Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The three questions before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in this case were: (1) whether Oklahoma's class action attorney fee statute, 12 O.S.Supp.2017, section 2023(G), allowed for the percentage-of-common-fund method in calculating attorney fees; (2) whether the district court abused its discretion in awarding 40% of the common fund to class counsel, equaling over $19 million in attorney fees and a $2,500 hourly rate; and (3) whether the district court abused its discretion in awarding a $400,000 incentive award to the named class representatives. Objector Daniel McClure appealed a $19 million attorney fee award and a $400,000 incentive award in a class action suit. The district court calculated the attorney fee amount using the percentage-of-common-fund method pursuant to a contingency fee agreement between the class counsel and class representatives. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the district court's awards, holding: (1) an attorney fee request in a common fund case was subject to the lodestar method; (2) the district court failed to properly calculate the attorney fee award under the lodestar method; and (3) the district court abused its discretion in awarding the incentive award to the class representatives. The Supreme Court held that although Oklahoma's class action attorney fee statute gave courts flexibility and discretion in calculating fee awards under the percentage-of-common-fund method, the district court abused its discretion when it awarded an unreasonable attorney fee award and an incentive award not supported by evidence. View "Strack v. Continental Resources" on Justia Law

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In December 2020, an Oklahoma district court granted summary judgment in favor of Fraternal Order of the Police, Bratcher/Miner Memorial Lodge, Lodge No. 122 on the Order's request for a declaratory judgment. After discussion of the city budget, and hearing from the public concerning possible reallocation of funds, City Council postponed adoption of the FYE 2021 Operating and Capital budgets until June 16th. At the special meeting, the first action occurred as stated on the agenda, and Council adopted the budget for the Norman Convention and Visitors Bureau. A councilmember then moved to adopt the FYE 2021 City of Norman Operating and Capital Budgets (city budget). But, instead of adopting or rejecting the city budget as listed on the agenda, Council proceeded to amend it numerous times. Eventually, Council passed the three disputed amendments in this case, "reallocating" $865,000 of funding. Plaintiff FOP argued that City violated the Open Meeting Act by enacting amendments at the special meeting that were not included on the posted agenda. City asserted that its posted agenda met the requirements of the Act because the budget affected by the disputed amendments was a subsidiary budget within the listed city budget. The question before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in this matter was whether defendant-appellant City of Norman complied with the statutory notice requirements of the Open Meeting Act for its June 16, 2020 special meeting. The Supreme Court concluded City's agenda did not provide sufficient notice of the June 16, 2020 special meeting as required by the Open Meeting Act. We find that the language used in the agenda was deceptively vague and likely to mislead regarding the meeting, and was therefore a wilful violation of the Act. Due to City's failure to post a valid notice under the Open Meeting Act, City's amendment of the city budget and subsequent approval of the amended budget was invalid. The Court found no disputes as to any material facts, and Plaintiff was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. View "Fraternal Order of Police v. City of Norman" on Justia Law

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A dispute arose concerning control over a deceased individual's remains. The trial court ruled that testimony regarding Decedent's purchase of a burial plot and gravestone in 1966 was adequate evidence of a written document instructing the method and manner of handling his remains as outlined in 21 O.S. 2011 section 1158(1). In furtherance of this finding, the trial court entered a ruling compelling the surviving spouse, who was appointed as personal representative, to bury Decedent's body. The personal representative appealed, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the trial court's order granting injunctive relief. The Supreme Court held the Movants failed to present sufficient evidence of a document executed by the Decedent that satisfied the requirements of section 1158(1). View "In the Matter of the Estate of Downing" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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In April 2014, Tulsa police officers seized cash from the claimant-appellant Austin Hingey, pursuant to three search warrants relating to alleged drug sales. As a result of the seizures, the State filed three forfeiture cases. The last case, pertinent here, concerned $325,080.00 found in a storage unit. Hingey objected to the forfeitures and sought return of the money. The trial court consolidated the cases. The State dismissed the case concerning $5,530.00 during trial. A jury returned a verdict determining that the $2,121.00, and $25,080.00 of the $325,080.00, should have also been returned to Hingey. Subsequently, Hingey sought recovery of his attorney fees pursuant to 63 O.S. Supp. 2016 section 2-506, which became effective November 1, 2016. The trial court limited the award of attorney fees to those incurred only after November 1, 2016, and then awarded Hingey approximately 10% of his requested attorney fees because he recovered approximately 10% of what he originally sought to recover. Hingey appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, determining that the trial court should have applied the attorney fee statute retroactively. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari and held that: (1) 63 O.S. Supp. 2016 sec. 2-506 applied retroactively; (2) the trial court abused its discretion in awarding attorney fees based on the percentage of the amount of money recovered compared to the amount sought to be recovered; and (3) the claimant was also entitled to appeal related attorney fees. View "Oklahoma ex rel. Harris v. $325,080" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Board of County Commissioners of Harmon County, Oklahoma, filed an action against the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma Self Insured Group (ACCO-SIG). ACCO-SIG sought to disqualify the Board's lawyers, alleging one of the Board's attorneys had a conflict of interest because he had previously represented ACCO-SIG in a substantially similar matter four years earlier. ACCO-SIG sought to have the lawyer, and his entire law firm, disqualified from representing the Board. After the trial court held a disqualification hearing, it denied ACCO-SIG's request to disqualify. ACCO-SIG appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that under the facts presented, disqualification was not required. View "Bd. of County Comm'rs v. Assoc. of County Comm'rs of Okla Self-Insured Grp." on Justia Law

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The decedent, Buddy Chester, wrote a holographic will leaving everything to his grandson, Brandon Strouder Chester. The will neglected to mention the decedent's son, Steven Chester and daughter, Lisa Martin. The son requested that the trial court determine that he was a pretermitted heir under the will. After a hearing, the trial court determined that the face of the holographic will showed intent to omit the son as a beneficiary, and that the omission was not accidental. The son appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari, and held that the testator's son was a pretermitted heir under his father's holographic will. "Testators have the freedom to dispose of their estate as they wish. Nevertheless, even in the case of a holographic will, which requires less formalities and no particular form, a testator must comply with the law regarding pretermitted heirs. The will neglected to list either of his two children or acknowledge their existence, thus rendering them pretermitted heirs. There are no ambiguities on the face of the will. Therefore, extrinsic evidence may not be used to determine the testator's intent concerning why he neglected to mention his children." View "In the Matter of the Estate of Chester" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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Property owners (taxpayers) appealed ad valorem tax assessments made during 2012-2015 to the Tulsa County District Court after their appeals to the Tulsa County Board of Equalization were denied. Taxpayers were successful in the District Court appeal by showing one parcel of property was exempt and a second parcel partially exempt from ad valorem taxation. The District Court determined the amounts of the tax refund and stated the Tulsa County Treasurer "pay the Petitioners interest on such amounts as allowed by law." The Tulsa County Assessor appealed, but the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the District Court's judgment. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held the general postjudgment statute, 12 O.S. section 727.1, did not apply to taxpayers' ad valorem tax protest appeal, and the procedure for interest on taxpayers' protested tax payments was provided by the ad valorem statute, 68 O.S. section 2884. View "In the Matter of the Assessments for Tax Year 2012" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Warehouse Market subleased a commercial building from defendant Pinnacle Management, Inc. The building was on federally restricted Indian land. Subsequently, defendant-appellant, Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Office of Tax Commission (Tribe) both sought to collect sales tax from Warehouse Market. Warehouse Market filed an interpleader action in an attempt to have the court determine which entity to pay. However, the trial court dismissed the Tribe because it had no jurisdiction over it because of the Tribe's sovereign immunity. The trial court then determined that the OTC could not be entitled to the sales tax unless and until the dispute between the OTC and the Tribe was resolved in another forum or tribunal. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that because the substance of Warehouse Market's action/request for relief was a tax protest, exhaustion of administrative remedies was a jurisdictional prerequisite to seeking relief in the trial court. View "Warehouse Market v. Oklahoma ex rel. Ok. Tax Comm." on Justia Law

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Voters in the City of Enid presented a recall petition to City of Enid officials. The petition sought to recall plaintiff-appellant, City Commissioner Ben Ezzell for his support of a city wide mask mandate to combat the COVID epidemic. Ezzell objected to the recall petition, alleging that because the recall petition did not comply with the requirements of 34 O.S. 2011 section 3 and 34 O.S. Supp. 2015 section 6, which related to signature collection, the recall petition was insufficient. After a hearing, the trial court denied Ezzell's protest and determined that the petition was sufficient under the City Charter of Enid recall process. Ezzell appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held there was no conflict between the City Charter recall process, and the additional state requirements of 34 O.S. 2011 sec. 3 and 34 O.S. Supp. 2015 sec. 6, the state statutes governed, but were not properly followed. The recall petition was therefore insufficient on its face pursuant to Clapsaddle v. Blevins, 66 P.3d 352, and its predecessors. View "Ezzell v. Lack" on Justia Law

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The dispute in this case centered on two oil-and-gas-producing formations known as the Chester and the Marmaton, located in Beaver County, Oklahoma. In 1973, Arnold Petroleum, Inc., the predecessor in interest to plaintiffs (collectively, "Arnold") obtained six oil-and-gas leases covering land in Beaver County. Over the course of 1973 and 1974, Arnold Petroleum assigned its leases to Dyco Petroleum Corporation, expressly reserving an overriding royalty interest in any oil and gas produced under the leases. Dyco assigned the leases to Harold Courson, the predecessor in interest of defendant Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation. This assignment, too, was expressly subject to Arnold's overriding royalty interest. Two wells drilled in the Chester formation produced "mostly gas with some oil" continuously since the mid-1970s, and at no point since then did Arnold ever stop receiving payments on its overriding royalty interest in those producing wells. In 1984, Courson obtained several new leases from the mineral owners who had granted the 1973 leases. The 1984 leases purported to cover the same rights as the original 1973 leases, but were silent as to any particular geologic formation or zone. Arnold did not become aware of the 1984 leases until 1999 when it and other royalty holders received a letter from Courson explaining he had recompleted a well in the Chester formation that had originally been drilled into the separate Lower Chester formation by Natural Gas Anadarko, Inc. (NGA). In the 1999 conversation, a Courson employee told the Arnold landman the 1984 leases covered only "deep rights" or "lower depths" that had expired under the 1973 leases. This assertion would exclude the Marmaton. For the next 13 years, the matter of the Marmaton formation would remain dormant. Courson assigned his leases to Cabot in August 2011, and Cabot drilled and completed several horizontal wells in the Marmaton. Cabot rejected Arnold's request for payment, and Arnold sued in October 2012, seeking damages for nonpayment of royalties. Cabot argued Arnold's claims were barred because the applicable statute of limitations began to run with the filing of the new leases in 1984, which event (in Cabot's view) should have put Arnold on notice of an adverse claim to the Marmaton. The issue presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review was whether plaintiffs waited too long in asserting their right to payment of the overriding royalty interest. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court's judgment in favor of plaintiffs on those grounds. The Supreme Court disagreed: this litigation could not have arisen until defendant first developed the disputed formation in 2012, and then refused plaintiffs' request for payment of royalties from that production. "Nothing preceding that sequence of events could reasonably have foreclosed plaintiffs' ability to press their claim for the payments to which they were entitled under valid mineral leases." View "Claude C. Arnold Non-Operated Royalty Interest Properties v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp." on Justia Law