Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Petitioner Rodney Dutton sought an extraordinary writ at the Oklahoma Supreme Court to challenge his convictions in three criminal proceedings in the municipal court for The City of Midwest City. He also requested an alternative remedy that would compel the District Court to provide him with a new appeal of his convictions in the District Court. Dutton alleged that in 2013, he was convicted in the municipal court of the City of Midwest City on charges of assault, public intoxication, and domestic assault and battery, for which he received a thirty-day jail sentence. He stated that he filed three applications for post-conviction relief at the District Court after his release. The District Court dismissed the applications on grounds that they should have been filed with the municipal court in Midwest City. His application for the Supreme Court to assume original jurisdiction was filed approximately one year and three months after his release. Dutton's claims, construed liberally because of his pro se status, alleged numerous constitutional violations and procedural errors at the municipal and district courts that entitled him to the relief he sought. The Supreme Court assumed original jurisdiction for the sole purpose of determining its jurisdiction to review Petitioner's allegations. After review, the Court held that it did not possess jurisdiction to either review the merits of Petitioner's cause of action challenging his municipal criminal convictions or compel the District Court to provide him with a new direct appeal of those convictions to the District Court. Dutton failed to show that he lacked adequate remedies in either a municipal court or the District Court. Dutton's claims were criminal matters and the Supreme Court declined to assume original jurisdiction on his claims or grant him relief on them without prejudice to him presenting them, in the proper court. View "Dutton v. City of Midwest City" on Justia Law

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On July 25, 2008, Jason Patterson died at the scene when the southbound motorcycle he was driving at highway speed impaled onto the front driver side windshield of Merrill's northbound vehicle after it crossed into Patterson's lane of traffic. Plaintiff Misty Fargo, a passenger on the motorcycle, was thrown from the motorcycle, receiving multiple injuries. Plaintiffs Fargo and Patterson's estate initially filed this action against Teresa Hays-Kuehn, Ginger Merrill and Angeline Sankey for negligence in the operation of their respective vehicles, but later filed a dismissal without prejudice against Merrill and Sankey. Kuehn was the only remaining defendant in this matter. Kuehn, whose vehicle did not collide with the motorcycle, moved for summary judgment asserting that even if her actions were negligent, at most they created a condition and were not the proximate cause of plaintiffs' damages thereby relieving her of liability. The trial court sustained the motion and plaintiffs appealed. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed finding Kuehn's actions were not the proximate cause of Plaintiffs' injuries and damages. After review, the Supreme Court held that whether Kuehn's actions were the proximate cause of the accident or merely a "condition" was a question for the trier of fact, making summary judgment inappropriate. View "Fargo v. Hays-Kuehn" on Justia Law

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Appellees operate wastewater injection wells in and around Lincoln County, Oklahoma, as well as other wells in central Oklahoma. Since approximately 2009, Oklahoma has experienced a dramatic increase in the frequency and severity of earthquakes. In 2011, Appellant Sandra Ladra was at home in Prague watching television in her living room with her family when a 5.0 magnitude earthquake struck nearby. Appellant's home began to shake, causing rock facing on the two-story fireplace and chimney to fall into the living room area. Some of the falling rocks struck Appellant and caused significant injury to her knees and legs, and she was rushed immediately to an emergency room for treatment. She claimed personal injury damages in excess of $75,000. Appellant filed this action in the District Court of Lincoln County to recover damages from Appellees, alleging that their injection wells were the proximate cause of Appellant's injuries. The district court dismissed the case, explaining that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission ("OCC") had exclusive jurisdiction over cases concerning oil and gas operations. Appellant filed Court a Petition in Error to the Supreme Court seeking review of the district court's order. The Supreme Court concluded after review that Appellant properly brought her case to the district court, and the district court erred in dismissing it. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ladra v. New Dominion, LLC" on Justia Law
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Both parties in this matter sought dissolution of their marriage on grounds of incompatibility. The wife informed the trial court that she was terminally ill and wanted to finalize the divorce before her death as she wished to leave her part of the estate to her daughters. The judge granted the parties the divorce, and filed a Court Minute memorializing his ruling. The judge signed and dated the Court Minute and the attorneys who represented the parties also signed. The judge included an order in the Court Minute for mediation to resolve property issues and further ordered that a journal entry be presented to the court within five days. However, the wife died before reaching a property settlement with the husband. No journal entry was filed. The husband filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that after the wife died, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to proceed with the dissolution of marriage action. The wife's successors filed a response objecting to dismissal of the action. The trial court granted the husband's motion to dismiss. On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether, where both parties sought dissolution of their marriage, was effective at the time pronounced by the trial court even though property issues had not been settled and no journal entry had been filed. Although a judgment is generally not "enforceable in whole or in part unless or until it is signed by the court and filed," Oklahoma law carves out an exception for divorce proceedings, where the adjudication of any issue shall be "enforceable when pronounced by the court." The Court found that the husband did not oppose the dissolution of the marriage; what he opposed in essence was the bifurcation of the divorce between the dissolution of the marriage and the property settlement. The implications of this for proceedings in which a spouse dies before a journal entry is filed, was that a trial court may pronounce that the marriage is dissolved, effective immediately, but that decision is not appealable until it is filed. The district court erred in dismissing this case for lack of jurisdiction. The Supreme Court remanded for the trial court to divide the property and take such further actions as were necessary. View "Alexander v. Alexander" on Justia Law
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The issue this case presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review was whether the district court erred in sustaining a legal parent's motion to disqualify opposing counsel. More specifically, the question centered on whether the integrity of the judicial process was likely to suffer real harm when an attorney who represents a client in a proceeding to establish paternity and to determine custody of a minor child failed to report suspected child abuse to the proper authorities as required by statute, conducts a forensic interview of the child to obtain evidence to support the client's position, did not obtain the legal parent's permission prior to the interview, and filed his own affidavit attesting to the credibility of the child's affidavit. Brandy Poindexter (Mother) is the legal parent of a minor child (Child) born in 2005. On September 6, 2006, Michael Jensen (Client) filed a paternity action seeking joint custody of Child. William D. Thomas (Attorney) filed an entry of appearance on Client's behalf, becoming Client's fourth attorney in the paternity proceeding. The issue of paternity is not contested, but the district judge has yet to enter a final paternity decree. Child again alleged that he had been abused by Mother and her husband. This time, Client did not report the new allegations to DHS, but instead brought the Child to Attorney to be interviewed. On January 12, 2014, Attorney conducted a forensic interview of Child without seeking permission from Mother or securing independent counsel for Child. Only Attorney and Child were present during the interview. At a subsequent hearing on paternity, Mother moved to disqualify Attorney. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the district court did not err in sustaining the motion to disqualify opposing counsel when the attorney likely compromised the legal parent's right to a fair proceeding by contaminating the fact-finding procedure and by establishing a relationship of undue influence with the child. View "Jensen v. Poindexter" on Justia Law

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Kelly Jones was the biological mother of T.T.S. The State filed a petition seeking to adjudicate T.T.S. as a deprived child because the child "lacked 'appropriate parental care' and had been 'placed in threat of harm'" through mother's actions. Specifically, the state alleged the mother was a drug user and provided an unfit home environment for the child. In addition, the petition asserted that following a drug binge, mother was discovered by a law enforcement officer asleep with her boyfriend in a parking lot while T.T.S. slept nearby, unsupervised, in mother's car. Two windows had been broken on the vehicle and pieces of glass were located in T.T.S' child safety seat. The goal, according to the State's petition, was reunification of T.T.S. with mother. Throughout the pendency of this case, T.T.S. resided with foster parents. A subsequent Department of Human Services (DHS) progress report was filed with the trial court approximately a year later, and disclosed that mother had been arrested and was incarcerated in the Grayson County Jail in Sherman, Texas. A court minute filed after the review hearing suggested DHS intended to pursue termination of parental rights, which was ultimately granted. On appeal of the termination, mother challenged the trial court's failure to provide jurors with legally correct instructions and verdict forms. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a new trial, finding that the individualized service plan (ISP) contained an expansive list of remedial measures DHS desired mother to accomplish; some of the items were designated as mandatory, while others were characterized as desired. "What precisely was expected from mother in this case to re-establish physical custody of T.T.S. was less than clear." Moreover, the Court found that none of the State's applications to terminate mother's parental rights set forth the precise conditions mother failed to correct. Similarly, neither the jury instructions nor the verdict forms provided specificity with regard to the corrective measures mother had allegedly failed to ameliorate. Without this information mother could not effectively defend against the State's action to dissolve the parent-child relationship. "Due process requirements mandate reasonable notice of the conditions leading to a deprived adjudication, including jury instructions and verdict forms which outline a parent's purported noncompliance." View "In the matter of T.T.S." on Justia Law
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The question presented on appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court in this case was whether an owner of real property received constitutionally sufficient notice of the sale of his property for delinquent taxes when notice was provided only by publication and certified mail that was returned undelivered. Appellant-landowner neglected to pay taxes on certain real property in McIntosh County. The property was sold at a tax sale and a tax deed was issued to the buyer. The landowner filed suit seeking to invalidate the tax deed and quiet title in himself, asserting that the sale and resultant deed were void because he was not given constitutionally sufficient notice of the sale and was denied his right to redeem the property. Both the landowner and the county defendants moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the county defendants' motion and denied the landowners. The landowner appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. After review, the Supreme Court held: (1) that the landowner did not receive constitutionally sufficient notice; and (2) the sale and resultant tax deed were therefore void. View "Crownover v. Keel" on Justia Law

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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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