl. 2005); Stodola v.
Lynch,2017 Ark. 181, at 4, 519 S.W.3d 677, 679;
Blaylock v. Shearson Lehman Bros.,330 Ark. 620,
622, 954 S.W.2d 939, 940 (1997). The recent case of
Stodola v. Lynch,2017 Ark. 181, 519 S.W.3d 677,
expounds on this general rule. In Stodola, our
supreme court held that appellees' nonsuited claims that
had not been refiled within the ...