Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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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

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court previously declared that certain tribal gaming compacts the Oklahoma Executive branch entered into with the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria Tribes were invalid under Oklahoma law because the gaming compacts authorized certain forms of Class III gaming prohibited by state law. While "Treat I" was pending before the Supreme Court, the Executive branch entered into two additional compacts with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Kialegee Tribal Town. The parties to the compacts submitted the tribal gaming compacts to the United States Department of the Interior, and the Department of the Interior deemed them approved by inaction, only to the extent they are consistent with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined these new compacts were also not valid: for the new compacts to be valid under Oklahoma law, the Executive branch must have negotiated the new compacts within the statutory bounds of the Model Tribal Gaming Compact (Model Compact) or obtained the approval of the Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations. Without proper approval by the Joint Committee, the new tribal gaming compacts were invalid under Oklahoma law. View "Treat v. Stitt" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review centered on a child custody dispute between divorced parents where divorce actions were filed in two different states at different times. Petitioner-Appellant Ty Rader ("Father") appealed an Oklahoma trial court's order finding Kansas had exclusive, continuing child custody jurisdiction, and that Oklahoma did not have jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination under Oklahoma's Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA"). The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that because the Kansas child custody proceeding was dismissed by the parties, it was of no effect in the present matter, and the Oklahoma judge erred in failing to determine whether or not Oklahoma had become the minor child's new home state under the UCCJEA at the commencement of this proceeding. Thus, the Court reversed the part of the trial court's order finding the Oklahoma court did not have jurisdiction over child custody, and remanded to the trial court to consider whether or not Oklahoma became the minor child's new home state, and, if so, to consider Respondent-Appellee Brenda Rader's ("Mother") forum non conveniens argument, pursuant to 43 O.S. section 551-207. If Petitioner failed to establish Oklahoma as the new home state, the trial judge was ordered to transfer the matter to Kansas, pursuant to the UCCJEA. View "In re Marriage of Rader" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Tokiko Johnson's real property was damaged in a storm and she filed a claim with her insurance company. Johnson also executed an assignment of her insurance claim for the purpose of repairing the property with the execution in favor of Triple Diamond Construction LLC (the construction company). An appraiser retained by the construction company determined storm damage to the property in the amount of $36,346.06. The insurer determined the amount of damage due to the storm was $21,725.36. When sued, the insurer argued the insured property owner was required to obtain written consent from the insurer prior to making the assignment. The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined an insured's post-loss assignment of a property insurance claim was an assignment of a chose in action and not an assignment of the insured's policy. Therefore, the insured's assignment was not prohibited by either the insurance policy or 36 O.S. section 3624. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. The insurer's motion to dismiss the appeal was thus denied. View "Johnson v. CSAA General Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In January 2020, summary judgment was entered in favor of defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (State Farm) against its insured, plaintiff Eric Thurston. In 2012, Thurston first obtained automobile liability insurance through State Farm. On June 9, 2016, Thurston was injured in an automobile accident. At that time, Thurston had three separate, six-month term, insurance policies with State Farm, with separate UM coverage on each, for which Thurston paid three separate premiums. The accident vehicle had $25,000 in UM coverage and the other two vehicles each had $50,000 in UM coverage. After determining that Thurston's medical expenses from the accident exceeded the at-fault driver's policy limits, State Farm initially paid Thurston $25,000 in UM benefits under the policy for the vehicle involved in the accident. State Farm eventually paid Thurston another $25,000 under a second policy, for a total of $50,000 in paid UM benefits. While Thurston's injuries exceeded that amount, State Farm refused further payment. Thurston brought claims against State Farm, Janis Yearout (Agent), and Yearout Insurance Agency (Agency) for fraud, breach of contract, bad faith, and failure to procure appropriate coverage. In April 2019, Thurston filed his third amended petition arguing, in part, that State Farm expressly provided for stacking when it continued to charge and accept full premiums on multiple policies without advising that the policies no longer stacked. In support, Thurston submitted his deposition testimony that he did not recall receiving notice of changes in policy language after the 2014 statutory amendment. Thurston alleged that his claims were also supported by State Farm's internal claim documents, which described the policy for the accident vehicle as "stacking" with another. The question before the Oklahoma Supreme Court was whether State Farm expressly provided for stacking of uninsured motorist policies, pursuant to 36 O.S. Supp. 2014, section 3636(B), by charging and accepting separate premiums for uninsured motorist coverage on separate policies. The Supreme Court found State Farm's charging separate UM premiums for vehicles on separate policies did not fall within section 3636's exception of expressly providing for stacking of UM coverage. Because State Farm did not take action to expressly provide for stacking of UM coverage, they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The district court's order granting summary judgment was affirmed. View "Thurston v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a negligence action based upon the alleged acts of defendants when one of the plaintiffs was staying in a hospital after surgery and received a burn from spilled hot water. The district granted defendants' motion to strike plaintiffs' witness list and defendants' motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs appealed and the Court of Civil Appeals. After its review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the trial court erred in granting summary judgment striking the list of trial witnesses when plaintiffs were not provided time to respond to the motion to strike as granted by District Court Rule 4. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Shawreb v. SSM Health Care of Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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Appellant, police officer Randy Harrison, joined the Del City Police Department in 1995. He joined the Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System. Both he and his employer made the statutorily required contributions to this plan until he resigned from the police force in 2014. At the time he left employment he had almost nineteen years of service. On January 28, 2014 he notified the pension system of his resignation and he applied to receive a full pension benefit, claiming he had the required twenty years of credited service. On February 5, 2014, Harrison was convicted of manslaughter for the on-duty shooting and killing of a suspect who tried to shoot him. In a July 2014 letter to Harrison, his request for a full service pension was denied on the basis that he had less than twenty (20) years of credited service at the time his employment ended. In December, 2014, Harrison filed an application and requested to receive a "vested benefit" instead of the return of his accumulated contributions. This application was denied by OPPRS finding that officer's "retirement benefits were forfeited in accordance with the provisions of 11 O.S. section 1-110." Following the filing of a Petition for Judicial Review of a Final Agency Determination, the district court affirmed the order of the OPPRS. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed, finding that as a matter of law, Harrison had a retirement benefit that was vested within the meaning of section 1-110(A) and 11 O.S. section 50.111.1, which was not subject to forfeiture. View "Harrison v. Oklahoma Police Pension & Retirement System" on Justia Law