George Stokes v. Farmers Grain Terminal et al.

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September 29, 2004



v. [NO. E97-181-2]





Per Curiam

Appellant appeals from summary judgment orders entered in favor of appellees Farmers Grain Terminal and Southern States Cooperative. Because the orders appealed from do not resolve all of the claims against all of parties or contain an Ark. R. Civ. P. 54(b) certificate allowing for an immediate appeal, we dismiss the appeal without prejudice.

The docket number that contains the orders appealed from, E97-181-2, is the repository, via consolidation, of four separate lawsuits. All of the lawsuits have some connection to P&K Farms' lease of crop land from appellant George Stokes in exchange for paying Stokes the value of a part of their crop harvest. In conjunction with the land lease, Stokes agreed to guarantee a portion of P&K's crop loan with Southern States Cooperative, and he took an interest in P&K's farm equipment to secure his guaranty. Southern States took a security interest in crops that P&K grew on Stokes's land.

Beginning in 1997, litigation began among the above mentioned parties and others, including Farmers & Merchants Bank, concerning entitlement to P&K's farm equipment, Stokes's liability on the guaranty, breach of contractual agreements between Stokes and P&K, and conversion of a particular wheat harvest, to name a few. The most recent lawsuit came about when Stokes sold wheat that he had harvested from his land to Farmers Grain Terminal (FGT). Because FGT was aware of competing claims to the proceeds, it issued an $18,751.81 check to Stokes, Southern States, P&K Farms, and Merchants & Farmers Bank as payees. Stokes sued FGT for conversion and sued the other payees for a determination of the rights to the proceeds. The trial court granted summary judgment to FGT after FGT pled the proceeds of the sale into the court registry. The court also granted summary judgment to Southern States on the ground that Southern States was entitled to the entire proceeds of the sale. These are the orders from which Stokes now appeals.

When more than one claim for relief is presented in an action, whether as a claim, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party claim, or when multiple parties are involved, the court may direct the entry of a final judgment as to one or more but fewer than all of the claims or parties only upon an express determination, supported by specific factual findings, that there is no just reason for delay and upon an express direction for the entry of judgment. Ark. R. Civ. P. 54(b)(1) (2004). In the event the court so finds, it shall execute a Rule 54(b) certificate, which shall appear immediately after the court's signature on the judgment, and which shall set forth the factual findings upon which the determination to enter the judgment as final is based. Id. Absent the executed certificate, a judgment that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties shall not terminate the action as to any of the claims or parties. See Ark. R. Civ. P. 54(b)(2) (2004).

The orders appealed from in this case do not contain Rule 54(b) certificates. Further, the record does not reflect that all of the claims of all of the parties in the consolidated case have been resolved. For example, the record reflects no dismissal or determination of the claims of various parties to P&K's equipment, which were asserted in the first of these many lawsuits; no dismissal or determination of Southern States' claim against Stokes on the guaranty agreement; and no dismissal or determination of Stokes's claims against Southern States for fraud or for damage that Southern States allegedly caused to one-half acre of Stokes's land. The orders appealed from are therefore not final, and, in order to maintain our policy of avoiding piecemeal litigation, see Ford Motor Co. v. Harper, 353 Ark. 328, 107 S.W.3d 168 (2003), we must dismiss the appeal.

Appellant argues that a "separable branch" of the litigation has been resolved because the trial court's order terminated one of the consolidated actions. However, in that action, Southern States counterclaimed for judgment on the guaranty agreement, and that counterclaim has not been ruled upon. In any event, when a trial court rules on only a portion of the claims in a consolidated action, a final order has not been entered. See Hearne v. McAdoo, 300 Ark. 199, 777 S.W.2d 863 (1989); Budget Tire & Supply Co. v. First Nat'l Bank, 51 Ark. App. 188, 912 S.W.2d 938 (1995).