Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff Alan Benefiel and Christa Benefiel were divorced by a consent decree entered in 2005. Consistent with the terms of the parties' divorce decree, Plaintiff executed a quit claim deed, transferring title in the former marital residence to Christa. In exchange for relinquishing his ownership interest in the property, the decree required Christa to pay Plaintiff $25,000.00 as alimony in lieu of property division. Payments were structured incrementally over a period of four years; $10,000 was due in 2005, and $5,000 was payable on January 31 for years 2006, 2007, and 2008. As security for the property division judgment, Plaintiff was awarded a lien encumbering the residence. The lien was to remain in effect until all payments were completed. Further, the decree contained a clause which vested Plaintiff with the right to immediate title and possession of the property should Christa fail to timely remit any of the annual installments Prior to paying the final installment, Christa sold the subject real property to a third-party, Jewel Boulton. Boulton paid $17,000.00 as a down payment and financed the remainder of the purchase price. Though the divorce decree had not been filed with the local county clerk, it was made a part of the abstract of title. Despite its inclusion in the abstract, a title opinion issued prior to closing failed to identify the divorce judgment as a potential cloud or defect. Christa failed to make the final property division installment due on January 31, 2008. Plaintiff filed suit against both Boulton and Christa, asserting several claims, including demands to quiet title and to allow foreclosure of the lien. In her Answer, Boulton maintained that Plaintiff had no right, title, or interest in the house and that his lien from the divorce decree was ineffective and void. Both Boulton and Plaintiff sought summary judgment. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff, finding: (1) the divorce decree created a valid "mortgage lien" against the property; (2) Christa defaulted on the property division obligation; and (3) in accordance with the divorce decree, Christa's default resulted in the automatic reversion of title to Plaintiff. In a prior appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals invalidated the reversionary clause, but found the property was subject to a valid lien. On remand, Boulton invoked her statutory right of redemption, under 42 O.S. 20, by paying the underlying obligation plus interest; however, Boulton's discharge of the lien was not accomplished for more than three years after litigation was commenced. Thus, Plaintiff was the prevailing party on the lien foreclosure claim. After its review, the Supreme Court held that Boulton's redemption of the subject property occurred when she tendered both the underlying $5,000.00 obligation and the accumulated interest owed thereon. The Court of Appeals' opinion was thus vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Benefiel v. Boulton" on Justia Law

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The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of Oklahoma law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In April 2008, plaintiffs Shannon and Eric Walker requested several samples of hardwood flooring from BuildDirect.com Technologies, Inc., a Canadian corporation, through BuildDirect's website. The next month they arranged, over the telephone, to purchase 113 boxes of flooring from BuildDirect. BuildDirect emailed a two-page written Contract entitled "Quotation" to Ms. Walker, who signed and dated the Contract and returned it to BuildDirect via fax. The Contract described the type, amount, and price of the flooring purchased by the Walkers. And, it included 14 bullet points setting forth additional terms. The sixth bullet point stated: "All orders are subject to BuildDirect's 'Terms of Sale.'" The Walkers alleged that after they installed the flooring, they discovered that their home was infested with nonindigenous wood-boring insects. According to the Walkers, the insects severely damaged the home, and caused the home to be subject to quarantine and possible destruction by the United States Department of Agriculture. The question the federal appeals court posed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court was whether a written consumer contract for the sale of goods incorporated by reference a separate document entitled "Terms of Sale" available on the seller's website, when the contract stated that it was "subject to" the seller's "Terms of Sale" but did not specifically reference the website. In response, the Oklahoma Court held that Oklahoma law did not recognize a "vague attempt at incorporation by reference" as demonstrated in this case. Under the Oklahoma law of contracts, parties may incorporate by reference separate writings, or portions thereof, together into one agreement where: (1) the underlying contract makes clear reference to the extrinsic document; (2) the identity and location of the extrinsic document may be ascertained beyond doubt; and (3) the parties to the agreement had knowledge of and assented to its incorporation. View "Walker v. BuildDirect.com Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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When T.H. was three, the parental rights of her mother were terminated. Within a year, T.H. was adopted. T.H. lived with her adoptive parents until she was 15 years old, when she disclosed that her adoptive father had been sexually abusing her since she was five or six years of age. A deprived petition was filed, both adoptive parents consented to termination of their parental rights, and a trial court granted the petition in 2013. T.H. filed an application to reinstate the parental rights of her biological mother. In 2009, the Oklahoma Legislature enacted section 1-4-909, Okla. Stat. tit. 10A (Supp. 2009), which allowed a child to request a court to reinstate previously terminated parental rights under specified circumstances. T.H. filed her application based on section 1-4-909, alleging her circumstances satisfied all criteria for reinstatement of her biological mother's parental rights. The State objected arguing that one element of the statute had not been met. The trial court agreed with the State and entered an order denying the application. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, holding the statute to be ambiguous but applied an "as written" literal construction of the statute to hold that the application was properly denied. The issue this case raised on appeal to the Supreme Court was one of first impression, and the Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The Court found that the lower courts failed to construe the statute in a manner consistent with the rules of construction and the legislative intent stated in the Children's Code. View "In the matter of T.H." on Justia Law
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Posted in: Family Law
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Petitioner Baby F., through his attorney, requested that the Oklahoma Supreme Court assume original jurisdiction and issue a writ of prohibition forbidding the trial court from authorizing a change in his resuscitation status from full code to allow-natural-death pursuant to 10A O.S. 2011 section 1-3-102(C)(2). Baby F was one of several siblings the State sought to take into its emergency custody in an Application to Take Minor Children Into Emergency Custody on April 4, 2013. At that time, three-month-old Baby F had allegedly been diagnosed with several anomalies and genetic issues. At the hearing, Baby F's attending doctor testified as to Baby F's deteriorating condition, noting the numerous conditions identified when Baby F was born prematurely, and his continued respiratory troubles. According to the doctor, Baby F's acute respiratory events began to increase over time, necessitating several transfers to another facility, and the staff began to feel conflicted that they might be doing more to Baby F than for Baby F. Baby F filed an application to assume original jurisdiction and petition for a writ of prohibition, however, while this original action was pending, the State received a letter from Baby F's physician of record at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center, stating that Baby F's condition had deteriorated to the point where he could not survive without being in a medically induced coma and medically paralyzed on a life supporting ventilator, and there was no reason to suspect the situation would improve. The letter noted the child was suffering and that further life sustaining therapy was not appropriate. An emergency hearing was held, and based on the doctor's testimony, the State moved to dismiss Baby F. from a deprived petition and requested that the court place the child in the custody of his mother and father for purpose of their consent to the do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order, thereby negating the need for the trial court's approval under 10A O.S. 2011 sec. 1-3-102(C)(2). The State also requested the court vacate the stay it previously issued in order to proceed. The trial court vacated its previous stay and dismissed the deprived child proceeding only as to Baby F and returned Baby F to his parents' custody. Baby F died on January 10, 2015. Petitioner alleged that by failing to provide for an evidentiary standard and fact-finding, 10A O.S. 2011 sec. 1-3-102(C)(2) violated the requirements of substantive due process. The Supreme Court agreed, and determined: 1) that though Petitioner died during the pendency of these proceedings, this case fell within recognized exceptions to the mootness doctrine; and 2) in order to comply with the requirements of due process, before a withdrawal of life-sustaining medical treatment or the denial of the administration of cardiopulmonary resuscitation on behalf of a child in DHS custody could be authorized under 10A O.S. 2011 sec. 1-3-102(C)(2), the court must determine by clear and convincing evidence that doing so is in the best interest of the child. View "Baby F v. Oklahoma County Dist. Ct." on Justia Law

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Taxpayers Don and Mary Frankenberg made improvements to their home in 2001. The Garvin County Assessor did not increase the fair cash value of the property for the improvements until 2012 when she visually inspected the property and discovered the improvements. The Assessor notified the Taxpayers of a new assessed fair cash value, which was a substantial increase from the previous valuation in 1999. The Taxpayers protested the assessment, arguing that under Art. X, section 8B of the Oklahoma Constitution, the fair cash value of the property could not be increased more than 5% in any year. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Taxpayers, and the Assessor appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court found the exception to the 5% cap for improvements to a property existed only for the year the improvements were made to the property and did not apply in the year when the Assessor first discovers the improvements. Accordingly, the Court affirmed. View "Frankenberg v. Strickland" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Denise Schweigert (Mother) filed a petition for dissolution of her marriage to Tony Schweigert (Father) and an application for a temporary order. Mother sought both temporary and permanent custody of the couple's two children with supervised visitation with Father. Father was personally served the summons, the petition for dissolution of marriage, the application for a temporary order, and the order for hearing. Father appeared at the hearing on August 9, 2010. However, he did not file an answer or entry of appearance. Approximately one year later, the August 9, 2010 order was filed, giving Mother temporary custody of the children, allowing Father supervised visitation as agreed by the parties, and setting the temporary child support of $283.01 per month. The temporary order acknowledged that the "Respondent, TONY W. SCHWEIGERT, appear[ed] in person and Pro se" at the hearing. The record did not show that Father saw the temporary order or had a chance to contest its contents before it was filed. The record also did not show that a copy of the temporary order was ever sent to Father. Mother did not file a motion for default, and neither the decree nor any other document in the record said anything about any attempt to serve Father with notice of the hearing on the default judgment or whether his address was unknown. Nonetheless, Mother was granted a divorce, custody of the minor children with supervised visitation with Father, and child support of $283.01. Further, neither the transcript of the hearing for a temporary order nor the transcript of the 2011 hearing was designated for inclusion in the record. In 2013, Father filed a motion to vacate based on fraud and lack of due process. He contended that Mother defrauded him into not filing an answer and that he did not receive notice of the default hearing as required by Rule 10. At the hearing on the motion to vacate the default judgment, the district court stated: "I don't think that just appearing in court triggers making an appearance." A district court order was filed stating the matter came before the judge on October 22, 2013, denying the motion to vacate and finding "Respondent failed to meet Rule 10 requirement of entry, therefore Petitioner was not required to provide notice of default hearing to Respondent." Respondent appealed the denial of the motion to vacate, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the judgment. The dispositive question raised for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review was whether a party must file a motion for default and give the adverse party notice under Rule 10 of the Rules for District Courts, 12 O.S.2011, ch. 2, app., when the adverse party fails to file an answer or an entry of appearance but physically appears at a hearing. The Court answered "yes," reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Schweigert v. Schweigert" on Justia Law

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Wilson Paving & Excavating, Inc. was one of several subcontractors retained to perform services in connection with a renovation project at Sand Springs Memorial Stadium at Charles Page High School. Specifically, Wilson Paving contracted to dig trenches and lay pipe for a storm drainage system being installed under the athletic field. Wilson Paving utilized a local staffing agency, Labor Ready, to secure temporary workers to assist on the project. Steven Broom went to the offices of Labor Ready to obtain employment. Broom was directed by Labor Ready to work with Wilson Paving at Sand Springs High School. He reported to the high school and, at the instruction of Wilson Paving, began work laying pipe. The trench in which Broom was working collapsed twice - the first time covering him in dirt to his waist and the second time covering him in dirt to his neck. People on the job site freed Broom from the neck to the waist while waiting on emergency personnel to arrive. Once on the scene, emergency personnel could not enter the trench to rescue Broom until the trench was safely reinforced. During this time, Broom remained buried from the waist down. Emergency personnel eventually removed Broom from the trench, and he was transported to the hospital where he was treated for serious injuries, including rib fractures, collapsed lungs, pulmonary contusions, blood within the chest, fluid around the spleen and kidney, and a left kidney laceration. Before the trench collapsed, one of Wilson Paving's employees, Jack Bailey, was using a backhoe to dig the trench and to retrieve pipe from an area adjacent to the trench. Wilson Paving believed the trench collapse was due to the work of another contractor who had allegedly removed a monument and flag pole near the area of the collapse but failed to alert Bailey of such before he began digging the trench. Broom pursued and received workers' compensation benefits from Labor Ready for the injuries he sustained in the accident. Broom also sued Wilson Paving for his injuries in a third-party action to collect for his injuries as a result of Wilson's employee. The trial court found in favor of Broom and entered judgment against Wilson Paving for $1,150,000.00. Broom then sought post-judgment garnishment of Wilson Paving's Commercial General Liability Policy issued by Mid-Continent Casualty Company. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Mid-Continent, finding that coverage for Broom's injuries was precluded under the "earth movement" exclusion clause in Mid-Continent's policy. The Court of Civil Appeals found that the earth movement exclusion clause did not prevent coverage for Broom's injuries, but affirmed summary judgment on different grounds. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that Mid-Continent's Commercial General Liability Policy provided coverage for Broom's injuries. View "Broom v. Wilson Paving & Excavating" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the City of Ada, Oklahoma passed Ordinance No. 13-02 to annex certain real property, located in Township 3 North, Range 6 East of the Indian Base and Meridian, Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, into its corporate city limits. Petitioners were residents of Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, who owned property within the annexed territory. They sought to set aside the ordinance, and City denied their request. They then filed their Petition for Declaratory Judgment and in the Alternative, for Detachment of Municipal Territory, seeking a determination that the City lacked jurisdiction to pass the ordinance due to lack of compliance with 11 O.S. 2011 sec. 21-103. The trial court denied Petitioners' request for relief but filed its Order Certifying Interlocutory Order for Immediate Appeal. The question this case presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review centered on whether the City fully complied with the Oklahoma annexation statutes when it annexed that territory near its city limits. The Court held that substantial compliance with the notice requirements was not sufficient under the applicable statutes in this case and reversed. View "In re: Detachment of Municipal Territory from the City of Ada" on Justia Law

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The question this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether certain provisions of The Governmental Tort Claims Act (GTCA), specifically 51 O.S. 2011 sections 158(E) & 162(D), permitted the State of Oklahoma or a political subdivision to set off from liability amounts previously paid to a GTCA tort claimant from the claimant's own insurer, thereby abrogating the collateral source rule for claims arising under the GTCA with respect to these insurance benefits. Plaintiff-appellee Carolyn Mariani was injured when her vehicle was struck by a tractor-trailer operated by an employee of defendant-appellant Oklahoma ex rel. Oklahoma State University. Mariani filed suit under the GTCA, alleging the driver's negligence, that the driver was an employee of the State of Oklahoma, and that the employee was acting within the scope of his employment when the negligent acts occurred. Mariani admitted that her insurer, AAA, had compensated her in underinsured/uninsured (UM) motorist benefits and medical payment coverage. The State moved for an interlocutory order ruling it had the right to set off Mariani's insurance receipts from its total liability pursuant to 51 O.S. 2011 sections 158(E) & 162(D). Mariani objected, and the trial court issued an interlocutory order denying the State's motion for the right to a setoff. The trial court certified its order for immediate review and the State filed a Petition for Certiorari. The Supreme Court denied the State's petition to review the interlocutory order. At trial, the State once again asserted it was entitled to a setoff of Mariani's insurance benefits pursuant to the GTCA. The State renewed its motion for a setoff at the conclusion of evidence, but the trial court denied the State's renewed motion. The Supreme Court, after review, affirmed the trial court: "[a]n interpretation that Sections 158(E) and 162(D) serve to abrogate the collateral source rule for claims under the GTCA, allowing the State to set off collateral source benefits received by claimants from those claimants' own insurers, punishes those claimants for their foresight in procuring coverage. Such an interpretation is also contrary to the plain meaning of the sections when read in their entirety and in the context of the GTCA itself. We will not carve out an exception to the collateral source rule where the plain and clear language of the law does not provide for one." View "Mariani v. Oklahoma ex rel. Oklahoma State Univ." on Justia Law

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After being awarded benefits for injury and re-injury in 1997 and in 2000, claimant-respondent Anthony Cellino filed a request in 2003 for payment of principal and post award interest. He also sought certification for a class action with the Workers' Compensation Court to establish a class of others who had claims of unpaid interest on benefits awarded against The Multiple Injury Trust Fund after May 9, 1996. From 2003 until 2009, nothing was filed in the case. In August 2009, the Multiple Injury Trust Fund filed a motion for summary judgment arguing for dismissal for failure to prosecute. After the trial court granted the motion, a three-judge panel reversed and remanded. The trial court subsequently certified the class and the three-judge panel affirmed in part and modified in part the certification of the class. The issue left for the Supreme Court's review was whether claimant's request for class certification is a "claim for compensation" and subject to a five-year statute of limitations. Upon review, the Court concluded that the request was indeed a claim for compensation, and that claimant failed to diligently prosecute this claim. View "Multiple Injury Trust Fund v. Cellino" on Justia Law