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Lori and Heather, a same-sex couple, conceived a child ("J.L.") through artificial insemination and co-parented together as a family for eight years. J.L. recognized Lori as her "momma" or "Momma Lori." For the first eight years of J.L.'s life, Lori was a parent to her in every respect. By Heather's own admission, Lori provided "food, clothing, and shelter" for J.L. and "supplied all the financial stability" for the entire family. Moreover, her contributions to J.L.'s wellbeing were not limited to financial support: Lori was a full and active participant in J.L.'s emotional, social, and intellectual development. The couple separated; Heather left the home they had shared, and took J.L. with her. In the initial months following their separation, Lori and Heather adhered to a regular visitation schedule for J.L. This arrangement seemed workable for seven months, until Heather suddenly denied Lori any further contact with their daughter. Since that time, Lori has neither seen nor spoken with J.L. Lori, as the non-biological parent, petitioned for shared legal custody and physical visitation under the doctrine of in loco parentis. Heather, as the biological mother, objected, asserting that the couple's genetic donor, who had never sought any determination of his own parental rights, was a necessary party to the proceedings. Agreeing that the donor's consent was a necessary requirement, the trial court dismissed Lori's petition for lack of standing. Lori appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court's dismissal for lack of standing. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to clarify the legal rights of non-biological co-parents in same-sex relationships, and reversed. "Lori did not act in the place of a parent; she is a parent. The record in this case cannot reasonably be read otherwise. Lori has emphatically demonstrated standing to seek a determination of visitation and custody of J.L. under the Ramey test. Consistent with the best interests of children in similar scenarios, we hold that non-biological same-sex parents may attain complete parity with biological parents." View "Schneller v. Platt" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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A Mother filed a paternity petition seeking a determination of parentage, custody, visitation and child support. Attempts to serve alleged father were fraught with procedural errors. The trial court authorized service by publication; however, mother's publication notice did not comply with the timing requirements outlined in 12 O.S.Supp. 2017 section 2004(C)(3)(c). Finally, after attempting service by publication, mother's counsel filed a motion seeking a default but failed to serve the motion on father's attorney. After the trial court issued a default paternity ruling, father sought to vacate the judgment. Cumulative problems with service of process and notice warranted vacating the judgment but the trial court refused to set it aside. Father filed the underlying appeal. Considering the multitude of legal errors, weighing public policy and other equitable factors, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found the trial court erred in denying Father's timely Motion to Vacate Default Judgment. The order was vacated and the matter remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Velasco v. Ruiz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The daughter of a deceased employee brought a wrongful death action against the her father’s employer for intentional tort, asserting that the employer was willful, wanton, and intentional in directing the decedent-employee to perform certain tasks that the decedent's employer knew was certain or substantially certain to result in the decedent-employee's death. She sought declaratory relief that the exclusive liability provision of the Workers' Compensation Act was unconstitutional. The district court declared the Act's exclusivity provision constitutional, ultimately determined the decedent-employer's liability was exclusively governed by the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Act, and dismissed the daughter's petition. The Court of Civil Appeals declared the statute unconstitutional as a special law in violation of Okla. Const. art. 5, sections 46, 59. The COCA reversed the district court's order of dismissal and remanded the matter for further proceedings. Based on its review of the undisputed facts, the Oklahoma Constitution, and applicable laws, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found the portion of section 12 that included intentional torts was “not within the walls of the workers' compensation scheme or jurisdiction.” This analysis applied equally to subsequent iterations found in Okla. Stat. tit. 85A, section 5(B)(2)(2013),4 209(B),5 and Okla. Stat. tit. 85, section 302(B)(2011) (now repealed). Accordingly, the district court's order was reversed and the matter remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Wells v. Oklahoma Roofing & Sheet Metal" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Amanda Cole was injured in an automobile accident and sued defendant Samantha Josey. Plaintiff failed to serve process on the defendant within 180 days. The trial court dismissed the suit without prejudice. Plaintiff then refiled her petition within one year of the date of the order dismissing her case. The trial court dismissed her suit for failure to refile within one year of the 181st day following the filing of her original petition. Plaintiff appealed; the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed the trial court's decision. The sole issue on appeal was whether the refiling of a petition after the first petition was dismissed on the grounds that service was not made within 180 days had to take place within one year of the finality of the order dismissing the case or within one year from the 181st day of filing the petition. The Supreme Court held the day after the filing of an appealable order dismissing the case was the date from which the 12 O.S. 2011, section 100 "savings statute" one year refiling period began, if the order was not appealed. Where the dismissal order is appealed the one year period commences on the day after the appeal is final. This issue had not been specifically addressed by the Supreme Court under these facts and under the version of the statute applicable to this action. View "Cole v. Josey" on Justia Law

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Appellant Thomas Southon was employed by Oklahoma Tire Recyclers, LLC ("Employer"). In 2016, Southon sustained an injury while on the job and filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits. Employer fired Southon less than a month after he suffered the injury. Southon filed an action alleging Employer terminated him as retaliation for seeking workers' compensation benefits. Southon's petition further requested a declaratory ruling that 85A O.S.Supp. 2013 section 7 was unconstitutional. Employer moved to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that under section 7 Southon's exclusive, and constitutionally sufficient, remedy was before the Workers' Compensation Commission and not the district court. The district court found 85A O.S.Supp. 2013 section 7 was constitutional, and agreed that the Workers' Compensation Commission had exclusive jurisdiction over Southon's claim and sustained Employer's motion to dismiss. Southon appealed, and this matter was retained and made a companion case to another cause concerning the same statutory provision. The issues presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s review were: (1) whether 85A O.S.Supp. 2013 section 7 unconstitutionally restricted a plaintiff's right to jury trial; (2) whether section 7 denied Southon his right to due process; (3) whether section 7 wrongfully classifies workers' compensation claimants separately from other wrongful termination victims; and (4) whether a Burk tort was available to such plaintiffs in the district court. The Supreme Court concluded Southon's four assignments of error were without merit and affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Southon v. Oklahoma Tire Recyclers, LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellants, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 2875 (Union), and Robert Green (Green), sought certiorari relief from the Court of Civil Appeals' (COCA) opinion affirming the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City of Norman and reversing an arbitration award in favor of Green and Union. Green, a member of his local union, was discharged from his job with the City of Norman, Oklahoma (City). Green appealed the decision and the matter was ultimately presented to an arbitrator for a determination. The arbitrator determined there was no "just cause" for discipline and he ordered reinstatement of Green's employment. The union filed a petition in district court to enforce the arbitration award. City filed a cross petition asking the district court to vacate the arbitration award. Both parties sought summary relief from the district court. The district court denied relief to Green and granted summary judgment in favor of City. The district court held the arbitrator exceeded his authority under the collective bargaining agreement and vacated the arbitrator's opinion and award. Green and the union filed a Petition in Error; the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to City but remanded the matter for the arbitrator to resolve the issue of progressive discipline. Green and the union sought certiorari relief from the Oklahoma Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court held the arbitrator acted within the scope of his authority under the terms of the CBA when determining whether the City had "just cause" to discipline Green. It vacated the Court of Civil Appeals' opinion, reversed the district court and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees v. City of Norman" on Justia Law

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A.A. (Child) was born in August 2014. Father was present in the hospital on the day of her birth. At that time, Child and Mother tested positive for phencyclidine (PCP). The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) was notified, and the case was referred to Family Centered Services. Mother entered a residential drug treatment facility, and Child was temporarily placed with a friend until Child later joined Mother at the facility. Shortly after completing treatment, Mother tested positive for PCP and marijuana. In June 2015, when Child was nine (9) months old, DHS removed Child from Mother's home and two (2) months later placed Child with her current kinship foster parent. During that time, Father was incarcerated. When released, Father was "mostly consistent" in following the court-approved individualized service plan with respect to Child. However, on the first scheduled day of unsupervised visitation, Father abandoned the opportunity to visit, and instead, stabbed a man in the chest with a knife. Upon his arrest, Father had six (6) individually wrapped bags of marijuana. After he was released on bond on May 20, 2017, Father met with DHS on May 26th to discuss reengaging in services and scheduling visitation. On June 6, 2017, Father had a supervised visit with Child but chose not to schedule further visits due to the uncertainty of his schedule. On June 9, 2017, DHS submitted referrals for Father to resume work on his ISP. Father never contacted DHS again. Father was ultimately sentenced to ten years for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and for possession with intent to distribute marijuana. When termination of parental rights proceedings were initiated against him, Father agreed that it was unfair for Child to have to wait for his release from prison, but he stated that he also thought it would be unfair if he did not receive another opportunity to correct conditions. Father testified that he was participating in a step-down program, which would move him to a halfway house by the end of the year and allow early release within three (3) to five (5) years based on good behavior. Father admitted that he did not try to call or visit Child or DHS from June to November 2017, even though he was released on bond during that time. Nevertheless, his parental rights were terminated. He appealed, challenging whether the State presented clear and convincing evidence to support the termination. Finding the evidence sufficient to support termination, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of: A.A." on Justia Law

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After reviewing plaintiff's two Oklahoma constitutional challenges to House Bill 2684, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled restricting drug-induced abortions was unconstitutional. The 2014 measure outlawed “off-label” use of mifepristone, or RU-486, making Oklahoma the only state with such a restriction on the books. The Center for Reproductive Rights sued over the law in September 2014 and a state district court blocked it in November 2017. The state appealed the decision to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which upheld the decision after previously leaving it in place in 2016 to allow the lower-court litigation to proceed. In vacating its stay, the Oklahoma Court held: (1) decisions from the United States Supreme Court were binding on the Oklahoma Supreme Court Court and where the United States Supreme Court has spoken, the Oklahoma Court was bound by its pronouncements; and (2) the Legislature's requirement that physicians adhere to the Federal Drug Administration's (FDA) 2000 label protocol for medication-terminated pregnancies, rather than the newer, revised 2016 label protocol, placed a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman's choice and imposed an undue burden on the woman's rights pursuant to United States Supreme Court precedent as then existed. View "Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice v. Cline" on Justia Law

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At issue was the constitutionality of an Oklahoma legislative enactment, 23 O.S. 2011 section 61.2, which that statutorily limited a plaintiff's recovery of noneconomic damages to $350,000 unless special findings were made. Plaintiffs brought a personal-injury action, and a jury returned a verdict in their favor. The trial court reduced the amount of the actual noneconomic damages awarded by the jury to comply with the statutory cap on damages contained in 23 O.S. 2011 section 61.2, and then entered judgment on the verdict as modified. Plaintiffs appealed, challenging the statutory cap on damages, as well as other matters. Defendant filed a counter-appeal, also attacking the judgment on various grounds. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held 23 O.S. 2011 section 61.2(B)--(F) was an impermissible special law that violated Article 5, Section 46 of the Oklahoma Constitution because it singled out for different treatment less than the entire class of similarly situated persons who may sue to recover for bodily injury. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held none of the defendant's assignments of error in its counter-appeal were sufficient to reverse the judgment. The Court reversed the trial court's judgment to the extent it modified--and reduced--the jury's verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. View "Beason v. I.E. Miller Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Dobson Telephone Company appealed the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's denial of its application for reimbursement from the Oklahoma Universal Services Fund for expenses incurred when it was ordered by the State Department of Transportation to relocate its telephone lines within the public right-of-way of a State construction project. The issue in this appeal concerned the Commission's legal interpretation of the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund ("OUSF") statute and the alleged arbitrary and capricious denial of funding in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution. In support of its decision to deny Dobson's requested funding, the Commission's majority found that Dobson failed to produce sufficient evidence into the record. Despite acknowledging that its "Administrator was afforded, and took advantage of, the opportunity to perform a 'review of the Application, contractor's invoices, internal invoices, construction drawings, pre-engineering plans, work orders, plans and maps, timesheets, reimbursement checks, contracts, responses to data requests, relevant Oklahoma Statutes,' its own administrative rules regarding the OUSF," the Commission ignored the Administrator's finding that the documents provided by Dobson supported its request for funding. Dobson argued, and the Commission did not dispute, that the Commission's own rules and long-standing practices encouraged applicants to retain its confidential supporting materials on site, making such materials available for review and inspection as needed to support an application. In fact, Commission rule, OAC 165:59-3-72(d), specifically contemplates that "documentation not contained in the public record and not filed in the cause" may nevertheless be "relied upon by the OUSF Administrator in approving or denying an application." The Administrator disclosed that the Commission does not even have procedures in place that would allow it to handle "the responsibility or liability" of receiving such confidential materials. The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined the Commission majority's disapproval of the policy behind the OUSF legislation had no bearing on the validity of an applicant's request for funding. The Court agreed with the dissenting Commissioner that it was the Court's duty to uphold legislation as it was enacted: although the Commission was not bound by the Administrator's recommendation, the Supreme Court found the record reflected ample evidence with which to support the Administrator's determination. The Administrator, as well as the dissenting Commissioner, both agreed Dobson was entitled to reimbursement of the increased costs it incurred as a result of ODOT's mandate to relocate the telephone lines. The Commission's wholesale denial of Dobson's request was in error. View "Dobson Telephone Co. v. Oklahoma Corporation Comm." on Justia Law