Skelton v. City of Atkins, 93-502

Decision Date09 May 1994
Docket NumberNo. 93-502,93-502
Citation317 Ark. 28,875 S.W.2d 504
PartiesGary SKELTON, Appellant, v. CITY OF ATKINS, Arkansas, Appellee.
CourtArkansas Supreme Court

Robert E. Irwin, Russellville, for appellant.

William B. Swain, Russellville, for appellee.

GLAZE, Justice.

On January 16, 1991, Rodney Cozort was convicted in the Atkins Police Court of DWI, second offense. Among the provisions of his sentence was an order to pay $805.00 as fine and costs. Cozort did not appeal his conviction and failed to pay the $805.00. Sometime later--not clear from the record--the trial court issued a warrant, and Cozort was arrested. On March 8, 1992, Cozort was released from jail on the payment of $805.00 by his friend, the appellant Gary Skelton. The record reflects that a factual dispute resulted as to whether Skelton's payment was intended as a loan or gift to Cozort or a cash bond paid on Cozort's behalf.

On June 30, 1992, the police court held a hearing to allow Cozort to show cause why he should not be imprisoned for nonpayment of the $805.00 fine and costs. On July 24, 1992, the police court entered an order finding the $805.00 paid by Skelton was the property of Cozort. The court further held the city acquired a lien on the $805.00 cash funds, and the court ordered foreclosure on those funds in satisfaction of Cozort's debt for fine and costs.

On July 24, 1992, the same date of the police court's order, Skelton filed suit in chancery court, naming the City of Atkins and its mayor as defendants and requesting an injunction to enjoin the city from using Skelton's money for the payment of Cozort's fine. The mayor answered, asking that he be dismissed from the suit, since he had no control over the police court, and therefore was not a proper party. The city attorney later filed an amended answer on the city's behalf, generally and specifically denying the relief sought by Skelton. One month later, the chancery court dismissed the mayor from the lawsuit, leaving no official of the city as a party to the lawsuit. Nonetheless, the city attorney and Skelton both filed respective motions for summary judgment, and the chancellor granted the city attorney's motion. The chancellor then entered an order in the city's behalf, dismissing Skelton's suit with prejudice. Skelton appeals from that order.

Skelton's primary argument is that the chancery court erred in granting the city's summary judgment motion because the record shows that, throughout the police court and chancery court proceedings below, Skelton disputed the fact that the $805.00 was Cozort's. Skelton always contended that he had posted the $805.00 as an appearance bond, and Cozort had made all court appearances. Skelton claimed ownership and return of his cash bond. Consequently, Skelton argues the city had no lien on the disputed $805.00 upon which it could collect Cozort's fines or costs under Ark.Code Ann § 5-4-204 (Repl.1993). 1 In sum, Skelton submits that a dispute of a material fact exists as to the ownership of the $805.00, and therefore, the chancellor erred in granting the city's summary judgment motion.

The city also claimed entitlement to the $805.00 as a deposit in lieu of bond paid by Skelton under Ark.Code Ann. § 16-84-115 (Supp.1993). More particularly, the city relied on § 16-84-115(3) which provides that, upon judgment being rendered against a defendant for fine and costs, the court rendering the judgment may order any money deposited agreeably to this section to be applied to the payment thereof. Skelton says that he did not deposit his $805.00 under § 16-84-115 and in fact, he posted the funds long after Cozort's conviction and after Cozort was ordered to show cause why he should not be jailed for failure to have paid his fine as directed by the court's earlier conviction judgment. 2 Whether Skelton and his posting of a bond comes within the language of the bail provisions set out in Ark.Code Ann. §§ 16-84-101 through 16-84-203 (Supp.1993) is quite questionable, but we simply are unable to decide that issue because we must hold the chancery court did not have subject matter jurisdiction of this cause.

Neither party addressed the question of jurisdiction of the chancery court, but jurisdiction is a question we can address at any time. Head v. Caddo Hills School District, 277 Ark. 482, 644 S.W.2d 246 (1982); Bratcher v. Bratcher, 36 Ark.App. 206, 821 S.W.2d 481 (1991) (subject matter jurisdiction is always open, cannot be waived, and can be raised by this court sua sponte). The court has held that it is not only the right but the duty of this court to determine whether there is jurisdiction of the subject matter. Hilburn v. First State Bank, 259 Ark. 569, 535 S.W.2d 810 (1976).

The city police court has exclusive jurisdiction of all prosecutions and actions for infractions of the city's bylaws or ordinances and concurrent jurisdiction with the circuit courts and...

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    ...S.W.2d 105 (1993). A court has a duty to determine if it has subject-matter jurisdiction of the case before it. Skelton v. City of Atkins, 317 Ark. 28, 875 S.W.2d 504 (1994). When the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, the appellate court also lacks jurisdiction. First Pyramid ......
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