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Watts v. Entergy Arkansas, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

November 7, 2018

MOSES WATTS, SR., AND RUBY WATTS APPELLANTS
v.
ENTERGY ARKANSAS, INC. APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE JEFFERSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 35CV-15-259] HONORABLE ROBERT H. WYATT, JR., JUDGE

          Sandy McMath, for appellants.

          Friday, Eldredge & Clark, LLP, by: Bruce B. Tidwell, for appellee.

          BRANDON J. HARRISON, JUDGE

         Moses Watts, Sr., and Ruby Watts appeal a $1, 995 judgment representing just compensation for the condemnation of a utility easement over their property. A timeline is helpful to understand their arguments against the condemnation process.

June 1 (2015). Entergy Arkansas, Inc., filed a petition in circuit court, titled an "application," to condemn a portion of the Wattses' property. The petition stated, in part, that Entergy engineers had determined a permanent utility easement was needed across the Wattses' property and that an agreement with the property owners could not be reached.
June 15. The circuit court granted Entergy an order of immediate possession of the easement. Entergy deposited $1, 995 into the court's registry-what it considered to be the fair-market value of the property needed for the use. See Ark. Code Ann. § 18-15-508 (Repl. 2015) (When an electric-utility company deposits money in compliance with the order of the court, the company can enter the land and proceed with its work before a jury trial on just compensation.).
June 27. Clay Nealy, a process server for The Covert Connection, LLC, personally served Moses Watts, Sr., with the June 1 petition and June 15 order. Substituted service was made on Ruby Watts. The summonses issued in the case stated that Ruby and Moses had thirty days to file a written answer to the lawsuit and "attached complaint."
July 6. Proof of service of the summonses was filed in the circuit court.
July 21. The Wattses filed a "Motion for Dismissal of Application for Condemnation of Lands And For Immediate Possession Thereto." They argued, among other things, that the circuit court's order of immediate possession was "illegal," "unreasonably wrong," and a violation of their constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment because "the Defendants [the Wattses] were served with Motion and Order at the same time."
July 23. Entergy responded to the motion to dismiss and argued that it had complied with all Arkansas laws allowing it to pursue eminent-domain rights to install and maintain electrical lines, poles, and facilities.
February 19 (2016). Ruby Watts argued during a hearing on the Wattses' motion to dismiss that the Wattses were denied due process when the June 1 petition was filed and the immediate order of possession was given "seven, eight, nine days later." "[W]e were not afforded the ten-day notice to come in and object or answer [the June 1 petition] . . . We didn't get that right . . . due process under the Fourteenth Amendment."
February 22. The circuit court denied the Wattses' motion to dismiss. The court wrote that Entergy complied with "the applicable statutory law . . . Ark. Code Ann. §§ 18-15-501, et seq." It concluded that the "due process rights of Moses Watts, Sr. and Ruby Watts have not been violated."
• August (2017). A Jefferson County jury rendered a verdict on just compensation for the property Entergy took, and the circuit court entered a judgment according to the ...

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