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Mary C. Petty Family Trust v. Louton

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

December 11, 2019

MARY C. PETTY FAMILY TRUST; David Petty, Trustee; and Mary C. Petty, Individually and as Trustee, Appellants
v.
Robert LOUTON, Appellee

Page 394

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

         Churchwell Law Office, Hot Springs, by: Joseph Churchwell, for appellants.

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

         OPINION

         BRANDON J. HARRISON, Judge

          The parties have resolved the finality issues that we raised in a prior opinion, so this appeal’s merit may now be decided.

          In 2017, a jury awarded Robert Louton a $25,000 judgment against David Petty, individually, and as trustee of the Mary C. Petty Family Trust. David argues here that the circuit court erred when it declined to direct a verdict in his favor and let the jury decide whether he had committed the torts of outrage and abuse of process. We affirm the $25,000 judgment— which consists of $5,000 in compensatory damages and $20,000 in punitive damages. David Petty, either individually or as a trustee, must pay Robert Louton the money because substantial evidence supports the judgment.

          We now explain why substantial evidence, which is evidence of sufficient force and character to compel a conclusion one way or another with reasonable certainty, supports the jury verdict and the court’s resulting judgment. Conagra, Inc. v. Strother, 340 Ark. 672, 13 S.W.3d 150 (2000) (standard of review).

          I. The Outrage Claim

         David contends that Robert failed to make a prima facie case on his outrage claim; therefore, the claim should not have been given to the jury to decide. To establish outrage, a plaintiff must establish four elements: (1) the defendant intended to inflict emotional distress or should have recognized emotional distress as a likely result of his conduct; (2) the defendant’s conduct was extreme, outrageous, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community; (3) the defendant’s actions caused anguish or distress to the plaintiff; and (4) the emotional distress suffered was severe and of a type that no reasonable person should be expected to endure. Calvary Christian Sch., Inc. v. Huffstuttler, 367 Ark. 117, 238 S.W.3d 58 (2006). As with his motion for a directed verdict in the circuit court, David argues on appeal that Robert did not sufficiently prove that David’s conduct was outrageous, that Robert’s emotional distress was severe enough, and that the conduct complained of was the sort that a reasonable person cannot be expected to endure.

          Some background is needed to better understand our summary of the trial testimony. Robert Louton is married to David Petty’s sister, Deandra Petty Louton. When the trial convened the Loutons lived in a double-wide trailer home close to a road. David lived in a house perched on a

Page 395

hill behind the Loutons. A fence separated the two homes. David must drive past the Loutons’ home to reach his place. Mark Petty, who is David and Deandra’s brother, also lives on the land. David, Robert, Deanna, and Mark had lived on the property for thirty years or more when the events that caused this litigation occurred. The circuit court later determined that the land on which all the family members were living at the time of trial is owned by David and Deandra’s mother, Mary (a/k/a Cathy) Petty, directly or indirectly through her trust. In other words, neither David nor the Loutons owned the land. David, however, is the "acting trustee" of his mother’s trust.

          Regarding the trial testimony, the jury heard about several incidents between the brothers-in-law (David and Robert) that support the outrage claim. For example, David plowed the yard around the Loutons’ home in such a manner that Deandra’s parked vehicle could not be moved. David claimed it was for a "bigger corn patch" for his mother. Before and after photos were shown to the jury, and they reasonably support an inference that the plowing around Deandra’s SUV was not for gardening. In ...


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