Wood v. Mercedes-Benz of Oklahoma City

Plaintiff-appellant Erica Wood sued Mercedes-Benz of Oklahoma City for injuries she suffered after she slipped and fell on ice that had accumulated on sidewalks, pavement, and grass surrounding the Defendant's automobile dealership. The icy conditions were caused by Defendant's sprinkler system which activated during freezing temperatures. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendant. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that Mercedes-Benz had a duty to take precautionary measures with regard to the sprinkler system particularly in light of cold temperatures and pooling water caused by the system. Furthermore, there was a question of fact regarding whether Mercedes-Benz breached its duty toward Wood, making summary judgment inappropriate, and requiring the matter be submitted to a jury. View "Wood v. Mercedes-Benz of Oklahoma City" on Justia Law

Carbajal v. Precision Builders, Inc.

Claimant Andres Carbajal alleged he was injured when scaffolding he was on was blown over and he fell while working on a construction project in Okmulgee. He filed a claim in the Workers' Compensation Court and alleged that he was an employee of Precision Builders, Inc., and/or Mark Dickerson (Precision) when he fell. The tribunal denied the claim upon determining that claimant was an independent contractor and not an employee. The three-judge panel affirmed the trial tribunal and the panel's order was affirmed by the Court of Civil Appeals. The issue this case presented to the Oklahoma Supreme Court on certiorari was whether petitioner was an employee or independent contractor. "Considering each of the factors on which the evidence was presented leads us to the conclusion that claimant met his burden to show that he was an employee of Precision." The Court of Appeals' decision was vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Carbajal v. Precision Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

In the Matter of the Guardianship of Berry

A daughter was appointed special guardian for her parents. Two lawyers entered an appearance on behalf of the parents and alleged that the parents had selected them as nominated counsel. The daughter sought to be named guardian and then a nephew and niece of the parents sought to be named guardians. Upon agreement of the parties an independent guardian was named. Hearings were held and an order issued that: (1) rejected the two lawyers as nominated counsel for the parents; and (2) denied a motion to reconsider a previous denial of a motion for unsupervised visitation by the nephew and niece and change of guardian to the nephew and niece. The allegedly nominated attorneys commenced an appeal which the Supreme Court retained. The trial court also denied a motion for emergency relief to change supervised visitation. A request for extraordinary relief from supervised visitations was filed during the appeal and the request was consolidated with the appeal. Subpoenas duces tecum were quashed relating to the wards' trusts. An additional request for extraordinary relief was filed during the pendency of the appeal based upon the order quashing the subpoenas, and we treat that proceeding as a companion case. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court held that there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court's decision that nominated counsel had a conflict of interest and were not independent, and that Petitioners failed to show that the trial court committed an abuse of discretion or acted in excess of its authority when it denied an emergency motion to modify the supervised visitation, and that while the trial court incorrectly ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to issue subpoenas duces tecum to a trustee of a ward's trust, it must hold a hearing on the objections to the discovery request and adjudicate which parties are entitled to participate in the discovery and determine whether a sustainable objection to discovery exists pursuant to the Discovery Code. View "In the Matter of the Guardianship of Berry" on Justia Law

Yazel v. William K. Warren Medical Research Center

The Tulsa County Assessor assessed ad valorem taxes on portions of real property owned by the respondent-appellees (and taxpayers) William Warren Medical Research Center and Montereau, Inc. The taxpayers challenged the assessment and the County Board of Equalization determined that the properties were not taxable. The Assessor appealed to the Tulsa County District Court which found in favor of the taxpayers. The Assessor again appealed but the Court of Civil Appeals dismissed the appeal because the Assessor was not represented by the district attorney, nor the State Attorney General. On certiorari, the Supreme Court held that county assessors may employ counsel to represent them in court proceedings including appeals from the Board of Equalization. Accordingly, the Court remanded the matter to the Court of Civil Appeals to address the merits of the appeal. View "Yazel v. William K. Warren Medical Research Center" on Justia Law

Roca v. Roca

Debbie Roca (Houston) and Carlos Roca divorced in 1990. The decree of divorce included a child support computation which obligated Roca to pay the sum of $403.70 each month. After ten years of non-payment Houston cited Roca for contempt, alleging Roca had willfully failed to comply with the decree's child support mandates. A jury found the defendant guilty of indirect civil contempt, and he was sentenced to six months incarceration. Additionally, the trial judge imposed a judgment for past due child support in the amount of $85,392.77. In a 2000 judgment, the trial court determined that the principal arrearage owed was $55,400.27. This sum was set as the purge amount. Additionally, the judgment imposed statutory interest on the principal arrearage at a rate of ten percent per year. Neither party appealed this ruling. Following his incarceration, Roca paid $5,000 of the purge fee and was released from custody. The trial court conditioned Roca's release on his payment of $850.00 per month toward current and past due child support. Roca made payments for approximately two years, and on April 16, 2003, the trial court entered an order establishing a reduced purge fee of $40,215.87. The parties also entered into an agreed order lowering Roca's monthly child support payment to $193.74 per month. This order became effective May 1, 2003. The trial court lowered the cumulative monthly payment for current and past due child support from $850.00 to $600.00. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services began administering child support collections for the Roca case in 2003. Roca made monthly payments of $600.00 between June 2003 and August 2009. His support obligation terminated at the end of May 2005, when the parties' child reached the age of majority. In 2009, Roca filed a motion asking the district court to enter an order finding he had satisfied the principal child support arrearage; he further requested termination of the wage assignment. Roca later withdrew the motion and submitted a notice which asserted "all of his court-ordered child support payments" had been paid. The notice acknowledged owing some amount of accrued interest, but maintained that the remainder of his child support obligation had been paid in full. Houston filed an objection, claiming for the first time that all of Roca's previous payments should have been applied in the following order: (1) current child support, (2) interest on the judgment, and finally (3) the principal arrearage. According to Houston's calculations, Roca still owed $84,147.26. A default order was entered adopting the figures presented by Houston. The trial court sustained Roca's motion to vacate. Houston appealed the lower court's ruling and COCA reversed. COCA concluded that the facts of this case required application of the common law rule also known as the United States Rule. By applying the United States Rule, COCA found that Roca's payments should be credited first to current child support, second to accrued interest, and last to the principal balance of past-due child support. Roca appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court vacated COCA's order, finding that Title 43 O.S. Supp. 2002 section 413 and DHS rules required payments made through the Centralized Support Registry in this case to be allocated first to current obligations, second to past due amounts, and finally to interest on the principle balance. View "Roca v. Roca" on Justia Law

Murray County v. Homesales, Inc.

In this appeal, the issue this case presented to the Supreme Court was whether a transfer of real property between affiliated business entities constituted a "sale" for purposes of the Documentary Stamp Tax Act. Defendants Homesales, Inc., JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. and EMC Mortgage, LLC, f/k/a EMC Mortgage Corporation appealed an order granting partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs Murray County, Oklahoma, County Commissioners ex rel. Murray County, Oklahoma and Johnston County, Oklahoma, County Commissioners ex rel. Johnston County, Oklahoma (the Counties). Chase filed four foreclosure cases and was the successful bidder at each sheriff's sale. Therefore, Chase was entitled to a sheriff's deed to each of the properties. However, Chase did not take title. Instead, sheriff's deeds were granted to Chase's affiliated entities. The deeds were recorded with the respective county clerks. The grantees noted on the conveyances that the deeds were exempt from documentary taxes. No documentary taxes were paid. The Counties contended the conveyances involved in this case were not exempt and filed suit to collect the applicable documentary taxes. The district court granted partial summary judgment to the Counties finding that the conveyances were not exempt from the DSTA, and that the Counties could sue to enforce the provisions of the DSTA and collect the documentary taxes that were not paid on these transactions. The Supreme Court, however, concluded that the Counties were not authorized to prosecute violations of the DSTA. The Counties did have standing to challenge the exemptions from the documentary tax claimed for these conveyances. The Court reversed the order granting partial summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Murray County v. Homesales, Inc." on Justia Law

Chandler v. Valentine

Physicians Liability Insurance Company (PLICO) insured Defendant Mark Valentine pursuant to a claims made policy with a policy period from July 1, 2004, to December 31, 2006. On November 1, 2004, Valentine operated on David Wurtz. As a result of Valentine's negligence during the operation, Wurtz died. On March 10, 2005, the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure held a hearing to determine whether Valentine should be disciplined. At the hearing, the Board revoked Valentine's license. On March 22, 2005, PLICO notified Valentine by letter that the policy had been cancelled effective March 10, 2005, with "Company's Decision" stated as the reason for cancellation and offered to sell him tail coverage. That letter was followed by another that addressed the premium refund issues and stated that the policy had been cancelled at Valentine's request. On June 2, 2005, Wurtz' personal representative, Tracey Chandler, filed suit against Valentine and others for the wrongful death of Wurtz. Valentine forwarded the petition and summons served on him to PLICO; PLICO sent Valentine a letter denying coverage because the claim was not made until after the policy was cancelled and asserting the policy exclusion for acts performed while under the influence of intoxicating substances. Valentine's debts were discharged in bankruptcy in early 2006. Chandler filed a motion for summary judgment against Valentine; Valentine entered into a Consent Judgment with Chandler in the amount of $2,250,000.00. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Chandler and ruled that Valentine was entitled to a set off by virtue of settlements with other parties in the amount of $1,275,000.00. Chandler filed garnishment proceedings against PLICO in May of 2008. Chandler asserted that Valentine was indebted to Chandler. PLICO denied any indebtedness asserting a lack of coverage under any insurance policy. Both Chandler and PLICO filed motions for summary judgment in the garnishment action. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Chandler, holding that cancellation of the policy violated section 3625 of title 36 and was therefore void. The issue in this matter was whether an insurer may agree to cancel a "claims made" policy with the knowledge that a potential claim is pending without violating the statutory prohibition on retroactive annulment of an insurance policy following the injury, death, or damage for which the insured may be liable. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that it may not and affirmed the trial court. View "Chandler v. Valentine" on Justia Law

Porter v. Oklahoma Farm Bureau Mutual Ins. Co.

On November 14, 2009, sewage entered into and damaged the home of plaintiffs Justin and Brandy Porter. At the time, Plaintiffs' home was insured by defendant Oklahoma Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company under a "Homeowners Special Coverage Policy." Plaintiffs filed a claim for their loss, which defendant denied. Subsequently, plaintiffs filed a petition in the district court for breach of contract and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. Plaintiffs argued that the district court should follow "Andres v. Oklahoma Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co.," (227 P.3d 1102, cert. denied, (Nov. 23, 2009)) to find that the policy was ambiguous because it contained conflicting provisions on loss caused by water damage and that the doctrine of reasonable expectations required the ambiguity to be construed in favor of coverage. Plaintiffs also argued that defendant committed bad faith when defendant wrote a policy that both includes and excludes a named peril and then denied plaintiffs coverage under the policy. Plaintiffs amended their petition to bring classwide claims on behalf of others similarly situated. Plaintiffs amended their petition a second time to allege "breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and/or fraud," individually and classwide. Plaintiffs' motion for leave to file a second amended petition did not address an individual or class-action fraud claim. Defendant moved to dismiss the class-action claims and the fraud claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendant subsequently stated that the motion to dismiss "[did] not address any other claims" and that "a dispositive motion challenging the merits of Plaintiffs' individual breach of contract and bad faith claims [would] likely be filed in the future." The district court, however, dismissed all claims. The issue before the Supreme Court on appeal was whether the district court erred in granting defendant's motion to dismiss. The resolution of this issue turned on two questions: (1) whether plaintiffs' homeowners policy was ambiguous when the policy covers loss to personal property "caused by . . . accidental discharge or overflow of water from within a plumbing . . . system" (the accidental-discharge-coverage provision) and excluded coverage for loss to real and personal property "resulting directly or indirectly from . . . water which backs up through sewers or drains" (the sewer-or-drain-backup exclusion); (2) if the policy was ambiguous, whether the doctrine of reasonable expectations required the ambiguity to be construed in favor of coverage. The Supreme Court found the district court erred in dismissing the petition in its entirety when the allegations taken as true stated a claim for breach of contract. View "Porter v. Oklahoma Farm Bureau Mutual Ins. Co." on Justia Law

Oklahoma v. Native Wholesale Supply

The Attorney General (AG) brought suit against Native Wholesale Supply alleging violations of the Oklahoma Master Settlement Agreement Complementary Act. In 1998, four of the largest tobacco product manufacturers and forty-six states entered into a Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) to settle litigation brought by the states to recoup health care expenses resulting from cigarette smoking. In 1999, the Legislature required tobacco product manufacturers who do not join the MSA and whose cigarettes were sold in Oklahoma to make annual payments into escrow accounts to cover health care expenses resulting from cigarette smoking. In August of 2006, the AG removed both Seneca brand cigarettes and their manufacturer, Grand River Enterprises Six Nations, Ltd., from the AG's directory. In 2007 and 2008, Native Wholesale Supply (NWS) caused Seneca cigarettes to be brought into Oklahoma knowing that the tobacco product manufacturer did not comply with the Escrow Statute or the Complementary Act and that the Seneca cigarette manufacturer and Seneca cigarettes were not on the AG's directory. In May of 2008, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, sought disgorgement and payment to the State of all gross proceeds realized by NWS from the sale of contraband Seneca cigarettes in violation of the Complementary Act. NWS removed the case to federal court asserting complete federal preemption of this state-law suit because NWS "is chartered by the Sac and Fox Nation, is wholly owned by a member of the Seneca Nation, and conducts business on Indian land with Native Americans." The federal court concluded the case was improperly removed and remanded it to the state court. The state district court then granted NWS' motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and denied NWS' motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The AG appealed the subject matter jurisdiction dismissal and NWS counter-appealed the personal jurisdiction ruling. The Supreme Court held that the State has personal jurisdiction over NWS based on the Company's purposeful availment of the Oklahoma cigarette marketplace and had jurisdiction over the subject matter of this suit. NWS filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and listed three states in the proceeding as having claims similar to Oklahoma's lodged against it. The three states jointly moved to lift the automatic stay. The bankruptcy court lifted the stay and directed that "information produced by [NWS] during discovery in the bankruptcy case shall be treated by the States as satisfying any request for such information in the State Litigation." The information NWS turned over to Oklahoma included documents showing the cigarette sales and shipping transactions between NWS and Muscogee Creek Nation Tobacco Wholesale and Bowen Wholesale from 2006 to 2010. The state district court case proceeded; and the AG moved for summary judgment. The district court sustained the AG's motion for summary judgment, denied NWS' cross-motion for summary judgment, and entered judgment in favor of Oklahoma. The district court denied NWS' motion for new trial. NWS appealed the summary judgment and denial of a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Oklahoma v. Native Wholesale Supply" on Justia Law

Oklahoma Public Employees Assoc. v. Oklahoma Military Dept.

The issue this case presented to the Oklahoma Supreme Court centered on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals' decision to reverse the trial court's order granting a temporary injunction against the Defendant-Appellant, the Oklahoma Military Department ("Department"), and the trial court's order overruling the Department's motion for new trial and to vacate the temporary injunction. The trial court temporarily restrained and enjoined the Department from making pay increases conditioned upon leaving the classified service. In 2011, 44 O.S. 2011, section 21.1 was amended to require personnel appointed as state employees in the Department to be in the unclassified service and to provide additional leave flexibility. To coincide with this amendment, the Department issued new policies on hiring, promotions and salary administration. The new policy references 74 O.S. 2011, section 840-4.2 (C), which provides existing classified employees may remain in the classified service when a classified position has been placed in the unclassified service. Section 7 of the new policy indicates this choice is only applicable to permanent classified employees. It also provided that permanent classified employees may choose to move to the unclassified service after submitting a written resignation from their classified position. Any future vacancies will be filled exclusively in the unclassified service. In late August 2012 a series of e-mails by the Department were sent detailing which classified employees would be eligible for a raise. The e-mails indicate a performance-based adjustment would be granted to those permanent classified employees who had received "exceeds standards" on their annual personal progress report. However, an additional condition excluded from the raise all permanent classified employees who did not elect to resign from the classified service and enter the unclassified service. These classified employees were required to submit their resignation letters by August 30, 2012, in order to accept the offer. Plaintiff-Appellee, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association ("OPEA"), on behalf of some of the Department's affected permanent and probationary classified employees, filed a petition for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. The Supreme Court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in restraining and enjoining the Department from conditioning pay increases on declassification of permanent classified employees. The Court did, however, reverse the trial court's order as far as this provision of the order was applicable to probationary classified employees. The Court held that there was not the same protection to probationary classified employees as there was for permanent classified employees and the Department's actions concerning the probationary classified employee. The second provision of the trial court order enjoined the Department from: "[making] (2) an employee's raise or pay increase based solely upon such employee's status as a classified or unclassified employee." The meaning of this part of the order, the Supreme Court found, was unclear. The Supreme Court reversed this part of the trial court's order insofar as this provision could be interpreted to restrain and enjoin the Department from granting pay increases authorized by law. Furthermore, the Court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the Department's motion for new trial and to vacate the temporary order. View "Oklahoma Public Employees Assoc. v. Oklahoma Military Dept." on Justia Law