Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The primary question before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in this case was the constitutionality of 12 O.S. 2011 section 3009.1, limiting the admissibility of evidence of medical costs in personal injury actions. In 2014, plaintiff-petitioner Jhonhenri Lee was involved in a motor vehicle collision with defendant-respondent Diana Catalina Bueno. Lee was driving a vehicle that was struck from behind by a vehicle driven by Bueno. The collision pushed Lee's vehicle into the vehicle in front of him. After the collision, Lee sought medical treatment for injuries he sustained. At the time of the collision, Lee was insured under a policy with Blue Cross Blue Shield. Lee filed suit against Bueno alleging he sustained injuries for which he incurred property damage, medical expenses, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and was prevented from transacting business, as a result of Bueno's actions and non-actions. Lee claimed damages in excess of $25,000. Prior to the commencement of discovery, Lee filed a Motion for Declaratory Relief Regarding the Constitutionality of 12 O.S. 2011 sec. 3009.1, asserting he incurred approximately $10,154 in medical expenses for treatment of injuries caused by Bueno's alleged negligence, and $8,112.81 in expenses submitted to his insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield, who paid $2,845.11. Lee argued in his motion that 12 O.S. 2011 section 3009.1 was: (1) unconstitutional as a special law in violation of Okla. Const. art. 5, section 46; (2) unconstitutional because it violated his right to due process and a trial by jury; and (3) because it was unconstitutional, the collateral source rule should apply. The Supreme Court determined plaintiff did not meet the burden required to demonstrate the unconstitutionality of the statute, and the statute controlled over the collateral source rule to the extent the two might conflict. View "Lee v. Bueno" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Pat Blair brought an action alleging that a conveyance of real property from her grandmother to her sister, the defendant-appellee Gayle Richardson (grantee), was void because the grandmother (grantor) lacked legal competency and because the deed was executed under undue influence. The trial court ruled in favor of Richardson on both theories of recovery. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed, concluding that the grantor was rendered legally incompetent by operation of 43A O.S. 1961 section 64. Richardson appealed. Finding no reversible error in the appellate court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Blair v. Richardson" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellee Tracey Childers (wife) and Respondent-Appellant Kelly Childers (husband) were divorced pursuant to a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage that distributed their marital estate. The husband appealed the Decree, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. It concluded that the trial court's valuation of the marital estate was against the clear weight of evidence. It also ordered the trial court to rule on the husband's request for attorney fees on remand. The three dispositive questions presented for the Supreme Court's review were whether: (1) the trial court's valuation of the parties' marital estate was against the clear weight of evidence; (2) the trial court's distribution of the parties' marital estate was just and reasonable; and (3) the trial court's order that each party pay its own attorney fees was an abuse of discretion. The Court held that the trial court's valuation of the parties' marital estate was not against the clear weight of evidence, that its distribution of the parties' marital estate was just and reasonable, and that its order that each party pay its own attorney fees was not an abuse of discretion. View "Childers v. Childers" on Justia Law

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Kyle Trusty was arrested for driving under the influence after crashing his vehicle. Trusty was taken to the hospital where he consented to a blood test to determine his blood alcohol content. The blood was drawn by a nurse at the hospital, and the arresting officer sent the sample to the police lab. Upon receiving the results, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) revoked Trusty's driver's license. Trusty appealed, and the trial court vacated the revocation because DPS did not call the nurse who drew the blood as a witness to establish that the withdrawal was done in compliance with rules and regulations of the Board of Tests for Alcohol and Drug Influence. DPS appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed. View "Trusty v. Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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Jonnie Vasquez, a Dillard's store employee, injured her neck and shoulder as she lifted shoe boxes while working. She filed claims for benefits under Dillard's Opt-Out plan, which were ultimately denied. The employer sought removal to federal court on grounds that the federal court had exclusive jurisdiction under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The United States District Court for the Western District disagreed and remanded the case to the Workers' Compensation Commission. The Commission found that the Opt Out Act: (1) constituted an unconstitutional special law; (2) denied equal protection to Oklahoma's injured workers; and (3) denied injured workers the constitutionally protected right of access to courts. Dillard's appealed. At issue was a challenge to the constitutionality of the Opt Out Act. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded that the core provision of the Opt Out Act, created impermissible, unequal, disparate treatment of a select group of injured workers. Therefore, the Court held that the Oklahoma Employee Benefit Injury Act was an unconstitutional special law under the Oklahoma Constitution, art. 2, section 59.3. View "Vasquez v. Dillard's Inc." on Justia Law

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M.H.C. (child) was born in September of 2013. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) placed the child in protective custody on November 5, 2013. In the initial petition filed on November 18, 2013, the State declared the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) were applicable. On November 21, 2013, the Cherokee Nation appeared at the initial appearance, and the natural mother informed the court that she had a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood but was not currently a tribal member. Thereafter, the Cherokee Nation received official notice from the State that it planned to adjudicate the child as deprived. The Cherokee Nation sent DHS a response notifying DHS that the child was eligible for enrollment in the tribe and enclosing a tribal-enrollment application for DHS to complete. After the Cherokee Nation's initial attempt to have DHS complete the enrollment application, the Cherokee Nation sent DHS three additional enrollment applications. The district court ruled the ICWA inapplicable because the mother was not a registered tribal member, the child was not a member either. The natural mother was also told if ICWA applied, the child would likely have to leave foster mother's care because foster mother was a non-ICWA compliant placement. No party informed the natural mother of ICWA's benefits and protections. The natural mother declined to enroll at the time. The district court subsequently found the State broke confidentiality by allowing the Cherokee Nation to attend a family team meeting in a non-ICWA case. The district court granted the Cherokee Nation's motion to transfer the case to tribal court, finding the State failed to provide clear-and-convincing evidence of good cause to deny the transfer. The State and foster mother (together Appellants) appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the appeal for disposition. Neither DHS, nor the natural mother, nor the child through her attorney objected to the transfer to tribal court jurisdiction. Only the State and the foster mother objected. After review, the Supreme Court found that the district court did not err in finding ICWA applicable upon the natural mother's enrollment in the Cherokee Nation. ICWA applied to the proceedings prospectively from the date the record supports its application. Appellants failed to present clear-and-convincing evidence of "good cause" for the case to remain with the district court. Because the district court did not err in granting the motion to transfer to tribal court, the Court affirmed the order granting the motion to transfer. View "In the Matter of M.H.C." on Justia Law

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On April 21 and April 29, 2015, the Oklahoma Senate and the Oklahoma House of Representatives, respectively, passed House Joint Resolution Number 1012, directing the Oklahoma Secretary of State to refer a proposed constitutional amendment to a vote of the people of Oklahoma. The proposed amendment would add a new section to Article II, prohibiting the Legislature from passing any law "which abridges the right of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices without a compelling state interest." Plaintiffs filed a petition in the district court, urging that the measure was facially unconstitutional. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, submitting that the challenge was untimely. The district court granted the motion to dismiss finding the challenge was timely and was not facially unconstitutional. Plaintiffs appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the case, but on grounds that the district court should have abstained from review of a referendum before voted on by the people. View "Save the Illinois River, Inc. v. Oklahoma ex rel. Oklahoma Election Board" on Justia Law

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On January 27, 2016, the proponents of Initiative Petition No. 404, State Question 780 and Initiative Petition No. 405, State Question 781 (collectively Petitioners), filed both petitions and their ballot titles with the Secretary of State. The Petitioners assert both rewritten ballot titles misrepresent the effect of the measures and are contrary to Oklahoma law. Initiative 404 sought to amend statutes to reform criminal sentences for certain property and drug offenses, making certain ones misdemeanors, such as simple drug possession. Initiative 405 sought to create the "County Community Safety Investment Fund," taking costs saved by reclassifying misdemeanors and redistributing them to the counties to fund rehabilitative programs. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found the proposed and rewritten ballot titles deficient, and rewrote the ballot titles pursuant to 34 O.S. Supp. 2015, 10. View "Steele v. Pruitt" on Justia Law

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In 2015, Respondents-Proponents Shawn Sheehan, Linda Reid, and Melvin Moran filed Initiative Petition No. 403 (State Question No. 779), with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. The petition sought to amend the Oklahoma Constitution by adding a new Article 13-C, creating the Oklahoma Education Improvement Fund. Funds generated by the one-cent tax would be distributed to public school districts, higher education institutions, career and technology centers, and early childhood education providers for certain educational purposes outlined in the proposed article. Petitioners filed suit to challenge the gist of the measure post-circulation and the sufficiency of the Attorney General's rewritten ballot title. After review of the matter, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the time for challenging the gist of a measure had expired, and found that the Attorney General's rewritten ballot title was deficient. "We agree that the ballot title is misleading if it does not mention the Board of Equalization's role in limiting appropriations. In addition, the ballot title should refrain from partiality and should clarify the amount of the sales and use tax as well as its allocation." Pursuant to 34 O.S. Supp. 2015, sec. 10 (A)6 , the Court corrected and amended the ballot title. View "OCPA Impact, Inc v. Sheehan" on Justia Law

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Appellant-plaintiff Robert Leritz was a Kansas resident whose motorcycle and two other vehicles were garaged in Kansas under an insurance policy issued by Appellee, Farmers Insurance Company (Farmers) in Kansas. Plaintiff was injured in a motorcycle accident in Oklahoma when Defendant Larry Yates made a left hand turn and collided with Plaintiff causing serious bodily injuries. Plaintiff brought this action alleging that he had incurred medical expenses and suffered damages exceeding Yates's liability coverage. There was a question as to whether he could stack his uninsured motorist (UM) coverage based on his ownership of policies on each of his three vehicles. Oklahoma allowed the practice, until the Oklahoma Legislature amended the UM provision in 2014. Kansas did not allow stacking. The trial court granted summary judgment to the insurer and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, applying the insurer's proposed solution to a perceived conflict of laws issue. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found no conflict of laws issue on these facts because the policy specified which law would apply to an issue of stacking of policies. Giving the policy provisions effect made a choice of law analysis unnecessary; the Court vacated the Court of Civil Appeals, reversed the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Leritz v. Farmers Insurance Company, Inc." on Justia Law