Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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In 2008, a field engineer for Verdigris Valley Electric Cooperative (Employer) met with a contract electrician for Integrated Service Company LLC (INSERV) in Catoosa, concerning the installation of additional underground electrical service. They discussed the location of the additional service to the building and decided to use an existing junction box which the engineer observed was surrounded by a yellow metal barricade. He would later note: "I normally recommend that our members [customers] install a protective post an [sic] each corner of a pad mounted device in high traffic areas such as the INSERV plant, to help protect from getting ran [sic] over by vehicles or other equipment. I would never suggest having a barrier of any kind in front of any opening or door on VVEC equipment." Employer's work crew, consisting of Employer was dispatched to install additional underground electrical service to INSERV. The four-man crew consisted of Jones, Jackson, Day, and Tiger. Jones and Jackson were journeymen electricians and Jones was the foreman. Day and Jason Tiger were apprentices. Tiger had been in the journeyman apprentice program for approximately nine months of a four-year program. At the time of his death, Tiger had been certified only in the climbing school portion of his journeyman training. Day had worked for Employer only one month. When the crew arrived at the work site, they found the junction box surrounded by a yellow painted steel barricade, erected presumably to protect it from being struck by vehicles or trailers. The record did not establish who erected or owned the barricade, but Employer owned the junction box and associated electrical equipment. Affixed to the junction box was a warning concerning hazardous voltage and underground power cables and a notice from Employer. Despite this, Tiger was electrocuted attempting to make a connection to the junction box. His widow sued Employer and INSERV pursuant to "Parret v. UNICCO Service Co.," (127 P.3d 572), asserting that Employer knew that injury or death was substantially certain to result from the task Tiger and his coworkers were directed to complete and the conditions in which they were required to work. The District Court denied the employer's motion for summary judgment but granted a second motion for summary judgment after additional discovery. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed after its review of the trial court record, finding material issues of fact remained in dispute. View "Tiger v. Verdigris Valley Electric Cooperative" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Lacey & Associates, LLC, contracted with Everest Homes, LLC, to purchase a commercial building. In addition, Lacey and Everest executed an escrow agreement for the release of additional funds to Everest if the roof was replaced after title had transferred to Lacey. After title passed to Lacey, Everest entered into a contract with the Williams Group, a contractor, to replace the roof. The Williams Group then hired Andrea Pizano to remove the old roof and HVAC units, which service she performed. In early 2013, Pizano sued alleging the Williams Group did not pay the contractual amount of $11,085, as agreed by the two parties. She filed a mechanic's lien on Lacey's building one day before she filed her petition. The lawsuit sought judgment against the Williams Group in the amount of $11,085, plus interest. The Williams Group never filed an answer. The trial court thereafter entered a default judgment against the Williams Group, awarding Pizano $11,085, an attorney's fee of $2,500.00 and court costs of $461.81. Pizano then sought to foreclose her lien against Lacey and be awarded court costs and attorney fees. She requested that the property be sold to satisfy the judgment. Lacey answered and included a "Cross-motion for Summary Judgment," contending that the new roof leaked so badly that large barrels had to be placed inside the building to catch the water. Therefore, no party was entitled to be paid for the roof. Lacey also asserted that Pizano's motion should be denied because Lacey had no contract with Pizano, and also that the plaintiff failed to file the required pre-lien notice. The trial court granted Pizano's summary judgment motion in part, and denied Lacey's counter-motion for summary judgment. Lacey appealed and Pizano counter-appealed. The Court of Civil Appeals held that Pizano successfully preserved her subcontractor's lien, but found that genuine disputes of fact remained as to the amount owed to Pizano and the enforceability of the lien. The Supreme Court found that the Legislature intended amounts less than $10,000 to be exempt from pre-lien notice. Having provided such an exception, the wording of the applicable statute persuaded the Court that "if a claimant filed a claim of $10,085 without a pre-claim notice, the claim would be enforceable up to $9,999. We do not believe that the claim would be completely unenforceable if it exceeded that legislatively-approved amount by a mere $86." The trial court's order entitling Pizano to a reduced judgment amount of $9,999.00 and an award of attorneys' fees and costs was affirmed. This case was remanded to the trial court to issue a judgment consistent with the law as expressed in the Supreme Court's opinion. View "Pizano v. Lacey & Assoc., LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jackie Watkins ("Watkins"), in her capacity as guardian of her adult daughter, Jane Doe, sought damages against defendants, Central State Griffin Memorial Hospital ("Griffin"), Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services ("ODMHSAS") and Dr. Asma Mudassir, in her official capacity as a resident physician and individually. Plaintiff's allegations against defendants all sounded in tort. Doe was admitted to Griffin at 4:00 a.m. on March 19, 2011, for treatment of suicidal thoughts. At the time of admission, she was nineteen years old, five months pregnant and lived at home with her mother. Later that day, Doe told Nicholas Schiavo, R.N. she was having abdominal pain and was concerned she was having contractions. Schiavo took Doe into an exam room with no other witness present to check her for bleeding. He remained present in the room and watched while Doe removed her clothing from the waist down. Schiavo did not provide Ms. Doe with a sheet, drape or a gown. He then put on a glove, and conducted a pelvic exam while she was undressed on the exam table. No female staff was present. They were alone in the exam room for nine minutes. Sometime later, Schiavo asked Doe if she was still involved in a relationship with the father or interested in dating other people. He also offered to perform another pelvic exam when she felt better. Doe filed a complaint with Griffin prior to her March 21, 2011, discharge, claiming she felt violated by Schiavo conducting a "pelvic exam with no doctor or female present then joked and asked if [Doe] wasn't with the father was [she] looking to see other people and touched [her] shoulder". It was undisputed that Watkins knew about the specific concerns raised in the complaint submitted to Griffin. Watkins followed up with Griffin about the status of this complaint. She was told a formal investigation of the incident was being conducted. Unsatisfied with the results of the investigation, Watkins filed suit. Griffin and ODMHSAS were state institutions and argued claims against these defendants were subject to the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act ("GTCA"). The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this matter to address two issues: (1) whether the limitations period in the GTCA tolled when state employees allegedly withheld facts critical to the analysis of potential negligence claims; and (2) whether the record contained disputed facts material to this analysis? The Supreme Court answered both questions in the affirmative, holding that the resolution of these issues contained questions for the trier of fact, making summary adjudication improper. View "Watkins v. Central State Griffin Memorial Hospital" on Justia Law

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The issue this medical malpractice action presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on orders excluding testimony from plaintiffs' two expert witnesses and a summary judgment granted to defendants based upon the excluded testimony. Mrs. Nelson went to the Emergency Department of St. Mary's Regional Medical Center seeking medical assistance on the evening of July 21, 2006. The emergency room physician, Dr. Vaughan, ordered diagnostic tests, diagnosed an incarcerated hernia with possible bowel obstruction, and attempted to reduce the hernia. Dr. Vaughan telephoned Dr. Shepherd, Mrs. Nelson's internist and primary care provider. Dr. Shepherd instructed Dr. Vaughan to telephone Dr. Shreck, a surgeon. Dr. Shreck came to the hospital, reduced Mrs. Nelson's hernia, and she was admitted to the hospital. The medical record indicated Dr. Shreck reduced Mrs. Nelson's incarcerated hernia by manipulation. Mrs. Nelson became septic, went into septic shock during the morning of July 22nd, and she had a cardiac arrest while being prepared for surgery to address a perforated or dead bowel. She was resuscitated. After the surgery, Mrs. Nelson was given medicines to raise and control her blood pressure. Dr. Shepherd then switched Mrs. Nelson's medication to vasopressin. At approximately 11:00 p.m., Mrs. Nelson's blood pressure started to fall, her pulse became unstable and she died. A medical malpractice action was brought against Mrs. Nelson's medical providers for her last illness. Dr. Shepherd and Enid Medical Associates moved to exclude the proposed testimony of plaintiffs' two expert witnesses. They argued each witness had not provided legally proper testimony on the issue of the cause of Mrs. Nelson's demise because the testimony did not satisfy the requirements of "Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.," (509 U.S. 579 (1993)). The two defendants also sought summary judgment because the causation element of the malpractice claim action was missing from plaintiffs' claim. After review, the Supreme Court held that the opinions of the two witnesses on the issue of causation satisfied the requirements of 12 O.S. 2702, and reversed the summary judgment granted by the District Court. View "Nelson v. Enid Medical Associates, Inc." on Justia Law

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Parties to an agreement regarding an area of mutual interest for the purposes of oil and gas exploration sought to determine their respective rights under the agreement. The agreement gave the respondents in this case the right to participate in wells in futuro. The petitioners urged that the provision violated the rule against perpetuities. The district court agreed and granted judgment to the petitioners. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part remanded the matter for further proceedings. The issues this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether a clause in an agreement giving a limited liability company the right to participate in all future wells on unleased property violated Article II, Section 32 of the Oklahoma Constitution prohibiting perpetuities, and whether a limited liability company was a "life in being." The Court answered the first question in the affirmative and the second question in the negative, finding that the district court did not err in granting a motion to dismiss based on these two questions. View "American Natural Resources, LLC v. Eagle Rock Energy Partners, L.P." on Justia Law

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Cottonwood Creek watershed was an area covering approximately 379 square miles in parts of Logan, Oklahoma, Canadian and Kingfisher Counties. The area was prone to flooding, and in March of 1962, Logan County Soil and Water Conservation District No. 9 (LCSWCD), Cottonwood Creek Water and Soil Conservancy District No. 11 (CCWSCD), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), prepared a plan to alleviate dangers associated with uncontrolled water flow. One of the structures included in the work plan was Floodwater Retarding Structure No. 54 (FWRS 54). On September 24, 1962, D.C. and Odessa Fitzwater granted an easement (Fitzwater Easement) to CCWSCD. Years later, changes in safety criteria and the development of houses downstream compelled the USDA and Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) to recast FWRS 54 as a high hazard class (c) dam.3 This new classification was based on changes in safety criteria, the development of 26 houses downstream, and the potential for loss of life following a structural failure. In March of 2006, the USDA issued a written proposal calling for the rehabilitation of FWRS 54. The USDA watershed plan suggested multiple repairs and improvements to FWRS 54. Logan County Conservation District (LCCD) filed a declaratory action seeking permission to perform rehabilitation work on FWRS 54. The petition alleged the Fitzwater and Impoundment Easements vested LCCD with the right to complete the rehabilitation project. Property owners Phyllis Crowder and John White, Jr. answered and claimed that the proposed work did not fall within the scope of the original easements. Accordingly, Crowder and White maintained the rehabilitation project would lead to an improper taking of their land. Pleasant Oaks Lake Association (POLA) and individual homeowners also answered, alleging the project would constitute a taking requiring payment of compensation. LCCD filed a motion seeking summary judgment. The motion asserted LCCD was authorized to perform work on FWRS 54 based upon the unambiguous language contained in deeds establishing the Fitzwater and Impoundment Easements. The homeowners and the homeowners association appealed a judgment finding Conservation District was authorized to enter their respective properties to perform the rehabilitation work. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the plain language in the deeds creating the easements included a right to ensure the dam's structural integrity through a rehabilitation project. View "Logan County Conservation Dist. v. Pleasant Oaks Homeowners Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Carla Maree was a nursing home resident at Willow Park Health Care Center, Lawton, Oklahoma. In early 2011, Carla Maree fell; two days later she died. Petitioner Mamie Maree, as personal representative of the estate of Carla Sue Maree, sued Defendant/Real Party in Interest's, PSG-Willow Park, L.L.C., d/b/a Willow Park Health Center (Nursing Home), for, among other things, negligence, for allegedly failing to timely respond to a "call light" and provide Carla Maree with appropriate assistance. Petitioner's counsel claimed that during participation in other litigation against the same Defendant, they became aware of "certain individuals and entities intertwined amongst and actually part of the named Defendant." Petitioner appealed when the trial court denied her motion to add these newly-discovered individuals and entities to her lawsuit. She made an application to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to assume original jurisdiction and petitioned for a Writ of Prohibition prohibiting the Honorable Gerald Neuwirth, District Judge of Comanche County, Oklahoma (Respondent) from enforcing his January 21, 2016, Order denying Petitioner's Motion to Amend Petition to add additional defendants. In addition, Petitioner petitioned for a Writ of Mandamus ordering Respondent to allow Petitioner to amend her Petition and add additional defendants. After review, the Supreme Court found that the trial court decided the merits without affording Petitioner an opportunity for discovery to develop her claims. This was error and warranted the granting of a Writ of Prohibition to prevent the trial court from enforcing its January 21, 2016, order. The court dismissed Petitioner's application for a writ of mandamus. View "Maree v. Neuwirth" on Justia Law

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This legal battle began in 2006 when American Biomedical Group, Inc. (ABGI) and ABG Cattletraq, LLC (Cattletraq) filed a petition in the district court against Techtrol, Inc. and William Ardrey (Defendants); Defendants then filed a counterclaim. ABGI and Cattletraq dismissed their claims and causes of action against Defendants (without prejudice), leaving Defendants' counterclaim pending. Two years later, Defendants filed a petition in the same court against ABGI, Cattletraq, and James Burgess, their sole shareholder and CEO (Plaintiffs). In 2009, Plaintiffs filed another petition alleging that Defendants "wrongfully exercised dominion and control over plaintiffs' personal and intellectual property" and "willfully, deliberately and maliciously converted plaintiffs' personal and intellectual property" for their own benefit. Plaintiffs sought damages based on Defendants' unjust enrichment from the conversion. The district court consolidated the three cases. When the cases were consolidated, Defendants' counterclaim, Defendants' petition alleging abuse of process, and Plaintiffs' petition alleging causes of action for conversion and unjust enrichment remained pending before the district court. In 2014, Defendants moved for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claim for conversion, asserting that Oklahoma did not recognize a tort for conversion of intangible property, and for unjust enrichment, asserting Plaintiffs' claim was precluded because they had an adequate remedy at law for breach of contract. The question this appeal presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether Defendants supported their motion for summary judgment with undisputed, material facts sufficient to warrant the district court granting partial summary adjudication in their favor. After that review, the Court answered in the negative. "Defendants failed to show that they were entitled to summary judgment. Throughout their arguments before the district court and this Court, Defendants rely on allegations which they have failed to allege as undisputed in their motion for summary judgment, which have no supporting evidentiary materials, and which Plaintiffs contest or which Plaintiffs have not admitted." View "American Biomedical Group, Inc. v. Techtrol, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in this case was a challenge to the legal sufficiency of Initiative Petition No. 409. Respondents-proponents Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma and Bryan Kerr filed Initiative Petition No. 409 with the Oklahoma Secretary of State, seeking to amend the Oklahoma Constitution by repealing Article 28 and adopting Article 28A. Article 28A as proposed, would have allowed wine to be sold in grocery stores. Also under the proposed article, retail package stores could sell any and all items that were sold in convenience stores and grocery stores. Small brewers could sell their products at a brewery or festival or trade show and could sell alcoholic beverages by the drink at a restaurant co-located on the premises of the brewery. Petitioners-opponents Oklahoma Grocers Association and Ron Edgmon filed an Application to Assume Original Jurisdiction with the Supreme Court to protest: (1) the constitutionality of the petition; and (2) the statutory sufficiency of the gist of the petition. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the gist of the petition did not fairly describe the proposed constitutional amendment and was invalid. View "In re Initiative Petition No. 409, State Question No. 785" on Justia Law

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Jimmy Pearman, Jr. (Pearman) and Theresa Pearman (Theresa) filed for divorce in 2012. The decree dissolving the marriage was memorialized in 2013, however, the parties continued their litigation over matters of child custody and support of their two children. By 2014, Pearman was awarded exclusive custody of the children and Theresa was granted standard visitation. Pearman became involved with Theresa's roommate, "Tess," which appeared from court records to have been a tumultuous relationship. Incidents in the Spring of 2014 ended with allegations of assault lodged against Pearman, and a trial court hearing Tess's petition for a Protective Order/VPO. Theresa's attorney represented Tess, and most of the hearing concerned many text messages between Theresa and Tess regarding the VPO and their friendship and sex lives. Because of concerns about attorney-client privilege, the text messages were examined by both attorneys during a recess. Pearman's attorney used the text messages to establish the motive for filing VPO as merely an attempt to affect the ex-wife's child custody case. Tess' attorney advised his client to drop the VPO petition, and the trial court granted the subsequent motion to withdraw. When asked to determine the matter frivolous and award attorney fees and costs, the trial court, remarked that, while the whole matter was a soap opera, embarrassing, and absurd, the ex-husband did not show that it was frivolously filed. Consequently, the trial court refused to award attorney fees and costs. Pearman appealed the decision not to grant him fees and costs, arguing this matter was indeed frivolous. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court, but the Supreme Court disagreed, held the matter was indeed frivolously filed and victimless, and that attorney fees and costs should have been awarded. View "Murlin v. Pearman" on Justia Law