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McCauley v. Cornejo

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

January 23, 2019

RHONDA MCCAULEY AND MCCAULEY LAW FIRM, PLLC APPELLANTS
v.
AMILCAR CORNEJO AND DOUGLAS HALL APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT [NO. 66FCV-16-597] HONORABLE JAMES O. COX, JUDGE

          McCauley Law Firm PLLC, by: Rhonda McCauley, for appellants.

          King Law Group, PLLC, by: William Whitfield Hyman, for appellees.

          BRANDON J. HARRISON, JUDGE

         Rhonda McCauley and the McCauley Law Firm, PLLC (collectively "McCauley"), appeal the default judgment entered in favor of Amilcar Cornejo and Douglas Hall (collectively "Cornejo"). We lack jurisdiction over this appeal and must therefore dismiss it.

         In January 2015, Cornejo hired attorney Rhonda McCauley to handle matters relating to Cornejo's immigration status. On 24 June 2016, Cornejo filed a complaint against McCauley alleging breach of contract, negligence, vicarious liability, and fraud. In September 2016, McCauley answered and denied any wrongdoing.

         On 16 November 2017, Cornejo moved to compel discovery responses from McCauley. That same day (November 16), the circuit court entered an order directing McCauley to fully respond to the discovery "within ten (10) days from the date of this Order."

         On November 30, Cornejo filed a motion stating that McCauley had not complied with the court's order and asked the court to find McCauley in contempt, strike her answer, and enter a default judgment. Cornejo also sought attorney's fees. On December 1, the circuit court held McCauley in contempt and imposed these sanctions:

a. Defendant's answer is stricken, including all counterclaims and affirmative defenses pursuant to Rule 37, and Plaintiffs are granted a Default Judgment.
b. Defaulted Defendants are ordered to pay Plaintiffs the amount of their filing fee, $165.00. Defendants are also ordered to pay Plaintiffs the initial contract price and treble damages, totaling in the amount of $11, 160.00 with interest accruing at the rate of 10% per annum. Plaintiffs are awarded attorney's fees in the amount of $3, 100.00.

         On December 4, McCauley moved, pursuant to Rules 59 and 60 of the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure, to set aside the default judgment. She argued that the order was entered before the time to respond to discovery had expired. Cornejo responded to the motion on December 8. No further action was taken until the circuit court convened a hearing on 26 January 2018. Then the circuit court entered a modified judgment on February 20 that eliminated the treble damages and awarded Cornejo the initial contract price of $3, 720 and a total amount of $3, 935. McCauley filed a notice of appeal on 16 March 2018.

         The notice of appeal came too late, however, so we lack jurisdiction to review any of the court's decisions. The notice was untimely because McCauley did not appeal the initial default judgment within thirty days of its entry. Instead, she moved to set aside the judgment within three calendar days after the court entered it. This means she extended the original deadline to file a notice of appeal until thirty days from the date the court decided the postjudgment motion, or until thirty days after the motion was deemed denied, whichever event happened first. Ark. R. App. P.-Civ. 4(b)(1) (2017). Here, McCauley's motion was deemed denied on 3 January 2018 because the circuit court had not otherwise decided the motion before that day. So McCauley had thirty days from January 3 to appeal the default judgment and the denial (by operation of law) of her postjudgment motion.

         That the circuit court held a hearing on January 26 and entered a related order on February 20 is of no legal consequence, jurisdictionally speaking, because the court lost the power to act after the thirtieth day from the filing date of McCauley's postjudgment motion. See Murchison v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Ill., 367 Ark. 166, 238 S.W.3d 11 (2006); Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. of Ark. v. Sudrick, 49 Ark.App. 84, 896 S.W.2d 452 (1995). Simply put: McCauley had thirty days, or until 2 February 2018, to file a notice of appeal from the original default ...


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