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Mary C. Petty Family Trust v. Louton

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

April 25, 2018

MARY C. PETTY FAMILY TRUST, DAVID PETTY, TRUSTEE, AND MARY C. PETTY, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS TRUSTEE APPELLANTS
v.
ROBERT LOUTON APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE HOT SPRING COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 30CV-15-194] HONORABLE CHRIS E WILLIAMS, JUDGE

          Churchwell Law Offices, by: Joseph Churchwell, for appellants.

          Walthall Law Firm, P.A., by: Cecilia Ashcraft and G. Christopher Walthall, for appellee.

          BRANDON J. HARRISON, Judge

         This appeal involves multiple circuit court cases that were consolidated. Simply summarized, the cases below involved a property dispute and administration of a trust. The appellants want this court to reverse the circuit court's decision to allow an outrage claim to go to a jury. We must dismiss the appeal without prejudice because no final order has been entered. Because this case is not one in which the finality issues can be simply stated, a robust explanation of the parties' dizzying legal moves in the circuit court is required.

          I. Background

         Mary Petty, known as Cathy, and B.J. Petty, who is now deceased, raised three children on some land in Hot Spring County, Arkansas. David Petty and Deandra Petty Louton are Cathy's biological children, and Mark Petty is her stepson. Regarding the property-dispute angle, the tract at issue is approximately nineteen acres that Cathy and B.J. owned. All three adult children and their families have lived in separate homes on the property.

         Case number 30CV-15-194 was filed in August 2015. In that case Deandra and Mark filed a complaint against Mary C. Petty Family Trust, David Petty as Trustee, and Mary C. (Cathy) Petty Individually and as Trustee for "parol gift of land, " breach of contract, "constructive trust, " "common law action to set aside deed for lack of capacity and/or undue influence, " promissory estoppel, unjust enrichment, "laches, " and a request for a temporary injunction. In October 2015, the Mary C. Petty Family Trust, David, and Cathy filed counterclaims against Deandra and Mark for quiet title, ejectment, unlawful detainer, and boundary by acquiescence (as alternative relief).

         In December 2015, David Petty-individually and as trustee of the Mary C. Petty Family Trust-sued Robert Louton, who is Deandra's husband. That complaint generated case number 30CV-15-308, in which David asked for injunctive relief and a restraining order because Robert had allegedly engaged in vandalism, harassment, trespassing, and "general maliciousness." David also asked the court to award "property damage/money damages" and arguably makes trespass and trespass-to-chattel claims. Robert counterclaimed against David, filing the intentional torts of outrage and abuse of process.

         In January 2016, Deandra and Mark amended their complaint in case number 30CV-15-194 to add claims for "specific performance and estoppel, " quantum meruit, and restitution.

         The circuit court entered a nonsuit order in April 2016 and dismissed Deandra and Mark's claims for breach of contract, specific performance, and quantum meruit as a result. The order expressly dismissed the claims without prejudice.

         In July 2016, the circuit court ordered that the parties have no contact with one another except through counsel until a "final determination can be made on the issues." Also around that time, Deandra, who is a beneficiary of the Mary C. Petty Family Trust, filed a "motion to disqualify trustee; to set aside trustee's deed and the contract for the sale of real property; and for an accounting" in case number 30CV-15-194. Deandra asked the circuit court to remove David as trustee of the trust and to order an accounting of trust income, and she alleged "a serious breach of trust." It is unclear whether the "serious breach of trust" is a tort claim for breach of fiduciary duty, or merely a statutory ground for removing David as trustee, or both. Ark. Code Ann. § 28-73-706(b)(1) (Repl. 2012). Whatever it is, Deandra alleged in the motion that David acted wrongly when he conveyed the disputed property from the Petty Trust to himself individually.

         In August 2016, Deandra and Mark amended their complaint again and asked for the following relief:

(a) Specific performance in the form of an Order directing the Defendants, Mary C. (Cathy) Petty and/or David Petty and/or the trustee of the Mary C. Petty Family Trust to convey that portion of the subject property and access to the subject ...

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