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A Time For You, LLC v. Park H Properties, LLC

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

May 22, 2019



          Cullen & Co., PLLC, by: Tim Cullen, for appellants.

          Prater Law Firm, PLLC, by: Paul Prater, for appellee.


         The Pulaski County Circuit Court granted the motion of appellee Park H Properties, LLC, for default judgment as to appellant A Time For You, LLC. The trial court also granted Park H's motion for partial summary judgment as to appellant Cheryl Musticchi. Appellants moved to set aside those judgments, but the trial court denied their motions. Appellants now appeal from the orders granting Park H's motions and denying their postjudgment motions. We dismiss the appeal without prejudice for lack of a final, appealable order.

         I. Procedural History

         On September 30, 2015, Park H entered into a one-year commercial lease agreement with Musticchi in which she agreed to rent storefront property in North Little Rock to run her salon-and-massage business called A Time For You. Appellants vacated the property around June 30, 2016. On May 23, 2017, Park H filed a complaint against appellants alleging that appellants had breached the contract by not paying rent after June 30 and by damaging the property. Appellants were served with the complaint and summons on June 8. Musticchi, pro se, timely filed an answer on July 7; A Time For You did not.

         On July 14, 2017, Park H filed a motion for default judgment with respect to A Time For You based on its failure to timely file an answer to Park H's complaint. Park H sought default judgment on both breach-of-contract claims. On July 28, the trial court granted the motion and entered judgment against A Time For You for $9, 370. On November 13, A Time For You moved to set aside the default judgment, but the trial court denied its motion.

         Also on July 14, 2017, Park H submitted to Musticchi its first set of requests for admissions to which she responded on August 13 through counsel. On August 28, Park H filed a motion for partial summary judgment against Musticchi on its claim for breach of contract as to the unpaid rent. Musticchi did not respond to Park H's motion for partial summary judgment. No hearing was held. On September 27, the trial court granted Park H's motion. On October 19, the trial court denied Musticchi's "Motion Pursuant to Rule 59." On January 12, 2018, the trial court denied her motion to set aside the partial summary judgment.

         On July 18, 2018, the trial court granted Park H's request for a nonsuit of "all pending but unresolved claims" without prejudice. On August 15, appellants, through counsel, filed their joint notice of appeal. The notice of appeal states that the orders subject to appeal have become final, appealable orders as a result of the July 18 order.

         II. Jurisdiction

         Arkansas Rule of Appellate Procedure-Civil 2(a)(1) provides that an appeal may be taken only from a final judgment or decree entered by the trial court. A final order is one that dismisses the parties, discharges them from the action, or concludes their rights to the subject matter in controversy. Johnson v. Windstream Commc'ns, Inc., 2016 Ark.App. 419. Whether an order is final for appeal purposes is a jurisdictional question that this court will raise sua sponte. Deer/Mt. Judea Sch. Dist. v. Beebe, 2012 Ark. 93. When more than one claim for relief is presented in an action or when multiple parties are involved, an order that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties is not a final, appealable order. Ark. R. Civ. P. 54(b)(1). The purpose of the rule is to avoid piecemeal litigation. Toland v. Robinson, 2017 Ark. 41.

         The parties to a lawsuit cannot create a final order by taking a voluntary nonsuit dismissing their remaining claims without prejudice. Bevans v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Tr. Co., 373 Ark. 105, 281 S.W.3d 740 (2008); Haile v. Ark. Power & Light Co., 322 Ark. 29, 907 S.W.2d 122 (1995); Park Plaza Mall CMBS, LLC v. Powell, 2018 Ark.App. 48; Pro Transp., Inc. v. Volvo Trucks N. Am., Inc., 96 Ark.App. 166, 239 S.W.3d 537 (2006); French v. Brooks Sports Ctr., Inc., 57 Ark.App. 30, 940 S.W.2d 507 (1997). Voluntary nonsuits are governed by Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a), which provides that an action may be dismissed without prejudice to a future action by the plaintiff, assuming that there has been no previous dismissal. After a voluntary nonsuit, the plaintiff may refile the claim within one year. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-56-126(a) (Supp. 2017).

         Generally, the dismissal of a claim without prejudice does not create finality. Park Plaza Mall, supra; see, e.g., Ratzlaff v. Frantz Foods of Ark., 255 Ark. 373, 500 S.W.2d 379 (1973); Haile, supra. By contrast, the dismissal of a party to an action, with or without prejudice, is sufficient to obtain finality and invest jurisdiction in an appellate court. See, e.g., Driggers v. Locke, 323 Ark. 63, 913 S.W.2d 269 (1996). The facts of ...

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