Justia Arkansas Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

by
The Supreme Court mooted in part and reversed and remanded in part the decision of the circuit court dismissing Monsanto Company's amended complaint against the Arkansas State Plant Board and its members (collectively, the Plant Board) on the basis of sovereign immunity, holding that portions of this matter were moot and, as to the remainder, sovereign immunity was inapplicable. In 2017, the Plant Board promulgated a rule that would prohibit in-crop use of dicamba herbicides during the 2018 growing season. Monsanto filed a complaint setting forth seven alleged claims against the Plant Board. Each of Monsanto's claims sought injunctive or declaratory relief for alleged illegal or unconstitutional activity by the Plant Board and did not seek an award of monetary damages in any respect. The circuit court granted the Plant Board's motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the portions of the complaint that relate exclusively to the 2016 and 2017 promulgations were moot because the Plant Board has since promulgated a new set of regulations on pesticide use; and (2) Monsanto's claims were sufficiently developed as to properly allege ultra vires conduct, and under the circumstances, the Plant Board must address the merits of Monsanto's claims. View "Montsanto Co. v. Arkansas State Plant Board" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court denying Appellant's motion for preliminary injunction, holding that the circuit court correctly concluded that Appellant failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. Appellant was an inmate of the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) and a professed member of the Nation of Islam (NOI). Appellant filed the underlying suit against numerous ADC officials, alleging violations of the First Amendment and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Appellant moved for a preliminary junction against ADC's publications policy as applied to NOI material and against ADC's religious services policy so that he may lead NOI services in prison. The circuit court denied Appellant's motion for preliminary injunction, determining that Appellant failed to show irreparable harm and failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not exceed its discretion in deciding not to issue a preliminary injunction. View "Muntaqim v. Lay" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court denying the motion to dismiss filed by Jimmy Banks, Warden of the Varner Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC), as to Sharon Jones's complaint alleging that she had been terminated from her employment at the Varner Unit due to racial and gender discrimination, holding that Jones failed to state factual allegations that alleged a deprivation of any constitutional right. In her complaint, Jones, an African American woman, alleged that she was subjected to unlawful racial and gender discrimination because she was discharged under circumstances that similarly situated white or male employees were not. Banks filed a motion to dismiss based on constitutional sovereign immunity, qualified immunity, and statutory immunity. The circuit court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Banks was entitled to qualified immunity under Jones's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims and statutory immunity against her state law claims. View "Banks v. Jones" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court denying Appellant's pro se petition for postconviction relief pursuant to Ark. R. Crim. P. 37.1, holding that it was clear from the face of the petition that Appellant did not substantiate with facts a ground for relief in his Rule 37.1 petition. In his petition, Appellant alleged four of his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court denied the petition. Appellant appealed and filed a motion for an extension of time to file a reply brief in the appeal. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the denial of Appellant's postconviction petition, holding that Appellant failed to support the four allegations that he argued on appeal were wrongfully decided by the trial court with facts to demonstrate that he suffered actual prejudice by any of counsel's alleged errors; and (2) denied the motion for extension of brief time, holding that there was no good cause to delay action on the appeal by granting leave to file a reply brief. View "Maiden v. State" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court dismissed Appellant's appeal from the denial of his pro se petition for a writ of error coram nobis, which mooted Appellant's motion to file a belated brief-in-chief, holding that it was clear from the record that Appellant's allegations failed state a claim for coram nobis relief. In his petition, Appellant asserted that his guilty plea was not voluntarily or intelligently entered because his counsel led him to believe that his sentence would be life imprisonment, not life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, holding that Appellant did not allege that his guilty plea resulted from any form of physical or psychological duress as required for a writ of error coram nobis in this context. View "Wade v. State" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court denied Petitioner's petition seeking to reinvest jurisdiction in the trial court so that he may proceed with a petition for writ of error coram nobis in his criminal case, holding that error coram nobis was not available to address Petitioner's claims. In his petition, Petitioner argued that the writ should issue because there were flaws in his trial and in his direct appeal, including trial error, prosecutorial misconduct, due process violations, and ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court denied relief, holding that Petitioner did not allege grounds for the writ because none of his claims were based upon information outside of the record or otherwise unknown to Petitioner. View "Williams v. State" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court terminating Mother's parental rights to her son, holding that the circuit court did not commit reversible error by denying Mother's counsel's motion to withdraw. The Arkansas Department of Human Services opposed the motion to withdraw, arguing that Mother had been served under Ark. R. Civ. P. 5 and that she had over a month to fire her attorney and hire a new one. The circuit court denied the motion. On appeal, Mother argued that, by denying the motion, the circuit court violated her Sixth Amendment right to counsel of one's choosing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the denial of the motion to withdraw was not an issue preserved on appeal and that, even if this Court were to consider the merits of Mother's constitutional claims, her argument would still fail. View "Langston v. Arkansas Department of Human Services" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's denial of Appellant's petition for postconvicton relief pursuant to Ark. R. Crim. P. 37, holding that the performance of Appellant's trial counsel was not deficient, and therefore, the circuit court's denial of Appellant's Rule 37 petition was not clearly erroneous. Appellant was convicted of one count of first-degree battery and one count of second-degree battery. After Appellant's convictions and sentences were affirmed on direct appeal, Appellant filed a petition for postconviction relief alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to investigate and call certain witnesses. The circuit court denied Appellant's petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Appellant failed to meet his burden under the first prong of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), because he did not demonstrate that his trial counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. View "Hinton v. State" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's award of attorney's fees to Plaintiff in his illegal-exaction lawsuit successfully challenging the constitutionality of certain legislative acts but remanded for further proceedings, holding that attorney's fees were permitted and that the matter should be remanded to the circuit court with instructions to consider the factors set forth in Chrisco v. Sun Industries, Inc., 800 S.W.2d 717 (Ark. 1990), in determining whether the amount of fees requested by Plaintiff was reasonable under the circumstances. The circuit court awarded attorney's fees to Plaintiff in the amount of $323,266 based on Plaintiff's illegal-exaction suit alleging that certain legislative acts of 2015 appropriating funds from the Arkansas General Improvement Fund (GIF) to eight regional planning and developmental districts were unconstitutional. The amount was one-third of the remaining GIF funds involved. The Supreme Court held (1) sovereign immunity was not an issue in this case; (2) attorney's fees were permitted in this case; and (3) because the circuit court did not make any findings with respect to what a reasonable attorney's fee would be in this case, the case must be remanded for reconsideration of the amount of attorney's fees. View "Walther v. Wilson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Constitutional Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed Appellant’s conviction for first-degree murder, for which she was sentenced to life imprisonment, holding that the trial court violated Appellant’s fundamental right to a public trial by closing the courtroom to the public during the testimony of a State witness. For her first point on appeal, Appellant argued that the closure of the courtroom during the testimony of the State witness violated her constitutional right to a public trial. At issue on appeal was whether the test set forth in Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39, 48 (1984), for determining when the right of an accused to a public trial may give way to other rights or interests was met. The Supreme Court held that the trial court did not make the findings necessary to support the closure, and therefore, the case must be remanded for a new trial. View "Mitchell v. State" on Justia Law