Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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In 2015, Respondents-Proponents Shawn Sheehan, Linda Reid, and Melvin Moran filed Initiative Petition No. 403 (State Question No. 779), with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. The petition sought to amend the Oklahoma Constitution by adding a new Article 13-C, creating the Oklahoma Education Improvement Fund. 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. Petitioners filed suit to challenge the gist of the measure post-circulation and the sufficiency of the Attorney General's rewritten ballot title. After review of the matter, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the time for challenging the gist of a measure had expired, and found that the Attorney General's rewritten ballot title was deficient. "We agree that the ballot title is misleading if it does not mention the Board of Equalization's role in limiting appropriations. In addition, the ballot title should refrain from partiality and should clarify the amount of the sales and use tax as well as its allocation." Pursuant to 34 O.S. Supp. 2015, sec. 10 (A)6 , the Court corrected and amended the ballot title. View "OCPA Impact, Inc v. Sheehan" on Justia Law

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Appellant-plaintiff Robert Leritz was a Kansas resident whose motorcycle and two other vehicles were garaged in Kansas under an insurance policy issued by Appellee, Farmers Insurance Company (Farmers) in Kansas. Plaintiff was injured in a motorcycle accident in Oklahoma when Defendant Larry Yates made a left hand turn and collided with Plaintiff causing serious bodily injuries. Plaintiff brought this action alleging that he had incurred medical expenses and suffered damages exceeding Yates's liability coverage. There was a question as to whether he could stack his uninsured motorist (UM) coverage based on his ownership of policies on each of his three vehicles. Oklahoma allowed the practice, until the Oklahoma Legislature amended the UM provision in 2014. Kansas did not allow stacking. The trial court granted summary judgment to the insurer and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, applying the insurer's proposed solution to a perceived conflict of laws issue. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found no conflict of laws issue on these facts because the policy specified which law would apply to an issue of stacking of policies. Giving the policy provisions effect made a choice of law analysis unnecessary; the Court vacated the Court of Civil Appeals, reversed the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Leritz v. Farmers Insurance Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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A. Todd Holliman worked as a Floor Hand on a four man crew for Twister Drilling Company (Employer) on a drilling rig. Holliman lived in Holdenville and the rig was located approximately forty miles away in Maud. Three crews worked eight hours each to service the well 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Employer had no housing at the drill site, therefore; employees were required to find transportation to and from the drill site. In May 2013, Holliman and his supervisor were traveling home from the drill site after completing their shift when they were involved in a double fatality car crash. Holliman's supervisor was killed as was the driver of the other vehicle. The car belonged to Holliman, but his supervisor was driving. Holliman was a passenger and was sleeping at the time of the collision. Holliman filed a Form 3 alleging he sustained a single-event injury to his neck, back, left arm, and psychological overlay arising from injuries sustained from the motor vehicle accident. In its Form 10 Answer, first filed on October 2, 2013, Employer admitted that Holliman was an employee but denied the injuries were compensable or work-related because Holliman was not engaged in the performance of his job duties when he was injured. The trial tribunal found that Holliman's injuries were compensable and work related and awarded benefits. The tribunal found that under the circumstances the accident came within the special task exception to the general going and coming rule. Employer appealed. A three-judge panel reversed the order finding that Holliman was not injured while performing unusual duties and therefore was not entitled to benefits. Holliman appealed and the Court of Civil Appeals (COCA) sustained the three-judge panel's denial of benefits finding that not only was Holliman not performing a special task, but there was no agreement between the crew members to share the travel pay. After review, the Supreme Court reversed, finding that Holliman's injury was a compensable injury under the travel exception to the going and coming rule. Therefore, Holliman was entitled to benefits. View "Holliman v. Twister Drilling Co." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Annette Legarde-Bober was employed by Employer Oklahoma State University at the Oklahoma City campus. She was a teacher at the child development lab (a childcare facility on the campus of OSU/OKC). The building where the lab is located is surrounded by a sidewalk and parking lot. The parking lot and sidewalk surrounding the building where Petitioner worked was owned and maintained by the University, and Petitioner testified she had previously seen OSU employees working in that parking lot. Petitioner was given a parking permit by her Employer, which gave her permission, and in fact, required her to park in this particular parking lot. On the morning of March 4, 2014, Petitioner arrived at the OSU/OKC campus around 8:55 a.m. because she was required by her Employer to begin her shift at 9:00 a.m. She testified that on that morning, the weather was cold and icy. Petitioner did not have the option to work remotely and was required to report to the child development lab on campus in order to perform her job duties. Although other businesses were closed that day due to the weather conditions, the OSU/OKC campus was open, and students and parents had already begun dropping their children off at the child development lab for childcare. Petitioner testified that after parking in the designated parking lot, she got out of her car, walked across the parking lot, and stepped up onto the curb to go into the building. The Employer's security camera video for the day in question shows that as Petitioner stepped up onto the curb, she slipped and fell on the ice. Petitioner sought treatment and compensation from OSU/OKC. Employer denied compensability, arguing Petitioner's injury did not arise in the course and scope of her employment under 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 sec. 2(13). The administrative law judge determined Petitioner's injury did not occur in the course and scope of employment, and the Workers' Compensation Commission affirmed. Petitioner appealed the decision of the Commission. After review, the Supreme Court concluded Petitioner was in the course and scope of her employment as the term is defined in 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 sec. 2(13) because her actions at the time of her injury were related to and in furtherance of the business of her Employer OSU/OKC, and she was on the premises of her Employer when she fell. View "Bober v. Oklahoma State Univ." on Justia Law

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In 2008, a field engineer for Verdigris Valley Electric Cooperative (Employer) met with a contract electrician for Integrated Service Company LLC (INSERV) in Catoosa, concerning the installation of additional underground electrical service. They discussed the location of the additional service to the building and decided to use an existing junction box which the engineer observed was surrounded by a yellow metal barricade. He would later note: "I normally recommend that our members [customers] install a protective post an [sic] each corner of a pad mounted device in high traffic areas such as the INSERV plant, to help protect from getting ran [sic] over by vehicles or other equipment. I would never suggest having a barrier of any kind in front of any opening or door on VVEC equipment." Employer's work crew, consisting of Employer was dispatched to install additional underground electrical service to INSERV. The four-man crew consisted of Jones, Jackson, Day, and Tiger. Jones and Jackson were journeymen electricians and Jones was the foreman. Day and Jason Tiger were apprentices. Tiger had been in the journeyman apprentice program for approximately nine months of a four-year program. At the time of his death, Tiger had been certified only in the climbing school portion of his journeyman training. Day had worked for Employer only one month. When the crew arrived at the work site, they found the junction box surrounded by a yellow painted steel barricade, erected presumably to protect it from being struck by vehicles or trailers. The record did not establish who erected or owned the barricade, but Employer owned the junction box and associated electrical equipment. Affixed to the junction box was a warning concerning hazardous voltage and underground power cables and a notice from Employer. Despite this, Tiger was electrocuted attempting to make a connection to the junction box. His widow sued Employer and INSERV pursuant to "Parret v. UNICCO Service Co.," (127 P.3d 572), asserting that Employer knew that injury or death was substantially certain to result from the task Tiger and his coworkers were directed to complete and the conditions in which they were required to work. The District Court denied the employer's motion for summary judgment but granted a second motion for summary judgment after additional discovery. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed after its review of the trial court record, finding material issues of fact remained in dispute. View "Tiger v. Verdigris Valley Electric Cooperative" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Lacey & Associates, LLC, contracted with Everest Homes, LLC, to purchase a commercial building. In addition, Lacey and Everest executed an escrow agreement for the release of additional funds to Everest if the roof was replaced after title had transferred to Lacey. After title passed to Lacey, Everest entered into a contract with the Williams Group, a contractor, to replace the roof. The Williams Group then hired Andrea Pizano to remove the old roof and HVAC units, which service she performed. In early 2013, Pizano sued alleging the Williams Group did not pay the contractual amount of $11,085, as agreed by the two parties. She filed a mechanic's lien on Lacey's building one day before she filed her petition. The lawsuit sought judgment against the Williams Group in the amount of $11,085, plus interest. The Williams Group never filed an answer. The trial court thereafter entered a default judgment against the Williams Group, awarding Pizano $11,085, an attorney's fee of $2,500.00 and court costs of $461.81. Pizano then sought to foreclose her lien against Lacey and be awarded court costs and attorney fees. She requested that the property be sold to satisfy the judgment. Lacey answered and included a "Cross-motion for Summary Judgment," contending that the new roof leaked so badly that large barrels had to be placed inside the building to catch the water. Therefore, no party was entitled to be paid for the roof. Lacey also asserted that Pizano's motion should be denied because Lacey had no contract with Pizano, and also that the plaintiff failed to file the required pre-lien notice. The trial court granted Pizano's summary judgment motion in part, and denied Lacey's counter-motion for summary judgment. Lacey appealed and Pizano counter-appealed. The Court of Civil Appeals held that Pizano successfully preserved her subcontractor's lien, but found that genuine disputes of fact remained as to the amount owed to Pizano and the enforceability of the lien. The Supreme Court found that the Legislature intended amounts less than $10,000 to be exempt from pre-lien notice. Having provided such an exception, the wording of the applicable statute persuaded the Court that "if a claimant filed a claim of $10,085 without a pre-claim notice, the claim would be enforceable up to $9,999. We do not believe that the claim would be completely unenforceable if it exceeded that legislatively-approved amount by a mere $86." The trial court's order entitling Pizano to a reduced judgment amount of $9,999.00 and an award of attorneys' fees and costs was affirmed. This case was remanded to the trial court to issue a judgment consistent with the law as expressed in the Supreme Court's opinion. View "Pizano v. Lacey & Assoc., LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jackie Watkins ("Watkins"), in her capacity as guardian of her adult daughter, Jane Doe, sought damages against defendants, Central State Griffin Memorial Hospital ("Griffin"), Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services ("ODMHSAS") and Dr. Asma Mudassir, in her official capacity as a resident physician and individually. Plaintiff's allegations against defendants all sounded in tort. Doe was admitted to Griffin at 4:00 a.m. on March 19, 2011, for treatment of suicidal thoughts. At the time of admission, she was nineteen years old, five months pregnant and lived at home with her mother. Later that day, Doe told Nicholas Schiavo, R.N. she was having abdominal pain and was concerned she was having contractions. Schiavo took Doe into an exam room with no other witness present to check her for bleeding. He remained present in the room and watched while Doe removed her clothing from the waist down. Schiavo did not provide Ms. Doe with a sheet, drape or a gown. He then put on a glove, and conducted a pelvic exam while she was undressed on the exam table. No female staff was present. They were alone in the exam room for nine minutes. Sometime later, Schiavo asked Doe if she was still involved in a relationship with the father or interested in dating other people. He also offered to perform another pelvic exam when she felt better. Doe filed a complaint with Griffin prior to her March 21, 2011, discharge, claiming she felt violated by Schiavo conducting a "pelvic exam with no doctor or female present then joked and asked if [Doe] wasn't with the father was [she] looking to see other people and touched [her] shoulder". It was undisputed that Watkins knew about the specific concerns raised in the complaint submitted to Griffin. Watkins followed up with Griffin about the status of this complaint. She was told a formal investigation of the incident was being conducted. Unsatisfied with the results of the investigation, Watkins filed suit. Griffin and ODMHSAS were state institutions and argued claims against these defendants were subject to the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act ("GTCA"). The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this matter to address two issues: (1) whether the limitations period in the GTCA tolled when state employees allegedly withheld facts critical to the analysis of potential negligence claims; and (2) whether the record contained disputed facts material to this analysis? The Supreme Court answered both questions in the affirmative, holding that the resolution of these issues contained questions for the trier of fact, making summary adjudication improper. View "Watkins v. Central State Griffin Memorial Hospital" on Justia Law

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The issue this medical malpractice action presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on orders excluding testimony from plaintiffs' two expert witnesses and a summary judgment granted to defendants based upon the excluded testimony. Mrs. Nelson went to the Emergency Department of St. Mary's Regional Medical Center seeking medical assistance on the evening of July 21, 2006. The emergency room physician, Dr. Vaughan, ordered diagnostic tests, diagnosed an incarcerated hernia with possible bowel obstruction, and attempted to reduce the hernia. Dr. Vaughan telephoned Dr. Shepherd, Mrs. Nelson's internist and primary care provider. Dr. Shepherd instructed Dr. Vaughan to telephone Dr. Shreck, a surgeon. Dr. Shreck came to the hospital, reduced Mrs. Nelson's hernia, and she was admitted to the hospital. The medical record indicated Dr. Shreck reduced Mrs. Nelson's incarcerated hernia by manipulation. Mrs. Nelson became septic, went into septic shock during the morning of July 22nd, and she had a cardiac arrest while being prepared for surgery to address a perforated or dead bowel. She was resuscitated. After the surgery, Mrs. Nelson was given medicines to raise and control her blood pressure. Dr. Shepherd then switched Mrs. Nelson's medication to vasopressin. At approximately 11:00 p.m., Mrs. Nelson's blood pressure started to fall, her pulse became unstable and she died. A medical malpractice action was brought against Mrs. Nelson's medical providers for her last illness. Dr. Shepherd and Enid Medical Associates moved to exclude the proposed testimony of plaintiffs' two expert witnesses. They argued each witness had not provided legally proper testimony on the issue of the cause of Mrs. Nelson's demise because the testimony did not satisfy the requirements of "Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.," (509 U.S. 579 (1993)). The two defendants also sought summary judgment because the causation element of the malpractice claim action was missing from plaintiffs' claim. After review, the Supreme Court held that the opinions of the two witnesses on the issue of causation satisfied the requirements of 12 O.S. 2702, and reversed the summary judgment granted by the District Court. View "Nelson v. Enid Medical Associates, Inc." on Justia Law

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Parties to an agreement regarding an area of mutual interest for the purposes of oil and gas exploration sought to determine their respective rights under the agreement. The agreement gave the respondents in this case the right to participate in wells in futuro. The petitioners urged that the provision violated the rule against perpetuities. The district court agreed and granted judgment to the petitioners. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part remanded the matter for further proceedings. The issues this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether a clause in an agreement giving a limited liability company the right to participate in all future wells on unleased property violated Article II, Section 32 of the Oklahoma Constitution prohibiting perpetuities, and whether a limited liability company was a "life in being." The Court answered the first question in the affirmative and the second question in the negative, finding that the district court did not err in granting a motion to dismiss based on these two questions. View "American Natural Resources, LLC v. Eagle Rock Energy Partners, L.P." on Justia Law

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Cottonwood Creek watershed was an area covering approximately 379 square miles in parts of Logan, Oklahoma, Canadian and Kingfisher Counties. The area was prone to flooding, and in March of 1962, Logan County Soil and Water Conservation District No. 9 (LCSWCD), Cottonwood Creek Water and Soil Conservancy District No. 11 (CCWSCD), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), prepared a plan to alleviate dangers associated with uncontrolled water flow. One of the structures included in the work plan was Floodwater Retarding Structure No. 54 (FWRS 54). On September 24, 1962, D.C. and Odessa Fitzwater granted an easement (Fitzwater Easement) to CCWSCD. Years later, changes in safety criteria and the development of houses downstream compelled the USDA and Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) to recast FWRS 54 as a high hazard class (c) dam.3 This new classification was based on changes in safety criteria, the development of 26 houses downstream, and the potential for loss of life following a structural failure. In March of 2006, the USDA issued a written proposal calling for the rehabilitation of FWRS 54. The USDA watershed plan suggested multiple repairs and improvements to FWRS 54. Logan County Conservation District (LCCD) filed a declaratory action seeking permission to perform rehabilitation work on FWRS 54. The petition alleged the Fitzwater and Impoundment Easements vested LCCD with the right to complete the rehabilitation project. Property owners Phyllis Crowder and John White, Jr. answered and claimed that the proposed work did not fall within the scope of the original easements. Accordingly, Crowder and White maintained the rehabilitation project would lead to an improper taking of their land. Pleasant Oaks Lake Association (POLA) and individual homeowners also answered, alleging the project would constitute a taking requiring payment of compensation. LCCD filed a motion seeking summary judgment. The motion asserted LCCD was authorized to perform work on FWRS 54 based upon the unambiguous language contained in deeds establishing the Fitzwater and Impoundment Easements. The homeowners and the homeowners association appealed a judgment finding Conservation District was authorized to enter their respective properties to perform the rehabilitation work. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the plain language in the deeds creating the easements included a right to ensure the dam's structural integrity through a rehabilitation project. View "Logan County Conservation Dist. v. Pleasant Oaks Homeowners Ass'n" on Justia Law