FROM THE FAULKNER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 23CV-15-1218]
HONORABLE TROY B. BRASWELL, JUDGE
Books, Brown & Nelson, P.C., by: William K. Elias, for
Hogue; and Taylor & Taylor Law Firm, P.A., by: Andrew M.
Taylor and Tasha C. Taylor, for appellees.
R. BAKER, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE
DeSoto Gathering Company LLC and DeSoto Drilling, Inc.
(hereinafter "DeSoto"), appeal from the Faulkner
County Circuit Court's order granting the motion to
dismiss filed by appellees Angela Hill, in her official
capacity as Faulkner County Assessor; the Faulkner County
Board of Equalization, Faulkner County, Arkansas; the
Faulkner County Treasurer; and the Faulkner County Tax
Collector (hereinafter "Hill"). DeSoto owns gas
compressors, gas-gathering systems, and related equipment and
operates in Faulkner County, Arkansas. DeSoto filed petitions
for appeal from the August 24, 2015 Faulkner County Board of
Equalization tax assessment to the Faulkner County Court. On
September 22, 2015, Mr. Murray Williams, a nonlawyer and
senior tax manager with DeSoto, filed the appeals and signed
the petitions that were filed with the Faulkner County Court
on behalf of DeSoto. Each petition was on a form that was
filled in by Mr. Williams and signed on behalf of DeSoto. On
November 2, 2015, a licensed attorney on behalf of DeSoto
filed amended petitions of appeal in the Faulkner County
Court. On November 6, 2015, and November 24,
2015, the Faulkner County Court entered an order and amended
order affirming the Faulkner County Board of
December 7, 2015, DeSoto filed its appeal of the denial of
relief with the Faulkner County Circuit Court. On February 3,
2016, Hill filed a motion to dismiss asserting that the
Faulkner County Court had lacked subject-matter jurisdiction
to hear the appeal from the Board of Equalization as a result
of the appeal petitions being signed by a nonlawyer. Hill
also filed a motion in the alternative to stay the
proceedings pending this court's resolution of the
petition for review in Stephens Prod. Co. v.
Bennett, 2015 Ark.App. 617. On February 16, 2016, DeSoto
filed a response to the motion to dismiss and in the
alternative the motion to stay the proceedings. On February
23, 2016, the circuit court entered a stay of all proceedings
pending final judgment in Stephens. On July 27,
2016, the circuit court lifted the stay because on July 21,
2016, we dismissed the Stephens appeal, after the
parties filed a motion to dismiss the appeal. Following the
circuit court's lift of the stay, the parties filed
responses to the order lifting the stay. On September 9,
2016, the Faulkner County Circuit Court granted Hill's
motion to dismiss and dismissed DeSoto's appeal:
Given the ruling by the Court of Appeals in Stephens
Production Company v. Kathy Bennett, et al, CV-2015-935,
coupled with the pleadings in the case at bar, this Court
finds that this matter should be dismissed.
that order, DeSoto timely appealed. DeSoto presents the
following issue on appeal: Whether the circuit court erred in
dismissing DeSoto's appeal when DeSoto's tax manager,
a nonlawyer, initiated the appeal on behalf of Desoto.
standard of review on issues addressing the unauthorized
practice of law is a de novo standard. Nisha, LLC v.
TriBuilt Constr. Grp., LLC, 2012 Ark. 130, at 5, 388
S.W.3d 444, 447. Further, we review issues of statutory
construction de novo because it is for this court to decide
what a statute means. Cooper Realty Inv., Inc. v. Ark.
Contractors Licensing Bd., 355 Ark. 156, 134 S.W.3d 1
(2003). "The first rule in considering the meaning and
effect of a statute is to construe it just as it reads,
giving the words their ordinary and usually accepted meaning
in common language." Potter v. City of
Tontitown, 371 Ark. 200, 209, 264 S.W.3d 473, 481
(2007). While we are not bound by the circuit court's
ruling, we will accept that court's interpretation of a
statute unless it is shown that the court erred. Id.
case before us revolves around ad valorem tax assessments. We
have explained the appeal procedure as follows: "The
proper appeal process for allegations of improper ad valorem
tax assessments is set forth in Ark. Code. Ann. §§
26-27-317 to -318 (Repl.1997 & Supp. 2011). An aggrieved
property owner's first step is to contest the ad valorem
property tax assessment to the county equalization board.
See Ark. Code Ann. § 26-27-317. The board's
decision, once rendered, can be appealed to the county court.
See Ark. Code Ann. § 26-27-318. See,
e.g., Crittenden Hosp. Ass'n v. Bd. of
Equalization of Crittenden County, 330 Ark. 767, 958
S.W.2d 512 (1997)." May v. Akers-Lang, 2012
Ark. 7, at 12, 386 S.W.3d 378, 384. From county court, a
property owner may pursue relief in circuit court.
that process was followed. DeSoto challenged the county
court's findings in circuit court, and the circuit court
dismissed DeSoto's appeal. The crux of the issue before
the court is whether it is error for a circuit court to
dismiss a corporation's appeal for lack of jurisdiction
when the corporate representative, a nonlawyer, initiated the
appeal on behalf of the corporation. We answer in the
negative and hold that dismissal under the circumstances in
this case was not error for the reasons that follow.
begin our analysis with amendment 28 to the Arkansas
Constitution, which was enacted by the people on November 8,
1938, and provides that "[t]he Supreme Court shall make
rules regulating the practice of law and the professional
conduct of attorneys at law." We have consistently
interpreted this to mean that this court "has the
exclusive authority to regulate the practice of law.
Preston v. Stoops, 373 Ark. 591, 594, 285 S.W.3d
606, 609 (2008) ('Oversight and control of the practice
of law is under the exclusive authority of the
judiciary.'); see also Ark. Const. amend. 28
('The Supreme Court shall make rules regulating the
practice of law and the professional conduct of attorneys at
law.'). Likewise, the unauthorized practice of law falls
within this court's constitutional authority to control
and govern the practice of law. Preston, 373 Ark. at
594, 285 S.W.3d at 609." Nisha, 2012 Ark. 130,
at 5, 388 S.W.3d at 447. Further, in Nisha, we
explained our long-standing holdings with regard to the
unauthorized practice of law cases:
[Arkansas Bar Association v.] Union National
Bank, [224 Ark. 48');">224 Ark. 48, 273 S.W.2d 408 (1954)], the Arkansas
Bar Association sought to enjoin a bank from engaging in the
unauthorized practice of law. . . . Id. at 49, 273
S.W.2d at 409. In our opinion, this court made . . . broad
conclusions regarding the practice of law in Arkansas:
• Corporations are prohibited from practicing law in
this state and a corporate employee, officer, or director who
is not a licensed attorney cannot hold himself or herself out
as being entitled to practice law. Id. at 51, 273
S.W.2d at 410.
• An individual can practice law for himself or herself,
but a corporation can only represent itself in connection
with its own business or affairs in the courts of this state
through a licensed attorney. Id.
. . . .
• When one appears before a court of record for the
purpose of transacting business with the court in connection
with any pending litigation or when any person seeks to
invoke the processes of the court in any matter pending
before it, that person is ...