The Arkansas Court of Appeals has upheld Circuit Judge Rob Wyatt Jr.'s decision granting summary judgment for the defendant in a wrongful death case.

The Arkansas Court of Appeals has upheld Circuit Judge Rob Wyatt Jr.’s decision granting summary judgment for the defendant in a wrongful death case.

In 2011, Denise Brown, acting as the administrator of the estate of Charda Thomas, filed suit against Marcie Johnson after Thomas, who was Brown’s daughter, died in a house fire on Sept. 26, 2010. Johnson owned the house, which according to a report from Chief Harry Hickerson of the Altheimer Fire Department had no working smoke detectors.

Brown alleged in the lawsuit that Johnson failed to maintain the house in a safe manner, resulting in Thomas’ death.

Johnson sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, arguing that she was not required by law to have smoke detectors in the house. Johnson said in a supporting affidavit that the house did have working smoke detectors. She also said Hickerson’s report was not written until April or May of 2011.

Johnson also said she had orally leased the property in 2003, shortly after buying it, and was not obligated to provide or maintain smoke detectors by the lease.

On Oct. 30, 2012, Wyatt granted summary judgment to Johnson, saying in his ruling that “the record reflects that the tenant occupied the premises pursuant to an oral lease. There is no proof in the record, or by affidavit, that the Defendant (Johnson) agreed or undertook to maintain the premises.

“The Defendant in this case owed no duty to the deceased and cannot be held liable for her injuries and death.”

That ruling was appealed to the state court, with Brown contending that there were material issues of fact at issue, but writing for the court, Judge Waymond Brown disagreed.

Brown said no legal authority was cited that would require Johnson to maintain the house and there was no explanation of how her alleged negligence was the cause of Thomas’ death.

In addition, although the lawsuit stated that there were no working smoke detectors, the report from the Altheimer Fire Chief said the actual cause of the fire was unknown.

“Furthermore, appellant (Brown) proffered no other act or omission, beyond appellee’s (Johnson) alleged duty to install smoke detectors, by which appellee’s alleged negligence may have been the cause of the fire that led to Ms. Thomas’ death,” Judge Brown wrote.