Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Appellant Marie Yammine, as former wife and primary beneficiary of a two million dollar life insurance policy issued by Respondent ReliaStar Life Insurance Company to her former husband, Dr. Jean Bernard, appealed a declaratory judgment finding the contingent beneficiary, Appellee Roland Ghoussoub, was entitled to the policy's death benefit. Dr. Bernard died after the trial court granted the parties' divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues. The trial court declared Yammine and Bernard were divorced and that 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) operated to revoke her beneficiary designation to the death benefits. Whether Oklahoma's revocation-upon-divorce statute, 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A), applied when one party dies after the granting of the divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues, was a matter of first impression for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Court concluded Section 178(A) required a final judgment on all issues, and that the trial court erred by interpreting 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) to revoke Yammine's beneficiary designation in Bernard's life insurance policy based on an order granting divorce when the final judgment on all issues remained pending at husband's death. The trial court's declaratory judgment was reversed, and this case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ghoussoub v. Yammine" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Jayen Patel, M.D. brought a tort claim for wrongful termination against defendant-appellee Tulsa Pain Consultants, Inc. (TPC). The trial court found Patel was not an at-will employee and entered a directed verdict in favor of TPC. Patel appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. TPC moved for appeal-related attorney fees, which the Court of Civil Appeals denied. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether TPC had a contractual right to recover attorney fees as the prevailing party in Patel's wrongful termination claim. After review, the Supreme Court found that the specific language in the parties' employment agreement authorized attorney fees in this case. View "Patel v. Tulsa Pain Consultants" on Justia Law

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An automobile driven by defendant Patrick McLaughlan, struck plaintiff Jerry Harwood while Harwood was leaving his work shift and crossing the street to an employer provided parking lot. After an unsuccessful attempt to recover workers compensation benefits for his injuries, Harwood filed a lawsuit against the driver and his employer. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit against the employer for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Harwood appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that because an employer may have assumed the duty to provide a safer crosswalk for access to an employer designated parking lot, the employee pled a claim for relief which is legally possible. The trial court's dismissal was premature. View "Harwood v. Ardagh Group" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant John Coates brought an action for breach of contract and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing against defendant-appellee Progressive Direct Insurance Company. Plaintiff was injured after a motorcycle collision; he was insured by Progressive under a motorcycle policy, an auto policy, and a policy providing UM coverage. Coates moved for partial summary judgment regarding his entitlement to uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits. Progressive moved for summary judgment regarding Coates' bad faith claim. Coates sought more time to conduct discovery to address Progressive's counterclaim on bad faith. The trial court granted Coates' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, allowing his UM claim against Progressive. The trial court also granted Progressive's Motion for Summary Judgment, denying Coates' claim for breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing. The trial court denied Coates' Motion for Additional Time to Respond. After review of the parties’ arguments on appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment on Coates' UM claim. The Court reversed, however, the decisions granting Progressive's Motion for Summary Judgment and denying Coates additional time to respond to that motion. View "Coates v. Progressive Direct Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma certified two questions of law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court relating to the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act, and whether it applied to conduct outside of Oklahoma. The matter concenred a dispute between Continental Resources, Inc. (Continental), an oil and gas producer headquartered in Oklahoma, and Wolla Oilfield Services, LLC (Wolla), a North Dakota limited liability company that operated as a hot oil service provider in North Dakota. Continental alleged the parties entered into an agreement for Wolla to provide hot oil services at an hourly rate to Continental's wells in North Dakota. As part of the contract, Wolla agreed to submit its invoices through an "online billing system" and to bill accurately and comprehensively for work it performed. A whistleblower in Wolla's accounting department notified Continental about systematic overbilling in connection with this arrangement. Continental conducted an audit and concluded Wolla's employees were overbilling it for time worked. Wolla denies these allegations. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded: (1) the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act does not apply to a consumer transaction when the offending conduct that triggers the Act occurs solely within the physical boundaries of another state; and (2) the Act also does not apply to conduct where, even if the physical location is difficult to pinpoint, such actions or transactions have a material impact on, or material nexus to, a consumer in the state of Oklahoma. View "Continental Resources v. Wolla Oilfield Services" on Justia Law

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On July 9, 2020, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S. Ct. 2452 (2020), determining that Congress never disestablished the Creek Reservation in eastern Oklahoma and, therefore, it was "Indian country" for purposes of the Major Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 1153. Under the Major Crimes Act, "[o]nly the federal government, not the State, may prosecute Indians for major crimes committed in Indian country." Relying on McGirt, Plaintiffs-appellants Jason Nicholson, Justin Hooper, Cael Burgess, and Derek Hair filed the underlying civil suit seeking to recover fines and fees they were ordered to pay as a result of allegedly unlawful prosecutions by the State and certain municipalities. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the trial court properly dismissed Plaintiffs' claims for money had and received. Plaintiffs' claims required a determination that their state and municipal court criminal convictions and sentences were invalid. “Challenges to criminal jurisdiction are governed by the Post-Conviction Procedure Act. … Plaintiffs' convictions and sentences cannot be invalidated by the trial court in this civil action for money had and received. As a result, Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” View "Nicholson v. Stitt" on Justia Law

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Procedurally, after an initial determination of child support and custody, Appellee Kirsten Friend (Mother) sought to modify the child support order and applied to find Appellant Brian Friend (Father) in contempt, claiming he had not paid child support for several months. The district court granted Mother's motions. The trial court found Father in indirect contempt and increased the child support payment. Mother asked for attorney fees and costs, dividing the request into fees incurred for the request to modify child support and fees incurred for the contempt request. Father objected but conceded the only issue was whether Mother was legally entitled to the fees. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that, where a prevailing party is entitled to attorney fees below, they are also entitled to appellate attorney fees; where an award of attorney fees is within the trial court's discretion, a prevailing party may be granted appellate attorney fees. View "Friend v. Friend" on Justia Law

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to review a certified interlocutory order dismissing Defendant-respondent OSU Medical Trust, doing business as OSU Medical Center (OSUMC), from a medical malpractice lawsuit. The issue was whether Plaintiffs-appellants Miranda and Colby Crawford, Natural Parents and on Behalf of C.C.C., a Minor, and Miranda and Colby Crawford, Individually (collectively, the Crawfords) complied with the notice provisions of the Governmental Tort Claims Act (GTCA). The Supreme Court held that the Crawfords failed to present notice of their tort claim within one year of the date the loss occurred and, pursuant to 51 O.S.Supp.2012 section 156(B), their claims against OSUMC were forever barred. The Court thus affirmed the trial court's order dismissing OSUMC with prejudice. View "Crawford v. OSU Medical Trust" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jeffrey Booth, then an installation service manager for Appellee Home Depot, U.S.A., noticed at a job site that a customer was being charged for window wraps that were not needed. Booth phoned and emailed his supervisor about the perceived overcharge. The next day, Appellee began an investigation of Booth for an email he sent ten days earlier critiquing a colleague's work performance. After a one-day investigation of the allegation in the email, and two days after the overcharge report, Appellant Booth was terminated. Booth sued Home Depot in Oklahoma state court claiming wrongful termination under Burk v. K-Mart Corp., 770 P.2d 24 (1989), alleging his job performance was good and that the email investigation was only a pretext for the real reason for termination -- his reporting of the overcharging of customers to his supervisor. Home Depot removed the Oklahoma County case to the federal district court under diversity jurisdiction. In his amended federal complaint, Booth claimed that the overcharging of customers violated the Oklahoma Home Repair Fraud Act and/or the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act. Home Depot did not dispute that, if overcharging occurred, it would violate those acts. Home Depot argued that the violation of the statutes did not articulate a clear mandate of Oklahoma public policy sufficient to support a Burk tort. The federal district court agreed with Home Depot that the statutes did not articulate a clear public policy and dismissed the petition for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Booth then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which then certified a question about the statutes to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Supreme Court responded: the OHRFA and the OCPA protect specific individual consumers against fraud with criminal and civil remedies for those individual victims. "The Court will not expand our public policy exceptions to include protection from economic harm. Without a clear mandate from the Legislature, the Acts do not qualify as an established public policy." View "Booth v. Home Depot, U.S.A." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellees Ronda Owens, Darryl Hubbard, Selena Freymiller, Shanika Crowley, Valerie Killman, Michael Lee Pitts, Ebony Warrior, John Ball, Michelle Bullock, Logan Bellew, Sondia Bell, Tumeeka Baker, and Jay Reid (collectively "Citizens") filed the underlying lawsuit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Citizens claimed that Oklahoma Governor J. Kevin Stitt and Defendant-appellant Shelley Zumwalt, in her official capacity as Executive Director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, acted without authority and violated 40 O.S.2011 section 4-313 of the Oklahoma Employment Security Act by terminating agreements with the U.S. Department of Labor to administer COVID-related unemployment programs. The trial court entered a preliminary injunction ordering Zumwalt to immediately reinstate and administer the programs. Zumwalt appealed, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court stayed the trial court's order pending appeal. The Supreme Court found 40 O.S. 4-313 did not create a private right of action and, therefore, the trial court abused its discretion by granting a preliminary injunction. View "Owens, et al. v. Zumwalt" on Justia Law