Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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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

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The State started forefeiture proceedings against a 2011 Honda following a drug arrest. Ashley Bickle was the titled owner of the car, and she was a passenger in the car at the time drugs were found. Craig and Pam Bickle were Ashley's parents and were also listed on the title as owners of the Honda. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Craig and Pam Bickle, finding that the two were entitled to the "innocent owner defense" and possession of the Honda. The Court of Civil Appeals, on de novo review, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that the legislature did not intend for innocent owners to be deprived of their ownership rights by the actions of a guilty party in a vehicle forfeiture proceeding. The statute does not address the specific set of facts presented by this appeal; it addressed a scenario where the owner commits the offense making the vehicle subject to forfeiture. The Court reversed the appellate court and reinstated the judgment of the district court. View "Oklahoma ex rel. Harris v. 2011 Honda" on Justia Law

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In November 2005, petitioner Barbara Shepard was working for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections when she was injured. The Workers' Compensation Court found that Shepard had sustained a permanent partial disability. The court ordered the respondent Department of Corrections and/or its insurance carrier "to provide the claimant with reasonable and necessary continuing medical maintenance limited to prescription medications and four (4) visits per year to monitor same with Dr. M." There was no limit imposed on the doctor's exercise of a medical judgment as to which prescriptions were needed by Shepard, except those that were medically reasonable and necessary. The court also directed payment of reasonable and necessary medical expenses incurred by Shepard as a result of her injury. In 2010, Shepard moved to reopen her claim based upon a change of condition for the worse. In 2011, the Workers' Compensation Court reopened the claim and determined that Shepard had a change of condition for the worse and allowed additional compensation for the worsening of her left shoulder. The order of the Workers' Compensation Court en banc stated that respondent/insurance carrier "shall pay all reasonable and necessary medical expenses incurred by claimant as a result of said injury through the date of this order." The previous award of continuing medical maintenance was not disturbed by the order that reopened her claim. The order on reopening was appealed to the Court en banc which affirmed in part and modified in part the previous order. In 2011, the Court en banc modified a provision relating to temporary total disability, and two provisions of attorney's fees. The award of reasonable and necessary medical expenses was not modified. The previous award of continuing medical maintenance was not disturbed. In 2012, Respondents sought a hearing to "discuss prescriptions." They objected one of Dr. M.'s medical reports. The court ordered Shepard to submit to a medical examination by Dr. Y., and directed this doctor to determine whether Shepard needed pain management and the nature and extent of necessary continuing medical maintenance. The order also directed Dr. Y. to determine if Shepard's current continuing medical maintenance by Dr. M. was within the Oklahoma Treatment Guidelines. The court also directed Dr. Y. to determine whether Shepard's continuing medical maintenance was within the Oklahoma Treatment Guidelines; and if not, to advise whether her continuing medical maintenance in her best interest. Respondents then sought an order that would have the effect of terminating Shepard's medical prescriptions. In June 2014, the Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims ordered that Dr. M. could provide continuing medical maintenance to the Shepard. In July 2014, Shepard sought review of this decision by by the Supreme Court, arguing that respondents made an impermissible retroactive application of a new workers' compensation law. Respondents argued that application of the new law to medical benefits currently being provided was not a retroactive application, and that even if the application was a retroactive application, such application was permissible. The Supreme Court held that 85 O.S.2011 section 326(G) and the statutorily incorporated Guidelines were unconstitutionally applied retroactively to employee's previous award for medical treatment that predated section 326. View "Shepard v. Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) terminated the employment of petitioner Chester Rouse after several years of evaluations of inefficiency, incompetence, and misconduct, and after three significant events which occurred at its coal fired plant. Rouse appealed the termination to the Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission (OMPC) and then to the district court. The administrative appeal and the district court appeal each resulted in the affirmation of the termination. Rouse appealed to the Supreme Court, raising 16 issues of alleged error, some of which were found by the Court to be redundant, repetitive, related, or were not briefed on appeal. The Court consolidated the issues into four broader issues: (1) the trial court erred in its statutory interpretation of 74 O.S. 2011 section 840-6.5; (2) the trial court erred in determining that the reasons for termination were not pretextual or post hoc rationalizations; (3) the trial court erred in determining that plaintiff was estopped from challenging the level of discipline imposed (termination); and (4) its review of OMPC's ruling and the admission of certain evidence. After consideration of these issues, the Supreme Court found no reversible error, and affirmed the trial court. View "Rouse v. Oklahoma Merit Protection Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff purchased a Life Fund 5.1, L.L.C. Capital Appreciation Bond from a company that subsequently filed for bankruptcy. More than two years after purchase, plaintiff sued the defendants for misrepresentations and omissions in the sale of securities, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligence. The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, ruling that the statute of limitations for each of the plaintiff's claims had run before she brought suit. Plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The question this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether the district court erred in granting the defendants' motion for summary judgment based on the expiration of the statutory limitations periods. As a threshold matter, the Court determined when plaintiff's claims accrued and whether the statute of limitations for each claim ran or was tolled from the accrual date based upon the discovery rule. After review, the Court held that defendants did not submit sufficient evidentiary material to support their arguments as to when the statute of limitations began to run on each claim. Therefore the Court reversed the grant of summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Horton v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

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According to appellant Robert Perry, he and his friends attended the Norman Music Festival in 2013. At approximately 2:00 a.m. on the early morning of April 27, 2013, Perry and his friends left the Festival on bicycles to go home. On the way home, a Norman police officer, also on a bicycle, approached Perry's friends. The officer began issuing citations to Perry's friends for running a stop sign on their bicycles. The officer also asked Perry if he was interfering with the traffic stop. Perry responded that he was just waiting for his friends so they could continue home. The officer then rapidly approached Perry and threw his arm, with nightstick in hand, around Perry's throat and placed him in a choke hold with extreme force to his neck. Perry, frightened, began fighting for air and struggled to get out of the choke hold in order to breathe. As more police officers arrived at the scene, they slammed Perry over onto his stomach with several officers' knees and elbows pressed into his back and limbs, forcing him to the ground. Perry had committed no crime and was not resisting arrest. While on the ground, an officer grabbed Perry's arm and violently and quickly twisted it back causing the bone behind his elbow to sustain a large fracture. Perry eventually became unconscious from the shock of the fracture and the lack of air due to the choke hold. The City successfully moved to dismiss the case, and Perry appealed. Perry argued that the Supreme Court's holding in "Bosh v. Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority,"305 P.3d 994, applied to this case and the trial court erred in dismissing his lawsuit. The City argued that "Bosh" did not apply because Perry had a remedy available pursuant to the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act (OGTCA). "The OGTCA cannot be construed as immunizing the state completely from all liability for violations of the constitutional rights of its citizens. To do so, would not only fail to conform to established precedent which refused to construe the OGTCA as providing blanket immunity, but would also render the Constitutional protections afforded the citizens of this State as ineffective." However, the Supreme Court held that under Bosh, claims for excessive force against a municipality may not be brought against a governmental entity when a cause of action under the OGTCA is available. Because appellant did not seek relief for his injuries under the OGTCA, the trial court did not err in dismissing his case. View "Perry v. City of Norman" on Justia Law

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Vandelay Entertainment, LLC d.b.a. The Lost Ogle filed suit in district court to obtain records that the Governor withheld when responding to Vandelay's Open Records Act request. The district court ruled the Governor had a common law privilege to withhold the records in question. In conclusion, we hold that the trial court correctly ruled that the Governor has a privilege to protect confidential advice solicited or received from "senior executive branch officials" for use in deliberating policy and making discretionary decisions. We disagree, however, with the trial court's conclusion that this privilege rests solely upon common law. We hold that this privilege is a "power properly belonging" to the Governor's constitutional office as head of the executive branch and is protected by the separation of powers clause in Article 4, section 1. The need for confidential advice from "senior executive branch officials" for use in the Governor's deliberations and decision-making is "essential to the existence, dignity and functions" of the executive branch. Also, the need to protect such confidential advice is so ultimately connected and bound up with the executive function that the right to regulate disclosure of such confidential advice by way of a privilege naturally and logically belongs to the executive branch. This privilege is not absolute, however, and is subject to the check and balance of in camera judicial review, in lieu of legislatively-mandated public disclosure. The Governor has the burden upon in camera judicial review to demonstrate that any material relating to such confidential advice satisfies the criteria set forth in this opinion. Even confidential advice that satisfies this criteria can be subject to disclosure where (1) the requesting party can show a substantial or compelling need for disclosure and (2) the need for disclosure outweighs the public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of the advice. View "Vandelay Entertainment, LLC v. Fallin" on Justia Law

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The City of Oklahoma City charged Christopher Tucker with municipal misdemeanor offenses of interfering with official process, obstructing an officer, and failing to obey lawful commands of an officer. Tucker signed an agreement for the Cochran Firm-Criminal Defense, Birmingham, L.L.C. to provide him with legal representation for his scheduled trial in October of 2010. Tucker was found guilty of a municipal charge. Tucker alleged that the firm's Case Manager informed him that the law firm would engage in a four to five-day trial to defend him, the law firm would provide an experienced trial lawyer with twenty to thirty years of experience to represent him at trial, and that the law firm "had attorneys who were licensed to practice in Oklahoma and who would in fact defend the Plaintiff in trial . . . ." He alleged that these statements were untrue and were made to fraudulently induce him to enter into an agreement for legal services and to pay "outrageous fees." From Tucker's complaint, he alleged: (1) the firm required a non-refundable retainer of $13,690.00 for legal representation for the trial; (2) after he signed the agreement, the Cochran Firm informed him that a specific attorney would represent him but that another showed up at trial; (3) the morning of his trial was the first time he met the attorney who actually represented him at his trial; and (4) the firm failed to properly represent him. After filing an amended motion to dismiss, the trial court determined that the forum-selection clause in the retainer agreement should be judicially enforced. The trial court also determined that enforcement of a forum-selection clause would not be unfair or unreasonable under the circumstances. The trial court dismissed the action for improper venue. Tucker appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals concluded that the forum-selection clause should not have been enforced, reversed the trial court's order dismissing his claims, and remanded the matter for further proceedings in the District Court. The law firm petitioned for certiorari. After review, the Supreme Court concluded: (1) when a parties' agreement has an interstate forum-selection clause and a party seeks its judicial enforcement in an Oklahoma District Court by seeking dismissal of the Oklahoma proceeding, then the procedure for its enforcement is by a motion pursuant to 12 O.S. section 2012(B)(6), or Rule 13 motion for summary judgment; and (2) an interstate forum-selection clause is separable from the contract in which it appears, and its validity like any other provision in a contract is subject to the requirements of a valid contract. The appellate court's decision was vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Tucker v. Cochran Firm-Criminal Defense Birmingham, LLC" on Justia Law
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Posted in: Contracts
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This appeal stemmed from an action for auto negligence arising out of injuries sustained by Plaintiffs Rachael Montgomery and her three year old son, Noah Orcutt. Montgomery was rear-ended by Defendant Morgan Potter, who claims that her car brakes failed. As a result of Defendant's negligence, Montgomery claimed she sustained a severe back injury that required surgery. Among other damages sought Montgomery sought damages for her pain and suffering. Montgomery was an uninsured driver at the time of the accident. Citing 47 O.S. Supp. 2011, section 7-116, which prevents uninsured motorists from recovering certain non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, Defendant denied that Montgomery was entitled to damages for pain and suffering. Plaintiffs argued on appeal that section 7-116 was a special law in violation of art. 5, section 46 of the Oklahoma Constitution and filed a motion for declaratory relief declaring the statute unconstitutional. The trial court ruled in Plaintiffs' favor. The Supreme Court agreed: because 47 O.S.2011, section 7-116 impacted less than an entire class of similarly situated claimants it was under-inclusive and, therefore, the Court found it to be an unconstitutional special law prohibited by the Oklahoma Constitution. View "Montgomery v. Potter" on Justia Law