John E. Searcy, III v. Stephen E. Whitwell et al.

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May 18, 2005



[E 2001-126]






Robert J. Gladwin, Judge

In this pro se appeal, appellant John E. Searcy, III, challenges the dismissal of his Petition to Quiet Title and to Extinguish Lien, Claim or Mortgages. The claims raised in this appeal have been before this court and the supreme court in separate appeals. We find no error and affirm.

Searcy acquired forty acres in Van Buren County in 1986. Searcy then became involved in a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over back taxes, and the forty acres were seized and sold. On September 18, 1995, the forty acres were deeded to the United States of America, and this same deed indicates that, on June 21, 1996, the forty acres were deeded to appellees Neill Reed and Emmett Davenport by the United States in a quitclaim deed. Appellees Stephen E. Whitwell and Hurley Whitwell Realty Co., Inc., later acquired an interest from Reed and Davenport.

On June 27, 1997, appellees filed an action on the quitclaim deed to quiet title in the forty acres. On November 12, 1999, the Van Buren County Chancery Court entered a decree quieting title in appellees, specifically finding that Searcy held no interest in the forty acres. This court affirmed. Searcy v. Davenport, No. CA00-275 (Ark. App. Mar. 14, 2001) (Searcy I).

On June 8, 2000, Searcy filed an action against appellees, alleging that the decree in Searcy I had been procured by fraud and requesting that the 1999 decree be set aside. By amendment, Searcy also sought money damages. Appellees moved to dismiss the complaint. At the hearing on the motion to dismiss, Searcy alleged that the attempt to transfer title to appellees by the United States was fraudulent and that he had attempted to prove this fraud in Searcy I. The trial court dismissed the action based on res judicata because the fraud alleged by Searcy was a repeated allegation that he was unlawfully deprived of his property. The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed. Searcy v. Davenport, 352 Ark. 307, 100 S.W.3d 711 (2003) (Searcy II).

On May 29, 2001, Searcy filed the present action, seeking to quiet title to the forty acres and extinguish any liens on the property. The complaint also asserted that the prior decree quieting title in appellees was void because the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because of appellees' asserted failure to comply with the statutory procedure for quiet title actions and because the IRS levy and sale were invalid. Appellees filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that Searcy's cause of action was barred by res judicata. Appellees also sought an injunction preventing Searcy from filing such actions in the future.

At the hearing on the motion to dismiss, Searcy argued that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to enter the original quiet title decree because some of the appellees failed to appear at trial. Searcy also argued that, in the original quiet title action, appellees failed to prove a prima facie title. However, he admitted that appellees had a deed from the United States following the IRS sale. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss based on res judicata. The court also enjoined Searcy from filing further pleadings without the prior written permission of the court. Searcy timely filed his notice of appeal.

Searcy's sole argument on appeal is that the trial court erred in granting the motion to dismiss because the trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter the original quiet title decree. Searcy subdivides his argument into two parts: that the failure of one of appellees to appear at the original trial of the quiet title action deprived the trial court of subject-matter jurisdiction and that the trial court lost subject-matter jurisdiction because appellees failed to prove a prima facie title to the forty acres.

In Searcy II, the supreme court discussed the doctrine of res judicata as follows:

The concept of res judicata has two facets, one being issue preclusion and the other claim preclusion. Huffman v. Alderson, 335 Ark. 411, 983 S.W.2d 899 (1998); John Cheeseman Trucking, Inc. v. Pinson, 313 Ark. 632, 855 S.W.2d 941 (1993). Under claim-preclusion, a valid and final judgment rendered on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction bars another action by the plaintiff or his privies against the defendant or his privies on the same claim. Huffman, supra. Res judicata bars not only the relitigation of claims which were actually litigated in the first suit, but also those which could have been litigated. Id. Further, where a case is based on the same events as the subject matter of a previous lawsuit, res judicata will apply even if the subsequent lawsuit raises new legal issues and seeks additional remedies. Id.

Issue preclusion, or collateral estoppel, bars relitigation of issues. Crockett & Brown v. Wilson, 314 Ark. 578, 864 S.W.2d 244 (1993). In State v. Thompson, 343 Ark. 135, 34 S.W.3d 33 (2000), we stated of collateral estoppel:

When an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, collateral estoppel precludes relitigation of that issue between the same parties in any future proceeding. E.g., Edwards v. State, 328 Ark. 394, 943 S.W.2d 600, cert. denied, 522 U.S. 950 (1997) (quoting Schiro v. Farley, 510 U.S. 222, 232 (1994)). In order to establish collateral estoppel, proof of the following is required: 1) the issue sought to be precluded must be the same as that involved in the prior litigation; 2) the issue must have been actually litigated; 3) the issue must have been determined by a final and valid judgment; and 4) the determination must have been essential to the judgment. Edwards, 328 Ark. at 401-02, 943 S.W.2d at 603.

Thompson, 343 Ark. at 139-40, [34 S.W.3d at 36].

Searcy II, 352 Ark. at 310-11, 100 S.W.3d at 713.

The issues raised in Searcy's present quiet title petition include the invalidity of the IRS levy and sale. Those issues were clearly raised and resolved against Searcy in both Searcy I and Searcy II. They are barred by res judicata and cannot be used to support the present action.

A review of the briefs in Searcy I, the appeal of the original quiet title action, shows that the issue of the failure of appellees to prove a prima facie title to the forty acres was made by Searcy in that appeal. See Abstract and Brief for Appellant at 11, Searcy v. Davenport, No. CA00-275 (Ark. App. Mar. 14, 2001). This court affirmed the trial court. Therefore, the trial court properly ruled that this issue was also barred by res judicata.

As to the issue of the loss of subject-matter jurisdiction by appellees failing to appear at trial, Searcy mentioned this in his brief in Searcy I. See Abstract and Brief for Appellant at 13, 14, Searcy v. Davenport, No. CA00-275 (Ark. App. Mar. 14, 2001). If Searcy thought that the failure of appellees to appear at trial was important enough, he could have raised the issue on appeal. Therefore, it, too, is barred by res judicata. Even if the issue was not barred, it is without merit. Jurisdiction once acquired is not defeated by subsequent events. Walker v. State, 309 Ark. 23, 827 S.W.2d 637 (1992); Hartman v. Hartman, Adm'r, 228 Ark. 692, 309 S.W.2d 737 (1958).


Pittman, C.J., and Bird, J., agree.