Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

By
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

By
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

By
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

By
Mustang Run Wind Project, LLC, (Mustang) filed an application with the Osage County Board of Adjustment for a conditional use permit involving approximately 9,500 acres of land. Mustang proposed to use the land for placing sixty-eight wind turbines on less than 150 acres and generating electricity. Public meetings on the proposed wind energy facility were held in April and May 2014. The proposed facility was close to another "wind farm" which had obtained a permit three years previously. Mustang's application included land zoned for agricultural use and was then being used for agriculture and ranching. The County Board of Adjustment denied the application. A trial de novo was held and the trial court ordered the County Board of Adjustment to issue a conditional use permit. The Osage County Board of Adjustment and the Osage Nation appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court held that the Osage County Board of Adjustment possessed authority to grant conditional use permits, but the trial judge's findings were not against the clear weight of the evidence. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment requiring the Board of Adjustment to issue a conditional use permit with any additional reasonable conditions. View "Mustang Run Wind Project, LLC v. Osage City Bd of Adjustment" on Justia Law

By
Appellant Sandra O'Donoghue, as personal representative of the estate of David O'Donoghue, brought suit seeking an adjudication that the estates of David L. Dooley's grandchildren, Erin and David O'Donoghue, were the beneficiaries of bequests of trust principal under the David L. Dooley and Carolyn Ann Collins Dooley Trusts. The district court granted summary judgment to Carolyn Dooley, Trustee, and determined that the per stirpes bequests of trust principal to Erin and David, lapsed upon their death leaving no lineal descendants. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed finding Appellant, as the spouse and beneficiary of the estate of David O'Donoghue, was entitled to take his share of the trust principal upon the death of Settlor's spouse. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Trust principal remainder interest was intended for lineal descendants of the two grandchildren, and not to the grandchild's widow. View "O'Donoghue v. Dooley" on Justia Law
By
Posted in:
Updated:

By
Plaintiff-appellant Steven Scott (grantor) owned real property in Canadian County. In 1997, Scott executed a warranty deed conveying 120 acres of the property to defendants-appellees Martin Peters, Jr. and Tammy Peters (grantees). Scott alleged that he only conveyed his surface interest in the 120 acres. In June 2000, Scott agreed to convey the surface only in a remaining 40 acres to the Peters, for a total of 160 acres of the NE/4 of Section 5, Township 13 North, Range 6 West. The warranty deed was executed on June 12, 2000, and filed on June 16, 2000, in the Canadian County Clerk's office. However, no mineral interests were retained by the grantor in this 40 acre deed. By 2014, Scott filed suit against the Peters, seeking to quiet title in the mineral interests on the 160 acres. The Peters answered Scott's allegations and asserted a slander of title claim against the grantor, arguing that they were the owners of the mineral interests in all 160 acres, due to his various conveyances over the years. Further, the Peters argued that any claims relating to the 120 acre tract were also barred by the five year statute of limitations for reformation because the cause was brought more than thirteen years after (as subsequent deed to the same parcel as the Peters') deed was filed, and more than six years after the Peters' oil and gas lease was filed. The trial court denied summary judgment. The trial court held a hearing on the limitations issue, whereby Scott conceded that the five year limitation period for reforming the deed filed in 2000 had expired and that he was consequently precluded from reforming that deed. However, Scott argued that the five year limitation period on reformation of the 1997 deed did not begin to accrue when the deed was filed because it did contain a mineral reservation, but the reservation was alleged to have been insufficient in that deed and a layman, such as himself, should not be held to know the legal effect of such an insufficiency until the legal effect is questioned or disputed. The Oklahoma Supreme retained this case to address the dispositive issue of whether notice imposed upon the grantor by the filing of a deed with the county clerk precluded this action as untimely. The Court held it does, and affirmed the trial court. View "Scott v. Peters" on Justia Law

By
While operating a large auger, James Neece, an employee of the plaintiff-appellee C&H Power Line Construction Company, ruptured an underground high pressure natural gas line belonging to the defendants-appellants Enterprise Products Operating, LLC. The blast killed Neece and damaged and destroyed equipment belonging to the plaintiff, which claimed that the accident was caused by the negligence, negligence per se, and gross negligence of the defendants for failure to mark the pipeline after they had been notified of the intention to dig in the area of their pipeline. Plaintiff claimed loss of its business as a result of the accident. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff for $26 million and punitive damages of $1 million. Defendants raised issues regarding jury instructions, denial by the trial court of their motion for directed verdict, exclusion of evidence offered by the appellants, inclusion of inadmissible evidence, acceptance of a less than unanimous verdict, and awarding improper interest on the judgment, as grounds for appeal. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "C&H Power Line Construction Co. v. Enterprise Products Operating, LLC" on Justia Law

By
The issue in this case was whether Father and Stepmother's adoption of the Child, at which proceedings the Child's biological maternal Grandmother did not appear, controlled the outcome of Grandmother's previously filed and pending visitation petition. The trial court ruled that Grandmother's nonappearance divested her right to seek visitation, and the opposition of both parents in this newly created intact nuclear family precluded the court from authorizing such a visitation. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed this judgment, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari. Grandmother argued that she did not lose her right to seek visitation by not appearing at the adoption (at which she lacked standing to do so); her due process rights were violated by the trial court's sua sponte ruling; and the adoption--granted subsequent to and while her visitation petition remained pending--equally did not divest her of this right. The Supreme Court found that Grandmother's properly filed, undecided petition arrived to the court four months before Stepmother petitioned to adopt and six months before the court granted the adoption. Grandmother followed all required procedure by filing, providing notice, and awaiting her day in court. "She should not be penalized for another court's decision to resolve the separate and subsequently-filed action of adoption without reference to the impact of that ruling on her pending petition." Furthermore, by deciding the adoption prior to resolution of the visitation petition--thereby framing Grandmother's rights in reference to the subsequently filed, subsequently granted adoption--the trial court disposed of Grandmother's opportunity to ever obtain any "previously granted" visitation right. The court's determination of the adoption before resolution of the previously filed visitation effectively deprived Grandmother of her statutory right to seek visitation of the Child. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the trial court to hear Appellant's petition for grandparental visitation. View "Birtciel v. Jones" on Justia Law

By
Drew Bowers (Ward) sustained a traumatic brain injury in 1981. As a result of the injury, he required 24-hour care. His mother, Patricia Bowers Edwards (Guardian) was appointed guardian of her son's person and property in 2004. As guardian, she was responsible for hiring approximately ten caretakers for Drew in his private residence. Two of the ten caretakers contracted to provide services for Drew were domestic workers, Deborah Sizemore and Brad Garrett. In 2013, Sizemore filed a "charge of discrimination" pursuant to the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act, with the Attorney General's Office of Civil Rights Enforcement, claiming that her hours were dramatically reduced when she told the guardian she suffered from narcolepsy. Sizemore also claimed that she was sexually harassed at work by a male co-worker. She identified co-worker Garrett as a supporting witness in her complaint. The Guardian terminated the employment of both Sizemore and Garrett when she received the complaint from the Attorney General. The Guardian admitted she discharged Sizemore and Garrett from employment because the complaint was "the straw that broke the camel's back." Guardian moved for summary judgment arguing that Drew was the actual employer and that under section 1301 of the Act, a natural person did not meet the definition of "employer." Guardian further argued that under section 1302(B) of the Act, the prohibition of discriminatory practices did not apply to " . . .employment in the domestic service of the employer." The trial court denied Guardian's motion for summary judgment and Guardian brought this original action asserting immunity under the Act. Finding that indeed, Guardian was immune from suit under the Act, and that the trial court erred by not dismissing this case, the Supreme Court remanded the matter for the trial court to vacate its judgment and dismiss the case. View "Edwards v. Andrews" on Justia Law

By
The focus of this appeal centered on the validity of HB 2630; 2014 Okla. Sess. Laws c. 375 (effective November 1, 2014). HB 2630 created the Retirement Freedom Act (74 O.S. Supp. 2014, sec. 935.1 et seq.), with the stated purpose as creating a new defined contribution system within the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) for persons who initially became a member of OPERS on or after November 1, 2015 (this included most state employees hired on or after this date). Plaintiffs-appellants filed a Petition for Declaratory and Supplemental Relief challenging the validity of HB 2630, claiming HB 2630 was void because it was passed by the Legislature in violation of the Oklahoma Pension Legislation Actuarial Analysis Act (OPLAA). Both parties filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted defendants-appellees' motion for summary judgment and the appellants appealed. Agreeing with the trial court that the OPLAA had not been violated, the Supreme Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in defendants' favor. View "Stevens v. Fox" on Justia Law