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Farm Credit Midsouth, PCA v. Bollinger

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

April 4, 2018

FARM CREDIT MIDSOUTH, PCA APPELLANT/CROSS-APPELLEE
v.
FRED BOLLINGER, JR.; BOLLINGER LONE OAK, INC.; AND BOLLINGER PARTNERS, INC. APPELLEES/CROSS-APPELLANTS

          APPEAL FROM THE CRITTENDEN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 18CV-09-414] HONORABLE PAMELA HONEYCUTT, JUDGE.

          Waddell, Cole & Jones, PLLC, by; Ralph W. Waddell, Kevin W. Cole, and Justin E. Parkey, for appellant/cross-appellee.

          Rogers, Coe & Sumpter, by: Joe M. Rogers, for appellees/cross-appellants.

          BART F. VIRDEN, JUDGE.

         Farm Credit Midsouth, PCA, appeals from a Crittenden County jury's verdict in favor of appellees Fred Bollinger Jr., individually, and his related farming entities Bollinger Lone Oak, Inc., and Bollinger Partners, Inc. (collectively, the Bollingers). The Bollingers cross-appeal from the circuit court's decisions granting summary judgment or directed verdicts in favor of Farm Credit on certain of the Bollingers' claims. We affirm in part and reverse in part on direct appeal; we affirm on cross-appeal.

         I. Background

         Beginning in 2003, Farm Credit made a series of operating and equipment loans to the Bollingers' farming operations. The loans were secured by various security agreements and mortgages granting Farm Credit liens in the Bollingers' crops, government payments, crop insurance, equipment, and real estate. The Bollingers had a disastrous 2007 crop season when a late-April freeze damaged their wheat crop. Later, a severe drought reduced their soybean yield. Because of these weather impacts, the Bollingers, who had booked their crops with Riceland Foods, were unable to produce enough grain to fulfill their contracts with Riceland. This caused a default on the Farm Credit loans.

         After the Bollingers defaulted, Farm Credit filed a foreclosure and replevin action in 2009 for judgment on the notes and foreclosure of the collateral.[1]

         The Bollingers answered, raising affirmative defenses. They also filed a counterclaim, asserting three basic claims: (1) that Farm Credit improperly required the Bollingers to book their crops as a condition of receiving loans; (2) that Farm Credit disclaimed any interest in the proceeds of the Bollingers' 2008 soybean crop only later to renege on its disclaimer and wrongfully assert a lien on those proceeds; and (3) that Farm Credit mishandled the Bollingers' crop-insurance applications and claims.[2] The Bollingers also sought punitive damages and a jury trial on all issues triable by jury.

         The circuit court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Farm Credit on the Bollingers' claim for punitive damages. Farm Credit also moved for summary judgment on its complaint, which the circuit court granted as to liability but withheld entry of a final summary judgement until after trial of the Bollingers' counterclaim when the value of all of the claims could be determined.

         The case was submitted to a jury over several days. The circuit court directed verdicts in favor of Farm Credit on certain claims. The jury found in favor of the Bollingers on all three of their claims, based on multiple theories on each claim. In entering judgment on the jury's verdict, the court found that the Bollingers were entitled to only one recovery on each of their claims. Thus, Fred Bollinger, Jr., was awarded a total of $564, 564.35; Bollinger Lone Oak, Inc., a total of $534, 314.42; and Bollinger Partners, Inc., a total of $389, 108.15

         Farm Credit filed a timely motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or, alternatively, for new trial, which was denied after a hearing. The Bollingers also filed a posttrial motion seeking prejudgment interest on their claims for Farm Credit's asserting a lien on their 2008 soybean crop. At the conclusion of a telephone hearing, the court granted the motion and awarded the Bollingers a total of $173, 867.45. This appeal and cross-appeal timely followed.

         II. Finality

         Before addressing the merits of the appeal and cross-appeal, we must first address an issue of finality. The issue is that there was no express resolution of Farm Credit's complaint for foreclosure.

         As mentioned above, the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Farm Credit on its foreclosure complaint. However, the court withheld entry of a judgment in favor of Farm Credit until after trial of the Bollingers' counterclaim. The court said that it intended to issue a judgment once the amounts of the various claims were determined. Between the entry of the summary-judgment order as to liability and trial, however, Fred Bollinger, Jr., and Fred Bollinger, Sr., sold their interests in Bollinger Brothers, Inc., and paid off the principal and interest owing on loans made to Bollinger Lone Oak, Inc., and Bollinger Partners, Inc., secured by mortgages on land owned by Bollinger Brothers, Inc. Farm Credit subsequently released the mortgages securing the loans. Obviously, by having the loans paid and the mortgages released, there was no further need for action on Farm Credit's complaint. Both parties acknowledge that no order was ever entered finally adjudicating Farm Credit's complaint.

         Generally, this lack of an order disposing of Farm Credit's complaint would render the judgment entered on the Bollingers' counterclaim nonfinal. See Bevans v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Tr. Co., 373 Ark. 105, 281 S.W.3d 740 (2008). However, Farm Credit's notice of appeal contains a statement that it abandoned all pending but unresolved claims. This abandonment operates as a dismissal with prejudice effective on the date that the otherwise final judgment appealed from was entered. Ark. R. App. P.-Civ. 3(e)(vi). We hold that the statement in the notice of appeal was sufficient to render the judgment entered on the jury's verdict final and appealable even though there was no express final adjudication of Farm Credit's complaint. Ark. R. App. P.-Civ. 3; Bradshaw v. Fort Smith Sch. Dist., 2017 Ark.App. 196, at 4, 519 S.W.3d 344, 347.

         III. Arguments on Appeal

         We depart from our usual practice of addressing the points of error in the order raised by the parties and address the points topically, including arguments on both direct appeal and cross-appeal. This is done in an attempt to make it easier on the reader of this opinion.

         On appeal, Farm Credit argues that (1) it is entitled to a new trial because the Bollingers received a double recovery; (2) there is no substantial evidence to support the jury's verdict on tortious interference; (3) there is no substantial evidence to support the jury's verdict on deceit as to the 2008 soybean crop; (4) there is no substantial evidence to support the verdict for promissory estoppel; (5) there is no substantial evidence to support the claims for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty arising out of the 2008 soybean crop; (6) there is no substantial evidence to support the jury's verdict of promissory estoppel on crop insurance; (7) it is entitled to a new trial because the circuit court erred by allowing the jury to decide the Bollingers' counterclaim; and (8) the court erred in granting prejudgment interest.

         On cross appeal, the Bollingers argue that the circuit court erred in granting Farm Credit directed verdicts on their claims for (1) negligence in the booking claim; (2) breach of fiduciary duty in the booking claim; (3) reduced yields; (4) and unplanted crops; and in granting Farm Credit summary judgment on their booking-penalties claim.

         IV. Standard of Review

         Both parties challenge the circuit court's rulings on motions for directed verdicts. A circuit court evaluates a motion for directed verdict by deciding whether the evidence is sufficient for the case to be submitted to the jury; that is, whether the case constitutes a prima facie case for relief. Gamble v. Wagner, 2014 Ark.App. 442, 440 S.W.3d 352. In making that determination, the circuit court does not weigh the evidence; rather, it is to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the verdict is sought and give it its highest probative value, taking into account all reasonable inferences deducible from it. Id. If any substantial evidence exists that tends to establish an ...


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