Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The district court ordered the transfer of a minor child, S.A.W., to a foster-adoption home that was in compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Oklahoma Indian Child Welfare Act, and in the bests interests of the child. Foster mother, natural mother, father, child, and the State appealed. After review of this matter, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the proper standard for a party showing a need for an ICWA-noncompliant child placement is clear and convincing evidence; and the evidence presented by appellants was sufficient to satisfy their burden, regardless whether the Court applied abuse-of-discretion or clear-and-convincing standards. The Court held the circumstances of this case did not warrant reversal of the judge's order based upon 10A O.S. 1-4-812. Appellants failed to satisfy their burden challenging natural father's status as not a member of his tribe. The Cherokee Nation met its burden showing the child was subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act. The evidence was sufficient to show an ICWA-noncompliant temporary placement as in the best interests of the child. As such, the Court affirmed the district court's order in part and reversed in part. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "In the matter of M.K.T." on Justia Law
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Carol Jean Carlson (Decedent) learned she was terminally ill in 2011, and retained an attorney to assist her in planning the disposition of her estate. Decedent executed three transfer-on-death deeds (TODDs) pursuant to the Nontestamentary Transfer of Property Act for real property she owned, as well as a Last Will and Testament. One of the pieces of real property transferred via TODD went to Debra Glover. The first of the other two TODDs named Appellee Clifford Cornish (Cornish) as grantee and the second named Eldin Lewis (collectively referred to as Grantees). Decedent died on August 29, 2011, five days after executing the TODDs and her Last Will and Testament. Prior to Decedent's estate planning and the execution of the TODD, Decedent executed a promissory note in the amount of $140,224.35 in 2006 in favor of The Margee and Robert W. Minter Living Trust. This note was secured by a mortgage, filed December 21, 2006, which encumbered the property conveyed to Lewis via the TODD. Lewis timely accepted the TODD. In 2011, Lewis filed a proof of claim with the Personal Representative for the remaining debt in the amount of $123,530.09. The Personal Representative rejected Lewis' claim on December 16, 2011. At issue in this cause is whether Carlson's estate was liable for the underlying debt on the mortgaged property transferred by TODD, when the grantor's will contained express instructions for the payment of all debts secured by mortgages. The Supreme Court determined that it was. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Carlson" on Justia Law
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Initiative Petition No. 403 sought to amend the Oklahoma Constitution by adding a new Article 13-C. The proposed article would create the Oklahoma Education Improvement Fund, designed to provide for the improvement of public education in Oklahoma through an additional one-cent sales and use tax. 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. Additionally, a percentage of the funds would be used to provide a $5,000.00 pay raise to all public school teachers. Opponents challenged the initiative, arguing it violated the one general subject rule of Art. 24, sec. 1 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that Initiative Petition No. 403 did not violate the one general subject rule and was legally sufficient for submission to the people of Oklahoma. View "IN RE INITIATIVE PETITION NO. 403 STATE QUESTION NO. 779" on Justia Law

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In 2007, a paramedic supervisor, defendant Ethan Barstow collided with a vehicle driven by the plaintiff-appellee Elizabeth Gowens resulting in damage to both vehicles and injury to Gowens. At the time of the collision, Barstow worked as a paramedic supervisor for the defendant-appellant EMSSTAT, which is a division of the defendant-appellant Norman Regional Hospital Authority, a public trust d/b/a Norman Regional Hospital (collectively, NRH). NRH was a political subdivision for purposes of the Government Tort Claims Act (GTCA). Gowens initially sued Barstow and the City of Norman ex rel. EMSSTAT for her injuries. Both Barstow and the City of Norman were later dismissed from the lawsuit. Central to this case was the intersection where the accident occurred, described as being "almost a five-way intersection" with no stop sign and a hill. At the close of the evidence, NRH moved for a directed verdict which the trial court overruled. In its order, the trial court found : (1) Barstow was an employee of NRH and was acting in that capacity when driving through the intersection; (2) Barstow was responding to a call for service and more likely than not had his lights and siren on while driving; (3) the fact that he most likely used his lights and sirens did not provide blanket protection under 47 O.S. 11-1062; (4) the unusual layout of the intersection required a heightened use of care by all; (5) in this situation Barstow's high rate of speed did endanger the life and property of Gowens; and (6) Mr. Barstow was a cause of the accident. The trial court ruled in plaintiff's favor, but the Court of Civil Appeals reversed, holding that an entity covered under the GTCA, was immune from reckless acts committed by its emergency vehicle drivers and also such drivers, and therefore their employers, could not be held liable for mere negligence. The Supreme Court vacated the COCA's opinion, affirmed the trial court's decision and addressed other issues properly raised on appeal which were not addressed by the COCA. View "Gowens v. Barstow" on Justia Law

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Claimant John McCauley sought permanent total disability benefits from the Multiple Injury Trust Fund for three separately adjudicated cumulative trauma injuries. The Workers' Compensation Court found Claimant was a physically impaired person and awarded him permanent total disability benefits against the Fund. The Fund appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed but for different reasons. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that a person who has a disability resulting from separately adjudicated injuries arising at the same time was a physically impaired person by statutory definition. The Court also concluded that the date of last exposure to the separately adjudicated but simultaneously occurring cumulative trauma injuries was the date to be used in fixing the Fund's liability. View "Multiple Injury Fund v. McCauley" on Justia Law

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The issue in this case was whether the plaintiff-appellant Sandra Vilarrubias Serra was covered under the uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) and medical payments (medical pay) coverage of the automobile insurance policy issued to Traci Robertson by Appellee State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. Serra was a foreign exchange student from Spain who was attending her senior year of high school in Pryor. She resided with Robertson in Pryor. As a passenger in the car of a friend, Andrea McNair, she sustained serious injuries when McNair's car collided with Donald Broughton, who was driving a motorcycle. Broughton was killed in the accident. Serra attempted to collect damages for her injuries by filing a claim against Robertson's automobile policy's uninsured motorist and medical payments coverage. State Farm denied coverage to Serra who then filed a lawsuit against the Personal Representative of Donald Broughton, Andrea McNair and State Farm. State Farm filed a motion for summary judgment in the trial court which was granted. The Court of Civil Appeals (COCA) affirmed the trial court. In particular, the issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether Serra was a "ward" of Robertson for purposes of coverage under the policy. The Court held that she was covered and reversed. View "Serra v. Estate of Broughton" on Justia Law

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Joseph Parker was allegedly injured on the job. It was undisputed that Global Health Initiative (GHI), which at one time employed Parker, did not have workers' compensation insurance. Parker filed a workers' compensation claim in the Workers' Compensation Court. That court awarded Parker, by default judgment against GHI, $17,595.60 plus interest. Parker filed the judgment in the district court of Tulsa County in an attempt to collect the money awarded by the Workers' Compensation Court. After futile efforts to garnish the GHI bank accounts, Parker filed a motion to pierce the corporate veil and to proceed against individual GHI shareholders in an attempt to collect his compensation awards. The trial judge denied Parker's request due to lack of evidence. Thereafter, GHI filed notice of bankruptcy. By August of 2004, Parker had filed an appeal in which the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court's determination that stockholders could not be held liable for the workers' compensation award and remanded the case to the trial court. GHI did not defend or participate in the case on appeal. Parker did not pursue collection against individual shareholders but, instead, returned to the Workers' Compensation Court seeking permanent partial and permanent total awards and an increase in his original award. GHI was not served notice of this proceeding and the cause was consequently undefended. The Workers' Compensation Court entered another award in favor of Parker and against GHI totaling $236,476.20. In June of 2009, Parker, through his counsel, sent letters to some of the GHI shareholders, seeking collection of the shareholders' pro rata share for payment of workers' compensation awards. However, for unexplained reasons, not all shareholders were asked to pay "their portion" of the judgment. The plaintiffs-appellants, doctors Thomas Kenkel and Robert Gold were two of the doctor stockholders, and they appealed seeking a declaration that: (1) Parker had no valid judgment against them; (2) Parker was not entitled to proceed against them for the injuries he sustained; (3) Parker was not entitled to collect the workers' compensation judgment; (4) they had the right to defend against any of Parker's claims ab initio; (5) they were not shareholders of GHI at all but if they were, they were merely minority shareholders; and (6) they were not liable for the debts Parker is attempting to collect. The trial court agreed and sustained the doctors' motion for summary judgment. Parker appealed and the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court and remanded with directions for the trial court to enter judgment in the appellant's favor. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to address the issue of whether a business' failure to secure workers' compensation insurance rendered its shareholders personally liable for a workers' compensation award to an employee. The Court held that it did not. View "Kenkel v. Parker" on Justia Law

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Claimant Viola Sugg sought permanent total disability benefits from the Multiple Injury Trust Fund. The Workers' Compensation Court held that claimant's combined injures did not constitute permanent total disability and denied benefits against the Fund. Claimant appealed, and a three-judge panel reversed, finding that Claimant was a physically impaired person at the time of her last injury by reason of her 1989 adjudicated work-related injury and was entitled to permanent total disability benefits from the Fund. The Fund appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the decision of the three-judge panel. Upon review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed that claimant was permanently and totally disabled and was entitled to benefits from the Fund. View "Multiple Injury Trust Fund v. Sugg" on Justia Law

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Same sex couple planned to have a child and co-parent. Upon the termination of their relationship and following almost ten years of co-parenting, the biological mother denied plaintiff's status as a parent and sought to end all interaction between plaintiff and child. Couple did not have a written agreement regarding parenting. Plaintiff petitioned the District Court in Oklahoma County seeking a determination of parental rights and custody. The District Court granted defendant's motion to dismiss. The issue before the Oklahoma Supreme Court was whether the district court erred in granting the defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction finding plaintiff lacked standing as a non-biological parent seeking custody and visitation. Specifically, the Court addressed: (1) whether the district court erred finding that a non-biological parent lacked standing because the same sex couple had not married and had no written parenting agreement; (2) whether a biological mother had the right as a parent to legally erase an almost ten year parental relationship that she voluntarily created and fostered with her same sex partner. The Court answered the first question in the affirmative and the second question in the negative. Accordingly, the Court reversed the decision of the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ramey v. Sutton" on Justia Law

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This appeal was one of many concerning natural gas wells operated from 1978 to 1998 in Beckham County, Oklahoma. In the immediately preceding appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed a jury verdict for damages for breach of drilling leases for $3,650,000, but reversed two other jury awards in the amounts of $4,055,000.00 and $6,845,000.00. The trial court denied prejudgment interest and the royalty owners appealed. After review, the Supreme Court held that: (1) review of the issue of prejudgment interest is not precluded by the settled-law-of-the-case doctrine; (2) the Production Revenue Standards Act, 52 O.S. 2011 sec. 570 et seq., was inapplicable to the facts presented; and (3) because the plaintiff's claims were unliquidated, prejudgment interest was not recoverable pursuant to 23 O.S. 2011 sec. 6. View "Krug v. Helmerich & Payne, Inc." on Justia Law