First National Bank of DeWitt v. Cruthis

First National Bank of DeWitt v. Cruthis, 360 Ark. 528 (2005)
by the Arkansas Supreme Court

Supreme Court of Arkansas

360 Ark. 528


Appeal from Arkansas Circuit Court

No. 04-448 --- Opinion delivered: February 10, 2005.
[Petition for rehearing denied March 10, 2005.] 

Court Documents
Opinion of the Court


  1. CONSTITUTIONAL LAWINTERPRETING STATE'S CONSTITUTIONSUPREME COURT'S TASK. – In interpreting the constitution on appeal, the supreme court's task is to read the law as it is written and interpret it in accordance with established principles of constitutional construction, it is the supreme court's responsibility to decide what a constitutional provision means, and it will review a lower court's construction de novo, the supreme court is not bound by the decision of the circuit court, however, in the absence of a showing that the circuit court erred in its interpretation of the law, that interpretation will be accepted as correct on appeal.
  2. CONSTITUTIONAL LAWCONSTRUCTIONSTANDARD USED. – Language of a constitutional provision that is plain and unambiguous must be given its obvious and common meaning, neither rules ot construction nor rules of interpretation may be used to defeat the clear and certain meaning of a constitutional provision.
  3. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW – AMENDMENT 80 MERGED CHANCERY & CIRCUIT COURTSCONSEQUENCES OF AMENDMENT. – Amendment 80 to the Arkansas Constitution merged the chancery and circuit courts, as a consequence of Amendment 80, courts that were formerly chancery and circuit courts are now referred to as circuit courts, because Amendment 80 states that circuit courts assume the junsdiction of chancery courts, circuit courts simply have added to their already existing jurisdiction as a court of law the equitable jurisdiction that chancery courts held pnor to adoption of the Amendment; in other words, no new or expanded jurisdiction beyond that formerly existing in the chancery and circuit courts was created through Amendment 80, rather, circuit court jurisdiction now includes all matters previously cognizable by circuit, chancery, probate, and juvenile courts.
  4. COURTSELECTION OF COURTS NO LONGER NECESSARYJURISDICTION OF LAW & EQUITY NOT ALTERED BY AMENDMENT 80. – There is no longer a need to elect in which court to file a lawsuit, however, Amendment 80 did not alter the jurisdiction of law and equity, it only consolidated junsdiction in the circuit courts, therefore, matters that could be submitted to a jury for decision and matters that must be decided by the court remain unaltered.
  5. CONSTITUTIONAL LAWGUARANTEE TO TRIAL BY JURYUNAFFECTED BY AMENDMENT 80. – The right to a jury trial set out in the Arkansas Constitution in Art 2, Sec. 7 was unaffected by Amendment 80, all five Arkansas Constitutions have provided that the right to a jury trial "shall remain inviolate"; the 1868 and 1874 constitutions include the additional language that the right to a jury trial extends to "all cases at law"; the supreme court has clearly stated that Art 2, Sec. 7 does not assure the right to a jury trial in all possible instances, but rather in those cases where the right to a jury trial existed when our constitution was framed"; further, the right to a jury trial "does not apply to new rights created by the legislature since the adoption of the constitution, a constitution is not the beginning of government, and it is adopted with a knowledge that it is, and was made in harmony and consonance with the condition of the things existing at the time of its adoption.
  6. EQUITYRESTITUTION FOUNDED ON DOCTRINE OF UNJUST ENRICHMENTUNJUST ENRICHMENT BASED ON WRONGFUL RETENTION OF MONEY CORRESPONDS WITH COMMON LAW ACTION OF ASSUMPSIT. – Restitution is founded upon the doctrine of unjust enrichment, which is an equitable doctnne; however, even though the doctrine is equitable, the issue of unjust enrichment has been submitted to the jury in circuit court where the assertion is wrongful retention of money because the cause of action is one corresponding with the common law action of assumpsit for money had and received the action for assumpsit is one for recovery of damages for nonperformance of a simple contract; such a contract may be express or implied, and the action is based on the breach thereof, and is therefore ex contractu; in both the civil and common law, rights and causes of action are divided into two classes – those arising ex contractu (from a contract), and those arising ex delicto (from a delict or tort).
  7. EQUITYASSUMPSITWHEN IT WILL LIE. – Assumpsit is an action of an equitable character, liberal in form, and greatly favored by the court as a remedy; no agreement is necessary; assumpsit will he wherever the circumstances are such that the law, ex debito justitiae will imply a promise.
  8. COURTSACTION AT LAWCHANCERY COURT MAY RETAIN JURISDICTION TO DO COMPLETE JUSTICE AS BETWEEN PARTIES. – While an action of assumpsit, although based on equitable principles is an action at law, the law is well settled that when the chancery court has jurisdiction of a case for one purpose, it will retain jurisdiction to settle the nghts of the parties ansing out of the subject matter.
  9. COURTSUNJUST ENRICHMENTMORE FREOUENTLY APPLIED IN COURTS OF CHANCERY. – The principle of unjust enrichment more frequently applied in courts of chancery, but is also recognized in courts of law.
  10. COURTSRESTITUTION NOT ONLY EQUITABLE REMEDY SOUGHTCASE REVERSED & REMANDED. – Although unjust enrichment an equitable cause of action, because it is based on the alleged breach of an implied contract, it may be heard in circuit court and may be heard by a jury; however, the case here was reversed because restitution was not the only equitable remedy sought; appellant also sought an equitable lien on certain property, which is a nght to have a demand satisfied from a particular fund or specific property, an equitable lien has also been defined as a remedy that awards a nonpossessory interest in property to a party who has been prevented by fraud, accident, or mistake from securing that to which he was equitably entitled, an action on an equitable lien was histoncally heard in chancery court because it is an equitable remedy; thus, the case was reversed & remanded.

Appeal from Arkansas Circuit Court; Charles A. Yeargan, Judge, reversed and remanded.

Berry Law Firm, by: Russell D. Berry, Bradley A. Chambless, and M. Elizabeth Skinner, for appellant.

Malcolm R Smith, P.A., for appellees.

[Opinion of the court by Chief Justice JIM HANNAH.]

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