Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Desoto Gathering Company LLC v. Hill

Supreme Court of Arkansas

November 30, 2017



          Elias, Books, Brown & Nelson, P.C., by: William K. Elias, for appellants.

          David Hogue; and Taylor & Taylor Law Firm, P.A., by: Andrew M. Taylor and Tasha C. Taylor, for appellees.


         Appellants, 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").[1] 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.[2] On November 6, 2015, and November 24, 2015, the Faulkner County Court entered an order and amended order affirming the Faulkner County Board of Equalization's decision.

         On 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.

         From 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.

         Our 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.

         The 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.

         Here, 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.

         We 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:

         In [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 ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.