The first round of decisions from the Arkansas Supreme Court for its 2012-13 term included a holding on a familiar issue concerning the finality of decisions. In Ford Motor Company v. Washington, 2012 Ark. 325, the Arkansas Supreme Court again reiterated that a written order is required in order for the voluntary nonsuiting of a party to be effective.
The case involved an automobile accident that involved a Ford Explorer and a Nissan Sentra. The driver of the Explorer was killed, and the passenger (the driver’s son) was injured. The plaintiff (the driver’s wife) sued individually, and on behalf of her son and her husband’s estate. The plaintiff filed claims against the manufacturer of the vehicle (Ford Motor Company) and the dealership that sold the vehicle (Freeway Ford Lincoln Mercury, Inc.) for negligence, strict liability, failure to warn, and breach of warranties. The plaintiff also filed a negligence claim against the driver of the Sentra (Karah Allen Williams).
The plaintiff eventually settled the claim against Ms. Williams. Then, at trial, the plaintiff moved to nonsuit her claims against Freeway. The trial court granted the motion orally, but the dismissal was never reduced to a written order.
At trial, the plaintiff prevailed on her claims against Ford and was awarded compensatory and punitive damages. Ford appealed, arguing that certain evidence had been improperly excluded, that certain claims were preempted by federal law, that the punitive damages award should be reversed, and that the compensatory damages should be reduced.
The Arkansas Supreme Court held that the order in the case was not a final order. Quoting from Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a), the Court held that “[a] voluntary nonsuit is ‘effective only upon entry of a court order dismissing the action.’” Ford Motor Co., 2012 Ark. 325, at 2. Because there was no written order dismissing Freeway, the order in the case did not adjudicate all claims against all parties. Therefore, the order was not a final order, and the Arkansas Supreme Court dismissed the appeal without prejudice.
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