A “hand-shake” man who died while cleaning up debris after a 2014 tornado has had his attention to contractual detail vindicated by the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
In an opinion handed down last week — and destined for further appeal — a three-judge panel unanimously upheld most of a $1 million judgment that Doug Boydston’s trust and widow had won in a dispute with businessman Danny W. Brown.
Brown, a former CPA who owns RBD Construction Inc. of Pine Bluff and Willy D’s Rock & Roll Piano Bar in Little Rock’s River Market district, bought Mayflower R.V. from Boydston in March 2013 for $1.2 million. But Boydston, of Bigelow, retained ownership of the RV dealership’s locations in Mayflower, Malvern and Van Buren and rented them to Brown.
The lease agreement required Brown to maintain replacement cost insurance on the properties. According to evidence presented to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce, Boydston had insured the Mayflower property for more than $700,000 before the sale, based on a professional valuation.
But Brown waited weeks to insure the properties, and then insured the Mayflower property for a maximum of $450,000. (Despite owning a construction company and having experience with commercial leases, Brown testified that he didn’t know what it would cost to replace the structures and didn’t know what replacement cost insurance was.)
Disaster, Then Tragedy
The Mayflower property was destroyed by a tornado in May 2014.
Brown offered Boydston the $450,000 insurance settlement, but only if Boydston would agree that he was not owed the full replacement cost required by the lease. Boydston refused.
Brown sued Boydston, claiming Boydston knew the limit of the coverage and agreed to it. Boydston countersued, and the $450,000 was deposited with the court pending the outcome of the case.
Days later, in September 2014, Boydston died at age 50 when a utility vehicle he was using to clear debris on the site flipped over.
After a four-day bench trial in February 2016, Judge Pierce awarded Boydston’s trust and his widow, Toni, the $450,000 insurance settlement, the $154,500 difference between the insurance payment and the replacement cost of the property, $40,500 in accrued interest and $230,000 in punitive damages because Brown refused to give Boydston the insurance proceeds without placing restrictions on them.
Pierce also awarded Toni Boydston a $10,000 debris-removal insurance check that Brown never told Boydston he had received since it was not required by the lease. And he ordered Brown to pay the Boydstons’ attorney, Pat James of Little Rock, $200,000 in fees.
In a 105-page explanation of his judgment, Pierce accepted testimony describing Boydston as “a ‘hand-shake’ man who built Mayflower R.V. from the ground up based on his integrity and honesty.”
His findings about Brown’s character and dealings were not as flattering.
“Unlike Boydston, Brown did not exhibit honesty or integrity in this action. According to Brown, his word is not his bond, his contract is a bond and that is why you put everything in writing,” Pierce wrote. “However, even his contract is not Brown’s bond as he committed numerous breaches and violations” of the sale and lease agreements.
Pierce also found testimony by Brown’s insurance agent, Dale Dixon, “simply not believable.”
The Court of Appeals judges deferred to the trial judge on questions of witness credibility, and also agreed that Brown had no right to withhold the insurance proceeds from the Boydstons.
The appeals court opinion, written by Judge Larry D. Vaught, also upheld the award of attorney’s fees for James’ work on the contract portion of the dispute and punitive damages for the tort of conversion — in this case, maintaining control of the insurance proceeds that everyone agreed belongs to the Boydstons.
“When awarding punitive damages, the circuit court found that appellants had ill will — that Brown received no benefit from controlling the money and that keeping it harmed appellees. The circuit court further found that Brown was utterly remorseless for his actions. Brown’s own testimony supports these findings — he testified that he had no regrets and that if he had it to do over again, he would do the same thing.”
The three-judge appeals panel overturned the award of accrued interest.
Not Over Yet
“We’re obviously going to appeal this to the [state] Supreme Court,” said Kent Walker, the North Little Rock lawyer who represented Danny Brown. “We believe the appellate court has found some errors in the Circuit Court’s decision, and we believe there are more issues the Supreme Court needs to consider.”
Among other things in Pierce’s findings were these two interesting facts:
- Mayflower R.V. earned a profit of almost $865,000 in 2014 alone.
- Brown sold the business in 2015 for $1.7 million, 40 percent more than he paid two years earlier.
Brown is also hoping to branch out into yet another industry. He’s a 24.5 percent owner of Bold Team LLC, which submitted one of the five high-scoring applications for a license to cultivate medical marijuana.
The license is on hold, however, while the state appeals Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen’s order declaring the selection process “null and void.”