FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, SIXTH DIVISION [NO.
60CV-15-4152] HONORABLE TIMOTHY DAVIS FOX, JUDGE, AFFIRMED.
and Burnett, by: John L. Burnett, for appellant.
Land, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
J. GLADWIN, Judge
Pulaski County Circuit Court granted summary judgment to
appellee Director of the Arkansas Department of Human
Services (ADHS) in appellant Deanna Baker's suit for
declaratory and injunctive relief filed after she had been
fired from her job with ADHS. Baker addresses ADHS's
points raised in its cross-motion for summary judgment and
argues on appeal that (1) she did not fail to exhaust her
administrative remedies; (2) her claim is not barred by
sovereign immunity; (3) she stated a cause of action upon
which relief can be granted; (4) if the trial court's
order is not deemed a denial of her motion for summary
judgment, this court should adjudicate that motion rather
than remand the case; and (5) she is entitled to summary
judgment. We affirm because Baker failed to exhaust her
administrative remedies; accordingly, we do not address her
other arguments on appeal.
Facts and Procedural History
filed a complaint in circuit court on September 4, 2015,
claiming that ADHS relied on inapplicable law when it
terminated her employment as a family services worker (FSW)
based on her fifteen-year-old misdemeanor conviction for
domestic battery, which had been discovered by ADHS during a
criminal-background check. Alternatively, Baker claimed that
the law on which ADHS relied had been amended to include only
those convictions "during the five-year period preceding
the background check request." Baker sought certain
declarations under the law and injunctive relief in the form
of reinstatement to her job as a FSW.
October 12, 2015, ADHS filed a motion to dismiss arguing that
Baker's complaint was barred by sovereign immunity, and
Baker responded. The trial court denied ADHS's motion by
order filed January 29, 2016, finding that Baker had stated
sufficient facts alleging an ultra vires act to proceed with
her cause of action against ADHS.
filed a motion for summary judgment on July 25, 2016, along
with a brief and supporting attachments. In her motion,
Baker listed certain undisputed facts: (1) she was convicted
of domestic battery on September 17, 1998; (2) she was hired
by ADHS in September 2012; (3) she had her misdemeanor
conviction expunged on May 9, 2013; (4) in July 2013, ADHS
conducted a criminal-background check, which revealed the
1998 misdemeanor conviction; (5) ADHS terminated Baker's
employment in August 2013; (6) ADHS cited the 1998 conviction
as the reason for Baker's termination; and (7) ADHC cited
that the termination was pursuant to ADHS policy 1080.
argued in the motion's accompanying brief that ADHS
relied on the wrong statute when it terminated her
employment. She alleged that ADHS committed an ultra
vires act by terminating her employment in violation of the
applicable statute. She argued that the unlawful termination
caused her to lose her health-insurance benefits and
approximately $75, 000 in wages. Baker sought reinstatement
to her position with all the attendant seniority and benefits
as if she had not been fired.
filed a cross-motion for summary judgment alleging that (1)
Baker had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies; (2)
sovereign immunity barred Baker's claims because the
State's financial liability would be increased if the
benefits were reinstated; (3) Baker could not demonstrate
irreparable harm and thus could not prevail on her
injunctive-and declaratory-relief claims; and (4) Baker was
an at-will employee whose employment ADHS was entitled to
terminate at any time.
responded to ADHS's motion, particularly to its arguments
of failure to exhaust administrative remedies and failure to
demonstrate irreparable harm. Baker filed a supplemental
affidavit stating that she had relied on information provided
by ADHS at her termination. The affidavit states, "I
otherwise knew about the grievance process and would have
filed a grievance about my discharge if I had thought I could
have had the merits of my discharge addressed." In its
reply brief, ADHS claimed that its policy provides an express
process by which Baker may challenge the decision as to
whether her termination was grievable.
trial court granted ADHS's cross-motion for summary
judgment by order filed November 4, 2016, without specifying
which of ADHS's arguments had prevailed. On November 23,
2016, Baker filed a motion to modify the trial court's
order because it did not include the trial court's
ruling, if any, on her motion for summary judgment, and Baker
asked the trial court to specifically deny her motion for
summary judgment. ADHS responded on December 12, 2016,
arguing that Baker had failed to demonstrate that the order
contained an error or mistake, citing Arkansas Rule of Civil
Procedure 60(a) (2016). The trial court did not rule on
Baker's motion, and Baker filed a timely notice of