Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Appellants Bruce Schultz and Jared Bruce mutually sought to vacate their adult adoption granted ten years prior. The issue in this case was whether the trial court lacked authority to vacate an adult adoption where both parties sought the termination of parental rights as competent adults. The trial court opined that because the Oklahoma Adoption Code, 10 O.S. 2011, section 7507-1.1, neither authorized nor prohibited the vacation of adult adoptions, it lacked authority to vacate the existing order. Appellants appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court directly, and the Supreme Court retained the first impression matter. Based on the Legislature's provisions in granting adult adoptions, parallel provisions for vacating adoptions of minor children, and the overall intent of the Adoption Code, the Supreme Court found an error warranting remand to the trial court to rehear Appellants' petition. As the trial court correctly found consent and competency of the parties, upon remand it needed only conduct a best-interest determination in deciding the matter. "With neither bad faith nor fraudulent motive of the parties, we find no evidence to suggest that the termination of rights herein would not serve their best interests." View "In the Matter of the Termination of Parental Rights of Schultz" on Justia Law

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The administrator of a decedent's estate appealed an interlocutory district court order compelling the administrator to file a federal estate tax return for the decedent's estate and elect portability of the Deceased Spousal Unused Exclusion Amount pursuant to 26 U.S.C.A. 2010. The surviving spouse sought the order, and benefits from the portability election. The administrator argued the district court erred on several grounds: lack of jurisdiction; issues with federal preemption; the surviving spouse's lack of standing; and that the order was contrary to an antenuptial agreement entered into between the surviving spouse and the decedent. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "In the matter of Estate of Vose" on Justia Law
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The issue this case presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review centered on the constitutionality of SB 1848, passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor on May 28, 2014. The effective date of the legislation was November 1, 2014. This legislation contained one section with twelve separate and unrelated sub-sections, A to L. "Under the guise of the protection of women's health," SB 1848 required an abortion facility to have a physician on premises who also has hospital admission privileges within thirty miles of the facility, on any day an abortion is performed. The Supreme Court reversed the district court's findings and held the statute unconstitutional because it created an undue burden on a woman's access to abortion, violating protected rights under the federal Constitution, and also under the Oklahoma single subject rule. View "Burns v. Cline" on Justia Law

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The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (Authority) wanted to issue revenue bonds for use in the construction of certain turnpike projects. Pursuant to 69 O.S.2011, section 1718, the Authority filed an application with the Oklahoma Supreme Court seeking approval of the proposed bonds. The Protestant, Jerry Fent, challenged the validity of the requested bonds. After review of the Protestant’s arguments to challenge the bonds, the Supreme Court determined the proposed bond issue was properly authorized. The Court found that valid notice of this application was given and that the Authority and the Protestant were fully heard. The Protestant advanced no legally or factually supportable reasons to disapprove the application. Accordingly, the Authority's application was granted. View "In the Matter of the Application of the Okla. Turnpike Authority" on Justia Law

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BoDe Tower was an Oklahoma limited liability company which owned a tract of land in the Gooseneck Bend area of Muskogee County. In 2009, BoDe Tower began the process of securing authorization from state and federal officials for the construction of a telecommunications tower on the tract in an effort to fill a gap in cellular coverage. Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the BoDe Tower asserting a nuisance claim. Plaintiffs' cause of action was predicated on the placement of a cellular telephone tower adjacent to their respective properties. Following a bench trial, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and directed BoDe Tower to disassemble the cellular tower. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the judgment. The Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari and concluded the trial court's decision was against the clear weight of the evidence. "Considering the totality of the evidence presented in this case, BoDe's cellular tower cannot be deemed actionable nuisance. Our case law prohibits nuisance claims based entirely on aesthetic concerns. It would be wholly unreasonable to allow one individual's visual sensitivities to impede development of cellular phone service for the residents of Muskogee. BoDe Tower undertook significant investment and complied with all regulatory hurdles. The judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals is vacated, and the trial court's judgment in favor of the Plaintiffs is reversed." View "Laubenstein v. BoDe Tower, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2014, a Norman restaurant's surveillance video captured an incident depicting Joe Mixon striking a woman. The Norman Police Department (Department) was called to the location, investigated, and obtained and reviewed the surveillance video. On Friday, August 15, 2014, a Department detective filed an affidavit of probable cause seeking an arrest warrant for Mixon. The detective stated probable cause existed based on interviews completed by other officers, injuries sustained by the victim, and the surveillance video of the incident which he described in detail. The same day, the Cleveland County District Attorney filed a criminal information, referencing the same incident number as the probable cause affidavit and alleging that Mixon committed the misdemeanor crime of Acts Resulting in Gross Injury when he struck the female. Mixon voluntarily appeared in district court to answer the charge and was arraigned. At the same time, the district court ordered Mixon to be processed by the Cleveland County Sheriff's Department and to remain in custody pending his posting a bond. KWTV News 9, a member of the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters (Association), requested a copy of the surveillance video from Department and District Attorney, referencing the Open Records Act. The Norman City Attorney emailed KWTV News 9 that, barring changes, such as the judge ordering the video sealed, he did "not know of a reason why [Department] would not be willing to make copies of the Mixon video available for public inspection and copying after November 1." Without furnishing copies of the video, the Department allowed KWTV News 9 and other media to view the video. Association was not present at this viewing. Mixon entered an Alford Plea to the criminal charge. The same day, Association made a request under the Act for a copy of the surveillance video from the City and the Department and KWTV News 9 renewed its request. District Attorney responded, informing Association that it no longer had the video as it had given the video to the victim. City told KWTV News 9 that Department had delivered a copy of the video to the City Attorney, who placed it in a litigation file. The Association filed petition for declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and mandamus. Defendants filed motions to dismiss. The district court granted the motion. Plaintiff appealed. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the proceedings. The Supreme Court concluded that the Association was entitled to judgment as a matter of law and entitled to a writ of mandamus. The video was ordered to be a part of the court record and preserved by the attorneys. The Defendants had to allow the Association a copy of the surveillance video. View "Oklahoma Assoc. of Broadcasters, Inc. v. City of Norman" on Justia Law

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The Workers' Compensation Court issued two orders in two proceedings in 2008 and two orders in two proceedings in 2009. These four orders in four different proceedings required the Multiple Injury Trust Fund (Fund) to make periodic payments to injured workers and their lawyers for attorney's fees. The four claimants in these proceedings died, and the Fund stopped making payments to their lawyers upon determining an amount equal to eighty (80) weeks of compensation had been paid or tendered to the lawyers. Claimants' lawyers sought a determination the Fund had failed to make payments as required by the orders issued in 2008 and 2009. The Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims directed the Fund to pay attorneys' fees in each of the four proceedings as provided in the original orders. The Fund sought review of these orders before a three-judge panel of the Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims, and the panel affirmed the four orders of the trial judge. The Fund sought review from the Oklahoma Supreme Court. After its review, the Supreme Court held: (1) it had jurisdiction to review a decision of the Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims when a party aggrieved by that decision has filed a timely petition for review by the Supreme Court in accordance with the law in effect prior to February 1, 2014; (2) The Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims had jurisdiction to determine if the Fund made payments as required by the court's previous orders; (3) The Multiple Injury Trust Fund's liability for attorney's fees in these cases was determined by the specific statute concerning payment of attorney's fees by the Fund, 85 O.S.Supp.2005 section 172(H); and (4) 85 O.S.Supp. 2005 section 172(H) was not an unconstitutional special law. View "Multiple Injury Trust Fund v. Coburn" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellant and wife, Jennifer Baggs filed for divorce from her firefighter husband, respondent-appellee, Steven Baggs. As part of the firefighter retirement plan, the husband was vested in what was known as a DROP or Plan B option created specifically for Oklahoma Firefighters. Plan B was an alternative option for firefighters' pensions available when a vested firefighter retired. It was not funded until the firefighter chose the Plan B retirement alternative. Petitioner sought any portion of the Plan B which would be attributable to the years in which she and the husband were married, in the event he chose Plan B when he retired, after the divorce was granted. The trial court declined to divide the Plan B option as marital property and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. After review, the Supreme Court held that, in the event the Plan B option was chosen by a vested former spouse when the firefighter retires, it was divisible to the extent that any funds deposited into it were attributable to the marital years. View "Baggs v. Baggs" on Justia Law

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Insured Kourtni Martin suffered serious injuries from an automobile collision in Oklahoma City with Nicholas Gray. At the time of the collision, Insured had UM coverage with Goodville Mutual Casualty Company. The policy was purchased by her parents while they lived in Kansas. She was, however, a listed/rated driver in the policy. Before the collision, Martin's parents notified the Kansas agent that she was moving to Oklahoma to live with her grandmother and that her vehicle would be garaged in Oklahoma. After the collision, the claim was reported to the agent in Kansas who then transmitted the claim to Insurer which was located principally in Pennsylvania. The claim was adjusted out of Pennsylvania. Martin was unable to locate Gray. Her attempts to serve Gray, or his insurer, in Oklahoma and Texas failed. Martin filed this lawsuit against Gray alleging negligence (later adding breach of contract and bad faith against her Insurer). After service by publication, Gray answered asserting a general denial. Martin sought compensation from the Insurer pursuant to her UM policy and negotiations began between Insured and Insurer regarding medical bills and projected future medical bills substantially in excess of $100,000. Insurer offered $27,000 for medical expenses under the "Kansas No Fault Benefits" and $10,000 in UM coverage. The trial court, after reviewing the policy at issue here, applied Kansas law to this case and dismissed Martin's bad faith claim against the Insurer (with prejudice). After review, however, the Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in applying Kansas law, finding that the actions by Insurer related to the bad-faith claim appear to have occurred primarily in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania: (1) any injury from the alleged bad faith occurred in Oklahoma where Insured is located; (2) the alleged conduct causing injury from bad faith occurred in Oklahoma or Pennsylvania, where the claim was handled; (3) the domicile of Insurer and Insured are Pennsylvania and Oklahoma, respectively, and (4) the place where the relationship between the parties occurred had yet to be determined. However, because the trial court did not apply the "most significant relationship test," there was no evaluation of these factors according to their relative importance. Despite the parties' voluntary settlement of this case, the Supreme Court nevertheless remanded this case for the trial court to make findings with respect to the "most significant relationship test," and then to dismiss. View "Martin v. Gray" on Justia Law

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The issue in this cause is whether Plaintiff-appellant Rhonda Brown was estopped from asserting her status as the surviving spouse of the Decedent, Bobby Joe Brown, Jr. Plaintiff and Bobby Joe Brown, Jr. were married in 1995, and three children were born of the marriage. Rhonda testified that after a few years of marriage, she told Bobby she could no longer stay with him if he did not cease his extra-marital affairs. He did not comply with this condition, and Rhonda moved out of the marital home. They were never divorced through a court proceeding. She moved frequently and, at different times, lived in several Oklahoma cities, as well as in Kansas. After Bobby and Rhonda separated, he began living with Ami Alley in 2004. Two children were born to the couple. Ami testified she and Bobby held themselves out as husband and wife to everyone and established a home together in Perry, Oklahoma. Rhonda testified she was aware of the relationship between Ami and Bobby and that he was living with her and their two children. Rhonda testified that Bobby referred to Ami as his girlfriend. In 2013, Bobby died in a motorcycle accident. Ami was named Personal Representative of his estate upon the court's finding she was Bobby's surviving spouse in a common law marriage. Rhonda was not sent notice of the proceeding, and Ami did not advise the court of Rhonda's relationship with Bobby. Ami explained that the court asked if there was anybody to object, and no one appeared to do so. She said the court did not ask about Rhonda, and she did not raise the issue. She also testified Rhonda knew about the proceeding but would not give Ami her address. In the judgment denying Rhonda's Petition and Motion to Revoke Letters of Administration, the trial court found Bobby and Ami's relationship met the requirements of a common law marriage; and that Rhonda re-married in a ceremonial, traditional marriage in 2012. The court based its decision to deny Rhonda's motion to revoke the letters of administration on the issue of estoppel, rather than the legal classification of her marriage to Bobby. Finding that the trial court properly held that Rhonda was estopped from asserting she should have been appointed Personal Representative of Bobby's estate (instead of Ami), the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Alley" on Justia Law