Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The State started forefeiture proceedings against a 2011 Honda following a drug arrest. Ashley Bickle was the titled owner of the car, and she was a passenger in the car at the time drugs were found. Craig and Pam Bickle were Ashley's parents and were also listed on the title as owners of the Honda. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Craig and Pam Bickle, finding that the two were entitled to the "innocent owner defense" and possession of the Honda. The Court of Civil Appeals, on de novo review, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that the legislature did not intend for innocent owners to be deprived of their ownership rights by the actions of a guilty party in a vehicle forfeiture proceeding. The statute does not address the specific set of facts presented by this appeal; it addressed a scenario where the owner commits the offense making the vehicle subject to forfeiture. The Court reversed the appellate court and reinstated the judgment of the district court. View "Oklahoma ex rel. Harris v. 2011 Honda" on Justia Law

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In November 2005, petitioner Barbara Shepard was working for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections when she was injured. The Workers' Compensation Court found that Shepard had sustained a permanent partial disability. The court ordered the respondent Department of Corrections and/or its insurance carrier "to provide the claimant with reasonable and necessary continuing medical maintenance limited to prescription medications and four (4) visits per year to monitor same with Dr. M." There was no limit imposed on the doctor's exercise of a medical judgment as to which prescriptions were needed by Shepard, except those that were medically reasonable and necessary. The court also directed payment of reasonable and necessary medical expenses incurred by Shepard as a result of her injury. In 2010, Shepard moved to reopen her claim based upon a change of condition for the worse. In 2011, the Workers' Compensation Court reopened the claim and determined that Shepard had a change of condition for the worse and allowed additional compensation for the worsening of her left shoulder. The order of the Workers' Compensation Court en banc stated that respondent/insurance carrier "shall pay all reasonable and necessary medical expenses incurred by claimant as a result of said injury through the date of this order." The previous award of continuing medical maintenance was not disturbed by the order that reopened her claim. The order on reopening was appealed to the Court en banc which affirmed in part and modified in part the previous order. In 2011, the Court en banc modified a provision relating to temporary total disability, and two provisions of attorney's fees. The award of reasonable and necessary medical expenses was not modified. The previous award of continuing medical maintenance was not disturbed. In 2012, Respondents sought a hearing to "discuss prescriptions." They objected one of Dr. M.'s medical reports. The court ordered Shepard to submit to a medical examination by Dr. Y., and directed this doctor to determine whether Shepard needed pain management and the nature and extent of necessary continuing medical maintenance. The order also directed Dr. Y. to determine if Shepard's current continuing medical maintenance by Dr. M. was within the Oklahoma Treatment Guidelines. The court also directed Dr. Y. to determine whether Shepard's continuing medical maintenance was within the Oklahoma Treatment Guidelines; and if not, to advise whether her continuing medical maintenance in her best interest. Respondents then sought an order that would have the effect of terminating Shepard's medical prescriptions. In June 2014, the Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims ordered that Dr. M. could provide continuing medical maintenance to the Shepard. In July 2014, Shepard sought review of this decision by by the Supreme Court, arguing that respondents made an impermissible retroactive application of a new workers' compensation law. Respondents argued that application of the new law to medical benefits currently being provided was not a retroactive application, and that even if the application was a retroactive application, such application was permissible. The Supreme Court held that 85 O.S.2011 section 326(G) and the statutorily incorporated Guidelines were unconstitutionally applied retroactively to employee's previous award for medical treatment that predated section 326. View "Shepard v. Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) terminated the employment of petitioner Chester Rouse after several years of evaluations of inefficiency, incompetence, and misconduct, and after three significant events which occurred at its coal fired plant. Rouse appealed the termination to the Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission (OMPC) and then to the district court. The administrative appeal and the district court appeal each resulted in the affirmation of the termination. Rouse appealed to the Supreme Court, raising 16 issues of alleged error, some of which were found by the Court to be redundant, repetitive, related, or were not briefed on appeal. The Court consolidated the issues into four broader issues: (1) the trial court erred in its statutory interpretation of 74 O.S. 2011 section 840-6.5; (2) the trial court erred in determining that the reasons for termination were not pretextual or post hoc rationalizations; (3) the trial court erred in determining that plaintiff was estopped from challenging the level of discipline imposed (termination); and (4) its review of OMPC's ruling and the admission of certain evidence. After consideration of these issues, the Supreme Court found no reversible error, and affirmed the trial court. View "Rouse v. Oklahoma Merit Protection Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff purchased a Life Fund 5.1, L.L.C. Capital Appreciation Bond from a company that subsequently filed for bankruptcy. More than two years after purchase, plaintiff sued the defendants for misrepresentations and omissions in the sale of securities, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligence. The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, ruling that the statute of limitations for each of the plaintiff's claims had run before she brought suit. Plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The question this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether the district court erred in granting the defendants' motion for summary judgment based on the expiration of the statutory limitations periods. As a threshold matter, the Court determined when plaintiff's claims accrued and whether the statute of limitations for each claim ran or was tolled from the accrual date based upon the discovery rule. After review, the Court held that defendants did not submit sufficient evidentiary material to support their arguments as to when the statute of limitations began to run on each claim. Therefore the Court reversed the grant of summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Horton v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

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According to appellant Robert Perry, he and his friends attended the Norman Music Festival in 2013. At approximately 2:00 a.m. on the early morning of April 27, 2013, Perry and his friends left the Festival on bicycles to go home. On the way home, a Norman police officer, also on a bicycle, approached Perry's friends. The officer began issuing citations to Perry's friends for running a stop sign on their bicycles. The officer also asked Perry if he was interfering with the traffic stop. Perry responded that he was just waiting for his friends so they could continue home. The officer then rapidly approached Perry and threw his arm, with nightstick in hand, around Perry's throat and placed him in a choke hold with extreme force to his neck. Perry, frightened, began fighting for air and struggled to get out of the choke hold in order to breathe. As more police officers arrived at the scene, they slammed Perry over onto his stomach with several officers' knees and elbows pressed into his back and limbs, forcing him to the ground. Perry had committed no crime and was not resisting arrest. While on the ground, an officer grabbed Perry's arm and violently and quickly twisted it back causing the bone behind his elbow to sustain a large fracture. Perry eventually became unconscious from the shock of the fracture and the lack of air due to the choke hold. The City successfully moved to dismiss the case, and Perry appealed. Perry argued that the Supreme Court's holding in "Bosh v. Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority,"305 P.3d 994, applied to this case and the trial court erred in dismissing his lawsuit. The City argued that "Bosh" did not apply because Perry had a remedy available pursuant to the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act (OGTCA). "The OGTCA cannot be construed as immunizing the state completely from all liability for violations of the constitutional rights of its citizens. To do so, would not only fail to conform to established precedent which refused to construe the OGTCA as providing blanket immunity, but would also render the Constitutional protections afforded the citizens of this State as ineffective." However, the Supreme Court held that under Bosh, claims for excessive force against a municipality may not be brought against a governmental entity when a cause of action under the OGTCA is available. Because appellant did not seek relief for his injuries under the OGTCA, the trial court did not err in dismissing his case. View "Perry v. City of Norman" on Justia Law

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Vandelay Entertainment, LLC d.b.a. The Lost Ogle filed suit in district court to obtain records that the Governor withheld when responding to Vandelay's Open Records Act request. The district court ruled the Governor had a common law privilege to withhold the records in question. In conclusion, we hold that the trial court correctly ruled that the Governor has a privilege to protect confidential advice solicited or received from "senior executive branch officials" for use in deliberating policy and making discretionary decisions. We disagree, however, with the trial court's conclusion that this privilege rests solely upon common law. We hold that this privilege is a "power properly belonging" to the Governor's constitutional office as head of the executive branch and is protected by the separation of powers clause in Article 4, section 1. The need for confidential advice from "senior executive branch officials" for use in the Governor's deliberations and decision-making is "essential to the existence, dignity and functions" of the executive branch. Also, the need to protect such confidential advice is so ultimately connected and bound up with the executive function that the right to regulate disclosure of such confidential advice by way of a privilege naturally and logically belongs to the executive branch. This privilege is not absolute, however, and is subject to the check and balance of in camera judicial review, in lieu of legislatively-mandated public disclosure. The Governor has the burden upon in camera judicial review to demonstrate that any material relating to such confidential advice satisfies the criteria set forth in this opinion. Even confidential advice that satisfies this criteria can be subject to disclosure where (1) the requesting party can show a substantial or compelling need for disclosure and (2) the need for disclosure outweighs the public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of the advice. View "Vandelay Entertainment, LLC v. Fallin" on Justia Law

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The City of Oklahoma City charged Christopher Tucker with municipal misdemeanor offenses of interfering with official process, obstructing an officer, and failing to obey lawful commands of an officer. Tucker signed an agreement for the Cochran Firm-Criminal Defense, Birmingham, L.L.C. to provide him with legal representation for his scheduled trial in October of 2010. Tucker was found guilty of a municipal charge. Tucker alleged that the firm's Case Manager informed him that the law firm would engage in a four to five-day trial to defend him, the law firm would provide an experienced trial lawyer with twenty to thirty years of experience to represent him at trial, and that the law firm "had attorneys who were licensed to practice in Oklahoma and who would in fact defend the Plaintiff in trial . . . ." He alleged that these statements were untrue and were made to fraudulently induce him to enter into an agreement for legal services and to pay "outrageous fees." From Tucker's complaint, he alleged: (1) the firm required a non-refundable retainer of $13,690.00 for legal representation for the trial; (2) after he signed the agreement, the Cochran Firm informed him that a specific attorney would represent him but that another showed up at trial; (3) the morning of his trial was the first time he met the attorney who actually represented him at his trial; and (4) the firm failed to properly represent him. After filing an amended motion to dismiss, the trial court determined that the forum-selection clause in the retainer agreement should be judicially enforced. The trial court also determined that enforcement of a forum-selection clause would not be unfair or unreasonable under the circumstances. The trial court dismissed the action for improper venue. Tucker appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals concluded that the forum-selection clause should not have been enforced, reversed the trial court's order dismissing his claims, and remanded the matter for further proceedings in the District Court. The law firm petitioned for certiorari. After review, the Supreme Court concluded: (1) when a parties' agreement has an interstate forum-selection clause and a party seeks its judicial enforcement in an Oklahoma District Court by seeking dismissal of the Oklahoma proceeding, then the procedure for its enforcement is by a motion pursuant to 12 O.S. section 2012(B)(6), or Rule 13 motion for summary judgment; and (2) an interstate forum-selection clause is separable from the contract in which it appears, and its validity like any other provision in a contract is subject to the requirements of a valid contract. The appellate court's decision was vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Tucker v. Cochran Firm-Criminal Defense Birmingham, LLC" on Justia Law
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Posted in: Contracts
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This appeal stemmed from an action for auto negligence arising out of injuries sustained by Plaintiffs Rachael Montgomery and her three year old son, Noah Orcutt. Montgomery was rear-ended by Defendant Morgan Potter, who claims that her car brakes failed. As a result of Defendant's negligence, Montgomery claimed she sustained a severe back injury that required surgery. Among other damages sought Montgomery sought damages for her pain and suffering. Montgomery was an uninsured driver at the time of the accident. Citing 47 O.S. Supp. 2011, section 7-116, which prevents uninsured motorists from recovering certain non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, Defendant denied that Montgomery was entitled to damages for pain and suffering. Plaintiffs argued on appeal that section 7-116 was a special law in violation of art. 5, section 46 of the Oklahoma Constitution and filed a motion for declaratory relief declaring the statute unconstitutional. The trial court ruled in Plaintiffs' favor. The Supreme Court agreed: because 47 O.S.2011, section 7-116 impacted less than an entire class of similarly situated claimants it was under-inclusive and, therefore, the Court found it to be an unconstitutional special law prohibited by the Oklahoma Constitution. View "Montgomery v. Potter" on Justia Law

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The single issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on attorney's fees: was the trial court's grant of over $7 million in a multi-jurisdictional, class action law suit an abuse of discretion when the entire class was awarded only $45,780. The trial court originally determined the appropriate attorney fees to be $3,610,719.15 based on Oklahoma ex rel. Burk v. City of Oklahoma City, 598 P.2d 659 and the directives of 12 O.S. Supp. 2009 section 2023.2 Rajine Hess filed a motion to reconsider based on the fees awarded in Berry v. Volkswagen Group of America, 397 S.W.3d 425 (Mo. 2013), a Missouri Supreme Court case involving a class action against Volkswagen related to defective window regulator claims. The trial court considered the Missouri case; and, adopting the identical analysis utilized in reaching a determination that the appropriate fee award was approximately $3.6 million, the trial court amended its order to reflect a multiplier of 1.9 for an adjusted award of $7,221.438.30. In calculating the lodestar, the trial court included hours in failed, out-of-state litigation concerning similar issues to those presented here. Based on these facts, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the $7 million attorneys' fee award constituted an abuse of discretion. View "Hess v. Voklswagen of America, Inc." on Justia Law
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Posted in: Class Action
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A church filed a claim with its insurer for damage to its sanctuary after a severe winter storm. The insurer hired an independent insurance adjuster to adjust the claim. The church eventually filed suit against both its insurer and the independent adjuster alleging breach of contract, bad faith, and gross negligence. The church settled with its insurer, and the trial court granted summary judgment for the independent adjuster. The issues this case presented for the Supreme Court's review on appeal were: (1) whether a special relationship existed between an insured entity and an independent adjuster hired by the insurer, sufficient to subject the independent adjuster to the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing arising under the insurance contract; and (2) whether an independent insurance adjuster owed a legal duty to the insured such that it may be liable to the insured for negligence in its adjustment of the claim. The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined the answer to both questions was no, and affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Trinity Baptist Church v. Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Services, LLC" on Justia Law