Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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National American Insurance Company ("NAICO") brought suit against New Dominion, LLC, seeking a declaratory judgment that four consecutive commercial general liability policies it issued to New Dominion did not provide coverage for bodily injury and property damage claims asserted in a number of separate lawsuits ("the Earthquake Lawsuits"). These claims allegedly arose out of seismic activity caused by New Dominion's oil and gas operations. New Dominion filed a counterclaim alleging breach of contract, seeking defense and indemnity, and asserting equitable claims for estoppel and reformation. The trial court bifurcated the issues pleaded, conducted separate bench trials for the contract interpretation questions and the equitable claims. Following the first bench trial, the court issued a declaratory judgment holding that the Total Pollution Exclusions and the Subsidence and Earth Movement Exclusions in the commercial general liability policies clearly and unambiguously precluded coverage for the claims asserted in the Earthquake Lawsuits. Following the second trial, the court estopped NAICO from denying claims for bodily injury during one of the four policy periods but denied all other equitable claims. Both parties appealed, raising "a litany" of issues with the trial court's orders. The Oklahoma Supreme Court joined the cases and held: (1) the Total Pollution Exclusions did not clearly and unambiguously preclude coverage; (2) the Subsidence and Earth Movement Exclusions clearly and unambiguously precluded coverage; and (3) there was no basis for New Dominion's estoppel or reformation claims. View "National American Ins. Co. v. New Dominion" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was an action to foreclose a materialman's lien filed on property located in Garvin County, Oklahoma. Wynnewood Refining Co., LLC owned an oil refinery and entered into an Environmental Services Agreement with the original contractor, now WSP USA, Inc. to provide labor and materials to improve the Property. Thereafter, WSP entered into a subcontract with Techsas, Inc. to provide labor and materials to improve the property. The Techsas Contract contained a waiver clause whereby Techsas waived all liens and claims, statutory or otherwise, resulting from the labor done and materials furnished on the project. The waiver clause also required Techsas to insert a similar waiver clause into any subcontracts it engaged in. The parties agreed that sometime in 2019, Techsas entered into a subcontract (H2K Contract) with plaintiff-appellant H2K Technologies, Inc., (H2K or materialman) to provide materials and labor to improve the property. When Techsas failed to pay H2K, the H2K served a preliminary lien notice on Wynnewood, Techsas and WSP for the estimated price of the provided labor, services, equipment and materials. H2K thereafter filed a lien statement to the Garvin County Clerk. Months later, H2K filed its petition to foreclose the lien. Both plaintiff and defendants filed competing motions for summary judgment; the trial court ruled in favor of defendants' motion and denied plaintiff's, ruling: (1) although the Techsas Contract was governed by New York law, which prohibited waiver clauses, contract provisions that subject a construction contract to the laws of another state were against public policy in Oklahoma pursuant to 15 O.S. 2011, 821(B)(1); and (2) H2K was charged with constructive notice of the subcontract between Techsas and WSP and because Techsas had waived its rights to all liens and claims, H2K did not have a legal right to impress a lien on the Property. H2K appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that under the limited issues of law presented on appeal, H2K was not bound by the waiver of lien clause in the Techsas Contract. The Court also held that the provisions of 15 O.S. 2011, section 821(B)(2) were not applicable to mechanics' and materialmen's liens. The Court therefore reversed the trial court's order granting summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "H2K Technologies v. WSP, USA" on Justia Law

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In 2019, Appellant Vickie McBee ("McBee") filed separate lawsuits against multiple parties involved in the design and construction of her personal residence. McBee filed her suit against Shanahan Home Design, LLC ("Shanahan Home") and Biggs Backhoe, Inc. ("Biggs Backhoe"); McBee's counsel did not immediately have summonses issued for service on the defendants. On May 18, 2020, the Canadian County court clerk's office issued summonses for both Biggs Backhoe and Shanahan Home. McBee served Biggs Backhoe on July 8, 2020, and Shanahan Home on July 16, 2020. Service was accomplished by certified mail, return receipt requested, delivery restricted to the addressee. Shanahan Home and Biggs Backhoe each filed special appearances, reserving additional time to answer McBee's petition. Each defendant moved to dismiss McBee's lawsuit. Biggs Backhoe's motion raised several arguments, including that McBee failed to serve her petition and summons within 180 days, and therefore should have been deemed dismissed as of May 19, 2020. Shanahan Home also raised several arguments, but noted that it would defer to the trial court's judgment on whether the Covid-19 related administrative orders affected the time limit in section 2004(I). In response, McBee maintained that the joint SCAD orders suspended the period for service of process, and therefore dismissal was improper. On October 7, 2020, the trial court issued and filed an order sustaining the motion to dismiss. The trial judge concluded, "because the Summons had not been issued prior to the Covid-19 issues that were addressed by the Supreme Court Directives (SCAD 2020-24; SCAD 2020-29; SCAD 2020-36), the directives do not apply." The trial judge further held that the 180-day period for service of summons was not stayed by the joint emergency orders. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed, finding the trial judge erroneously sustained the motion to dismiss based on untimely service. "This Court's emergency orders acted to suspend or toll the period under section 2004(I); therefore, plaintiff timely accomplished service of process when the period between March 16, 2020, and May 15, 2020, is excluded from computing the deadline." View "McBee v. Shanahan Home Design" on Justia Law

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An opioid manufacturer appealed a $465 million verdict following a bench trial in a public nuisance lawsuit. The district court held the opioid manufacturer liable under Oklahoma's public nuisance statute for its prescription opioid marketing campaign. The State of Oklahoma counter-appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the appeal and held that the opioid manufacturer's actions did not create a public nuisance. The district court erred in extending the public nuisance statute to the manufacturing, marketing, and selling of prescription opioids. View "Oklahoma ex rel. Attorney General of Oklahoma v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari review for a second time in this case. Appellant Richard Dopp, appealed the trial court's dismissal of the refiling of his petition pursuant to 12 O.S. 2011, section 100, and his motion to reconsider the order of dismissal. The Appellant was an inmate, and his name appeared on the Oklahoma Registry of Frivolous or Malicious Appeals three or more times. The trial court dismissed without prejudice his first case because he had not prepaid the required filing fees pursuant to 57 O.S. 2011, section 566.2. Appellant then filed a motion to reconsider within ten days of that order, which the trial court denied. He appealed those orders to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court dismissed his appeal for failure to pay the required appellate cost deposit after the Court ordered him to pay it. Appellant refiled his petition. The trial court dismissed the petition as being untimely, finding that he did not file it within one year of the date of the order dismissing his first case. The trial court determined that his motion to reconsider was void ab initio pursuant to section 566.2. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, finding that only a validly filed appeal would extend the time to refile a petition pursuant to section 100 and the Appellant's first appeal was not valid. The Supreme Court vacated the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals' opinion, reversed the trial court, and remanded for further proceedings, holding the Appellant's first appeal was valid and the one-year period to refile began to run the day after the first appeal was final. View "Dopp v. Kirkendall" on Justia Law

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The question presented to the Oklahoma Supreme Court in this case was whether a district court could examine the circumstances of a juror's prior litigation history for the purpose of determining whether the juror's failure to disclose this history during voir dire did not materially affect the substantial rights of a party. Francis Johnson and her sister, Omega Beyrer, visited a restaurant where Johnson fell and suffered a fractured hip. Johnson brought an action based upon premises liability against The Mule LLC (Restaurant), and a jury trial was held in February 2019. The jury returned a verdict determining Johnson was 74% negligent and Restaurant 24% negligent, and awarded no damages to Johnson. Johnson filed a motion for new trial, arguing the jury foreman, D. K., had failed during voir dire to disclose his prior involvement as a defendant in an Oklahoma County tort action in 2005. D. K. was named with his father as defendants in a 2005 action which alleged D. K. used his father's automobile which resulted in an automobile collision. The collision and 2005 action occurred when D. K. was a minor. Plaintiff argued the juror's silence denied her an opportunity to make an informed challenge to the juror and that she was entitled to a new trial. The Supreme Court concluded a trial court's adjudication of a motion for new trial may include an examination of the circumstances of the juror's litigation history when the motion is based upon a prospective juror's failure to disclose litigation history during voir dire. In this case, the Court held the juror's conduct did not rise to conduct materially affecting plaintiff's substantial rights. The district court's denial of plaintiff's motion for new trial was affirmed. View "Beyrer v. The Mule" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit certified a question of law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court on whether Progressive Northern Insurance Company's Underinsured Motorist (UM) Exclusion--which operated to deny uninsured motorist coverage to insureds who recover at least the statutorily mandated minimum in the form of liability coverage--contravened Oklahoma's Uninsured Motorist Statute, codified at 36 O.S. section 3636. The Supreme Court responded "yes:" Because of the sweeping nature of the UM Exclusion contained in the insurance policy at issue, Progressive found a way to entirely avoid providing the promised coverage. "[A]n insurer in Oklahoma cannot deprive its policyholder of uninsured-motorist coverage for which a premium has been paid through an exclusion that effectively erases its policyholder's choice to purchase that coverage in the first place. We conclude that Progressive's UM Exclusion contravenes section 3636 and is therefore void as against public policy." View "Lane v. Progressive Northern Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants, Craig Immel, Terry Young, Herb Beattie, and Ray Pearcey (collectively, "Taxpayers"), sought a declaratory judgment that Defendants-appellees, Tulsa Public Facilities Authority (TPFA) and the City of Tulsa (City), could not sell 8.8 acres of park land to a private developer for the construction of a commercial shopping center because the land was held in a public trust expressly as a park for the people. All parties moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted the TPFA and the City's joint motion for summary judgment as to all claims. Taxpayers appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held: (1) Taxpayers had standing; (2) the TPFA and the City could not sell the 8.8 acres of park land to a private developer for construction of a commercial shopping center because the land was indeed held in a public trust for the people, unless it was abandoned and/or was no longer fit for its intended use as a public park; (3) there were disputed material facts as to whether the TPFA and the City lawfully abandoned the 8.8 acres of park land; and (4) there were disputed material facts as to whether the expenditure met the public purpose requirement under the Oklahoma Constitution. The trial court's order granting the TPFA and the City's joint motion for summary judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Immel et al. v. Tulsa Public Facilities Authority" on Justia Law

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Appellant Iris Stacy (Mother) sought certiorari review of an unpublished opinion by the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals (COCA) that affirmed the trial court's judgment terminating her parental rights to I.T.S., I.M.S., and R.E.S. (Children). At issue was the trial court's sua sponte discharge of Mother's court-appointed counsel at the conclusion of the disposition hearing, which left her without representation until State filed its petition to terminate her parental rights over two years later. She argued the trial court's failure to provide her legal representation between the disposition and the filing of the petition to terminate her parental rights (a period of 798 days) was contrary to the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted her petition to address a question of first impression: Upon request by an Indian child's parent for counsel in a deprived child proceeding, and a finding of indigency, whether the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) required court-appointed counsel for the parent at all stages of the deprived child proceeding. The Supreme Court held that section 1912(b) of ICWA required, upon request and a finding of indigency, the appointment of counsel at all stages of the deprived child proceeding. View "In the Matter of I.T.S." on Justia Law

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Appellants Taylor Hudson (Mother) and Cody Hudson (Father) appealed a trial court's judgments terminating their parental rights to their biological children, K.H., C.H., E.H., and C.H. Both judgments were entered on separate jury verdicts finding that clear and convincing evidence supported each parent's “heinous and shocking physical abuse” on another child of Father. After review on rehearing, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held: (1) admitting evidence of State's pending criminal child abuse charges against Parents; and (2) giving a jury instruction that listed the criminal charges to support State's amended petition for immediate termination of parental rights was “so inherently prejudicial” that it violated Parents' right to a fair trial. The judgments were reversed, and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "In the Matter of K. H." on Justia Law