FROM THE NEVADA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 50CV-14-64]
HONORABLE RANDY WRIGHT, JUDGE.
Bequette, Billingsley & Kees, P.A., by: George J.
Bequette, Jr., and W. Cody Kees, for appellant.
Harrelson Law Firm, P.A., by: Steve Harrelson, for appellee.
PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, JUDGE
Prescott School District ("the District") appeals a
Nevada County jury award in favor of Patricia Steed on her
breach-of-contract action. The District claims that it was
entitled to a judgment as a matter of law and, therefore, the
trial court should have directed a verdict in its favor. We
disagree and affirm.
District appeals the denial of its motion for a directed
verdict. A directed-verdict motion is a challenge to the
sufficiency of the evidence, and when reviewing the denial of
a motion for directed verdict, we determine whether the
jury's verdict was supported by substantial evidence.
Bank of Eureka Springs v. Evans, 353 Ark. 438, 453,
109 S.W.3d 672, 681 (2003). Our supreme court has defined
"substantial evidence" as follows:
Substantial evidence is defined as evidence of sufficient
force and character to compel a conclusion one way or the
other with reasonable certainty and it must force the mind to
pass beyond mere suspicion or conjecture. State Auto
Property Cas. Ins. Co. v. Swaim, 338 Ark. 49, 991 S.W.2d
555 (1999); Barnes, Quinn, Flake & Anderson, Inc. v.
Rankins, 312 Ark. 240, 848 S.W.2d 924 (1993). When
determining the sufficiency of the evidence, we review the
evidence and all reasonable inferences arising therefrom in
the light most favorable to the party on whose behalf
judgment was entered, and we give that evidence the highest
probative value. Id. A motion for directed verdict
should be granted only when the evidence viewed is so
insubstantial as to require the jury's verdict for the
party to be set aside. Conagra, Inc. v. Strother,
340 Ark. 672, 13 S.W.3d 150 (2000). A motion for directed
verdict should be denied when there is a conflict in the
evidence, or when the evidence is such that a fair-minded
people might reach different conclusions. Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc. v. Kelton, 305 Ark. 173, 806 S.W.2d 373
D'Arbonne Constr. Co., Inc. v. Foster, 354 Ark.
304, 307-308, 123 S.W.3d 894, 897-98 (2003). We will now
consider the evidence presented at trial.
2013, the District began negotiations to hire Steed as an
English teacher for the 2013-2014 school year. At the time of
the negotiations, Steed did not possess an Arkansas teaching
license but was enrolled in a nontraditional program at
Henderson State University to obtain the required teaching
certificate. With this knowledge, Superintendent Robert Poole
recommended to the District's board of directors (the
Board) that it hire Steed to teach English during the
2013-2014 school year despite her lack of a teaching license.
With full knowledge of her lack of licensure, the Board
unanimously approved the recommendation, voted to hire Steed
for the teaching position, and offered Steed an employment
contract with the understanding that she would obtain the
necessary certification. Steed signed the contract and
returned it to Valerie Cobb, an employee of the District. The
contract was not submitted to the Board for signature,
however, because Steed had not yet submitted proof of the
the lack of signature from the Board, Steed performed all the
duties of a certified teacher throughout the fall semester in
2013. Sometime during the fall semester, Steed noticed a
discrepancy in the pay she actually received and the amount
of pay set forth in the employment contract. She brought this
to the attention of the District. She was informed that
because she had not yet passed her certification, she could
be paid only as a long-term substitute teacher and not at the
contract rate of pay for a certified teacher.As a result, Steed
was paid on a daily rate as a substitute teacher but was
performing all the duties of a certified teacher.
the spring semester of 2014, Steed continued to perform all
the duties of a certified teacher while receiving pay as a
long-term substitute. In January 2014, the District sent
Steed a letter asking whether she intended to continue
employment beyond the 2013- 2014 school term. She responded
that she intended to maintain employment with the District.
In April 2014, Steed passed the qualifying examination and
received her certification, which was backdated by the
Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) to August 2013. Later
in April 2014, the District informed Steed that her services
were no longer required.
jury trial, Steed claimed that she was entitled-and that the
District had agreed-to retroactive payment of the salary set
forth in the written contract once she obtained her teaching
certificate. The District asserted, however, that
because Steed had failed to timely obtain the requisite
certification, her employment was only that of a nonlicensed
long-term substitute rather than pursuant to the contract.
The District claimed it was entitled to a directed verdict
because the contract had not been fully executed and was
therefore invalid. The trial court, finding that there were
issues of fact to be determined by the jury, denied the
motion for directed verdict and submitted the case to the
jury on Steed's breach-of-contract claim. The jury
ultimately found in Steed's favor and awarded damages in
the amount of $10, 793. The District appeals.
District's argument on appeal is a straightforward
one-the written contract on which Steed relies was never
signed by the Board and, therefore, was not a binding
contract upon which she could bring suit. The District
asserts that the fact that her hiring was approved by the
Board is of no moment because our courts have held that a
vote of the Board to employ a teacher is not enough to
constitute a contract. See Johnson v. Wert, 225 Ark.
91, 279 S.W.2d 274 (1955); Morton v. Hampton Sch.
Dist., 16 Ark.App. 264, 700 S.W.2d 373 (1985). Moreover,
the District claims that Steed was not a "teacher"
as defined by Arkansas law, because she did not possess a
valid Arkansas teaching certificate; therefore, she could not
be employed as a "certified teacher" pursuant to
the written agreement. Because there was no binding,
enforceable contract, the District claims that it was
entitled to a judgment as a matter of law and that the trial
court's denial of its motion was in error.
the District presents a straightforward argument-the contract
is unenforceable because it was never executed-we do not find
this argument persuasive because it ignores the conflicting
evidence presented at trial as to whether the District was
obligated to execute the contract. It is without dispute that
Steed had a noneducation bachelor's degree, that she was
enrolled in courses to obtain her teaching certificate and
licensure, and that the District employed her to teach with
full knowledge of her licensure situation. It is also
undisputed that the Board never signed the employment
contract extended to Steed. While these things are not in
dispute, what is disputed is the time frame during which
Steed was required to obtain certification, ...