Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Shalalah Saunders (Tenant) sued her landlord Marcella Smothers (Landlord) who left Tenant's hot water heater inoperable for more than a week. Tenant leased a house from Landlord where Tenant lived with her two children, ages three and seven years old. Both Landlord and Tenant were participants in the Oklahoma Housing and Finance Agency (OHFA) program. Landlord admitted that she was subject to the rules and regulations of the OHFA and its programs with respect to the home leased by Tenant. For a hot bath, Tenant boiled water on the kitchen stove. While carrying the water from the kitchen to the tub, Tenant slipped and fell, causing the hot water to spill on her; she received third degree burns and was hospitalized for a month due to her injuries. Tenant alleged that Landlord owed her a duty of care to provide hot water, Landlord breached that duty, and this breach was the proximate cause of her subsequent injuries. Landlord denied owing any such duty to Tenant, asserting that providing running hot water in a leased home was a mere convenience. Landlord argued that because she had no legal duty to provide hot water, Landlord could not be liable to Tenant in negligence. The district court granted Landlord's motion for summary judgment finding that she owed no duty to Tenant to maintain the hot water heater and further that Landlord's failure to repair was a mere condition and not the proximate cause of Tenant's injuries. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the summary judgment on the ground that Landlord owed no duty to Tenant under the circumstances of this case, but the appellate court did not address any other findings made by the district court. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the district court, vacated the Court of Civil Appeals' opinion, and held that Landlord owed a general duty of care to Tenant to "maintain the leased premises, including areas under the tenant's exclusive control or use, in a reasonably safe condition." Under these facts, Landlord's general duty of care to Tenant specifically included maintaining a hot water heater in an operable condition. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held it was a fact question for the jury to decide: (1) whether Landlord breached that duty, and if so, (2) whether the landlord's failure to repair was the proximate cause of Tenant's accident and subsequent injuries. View "Saunders v. Smothers" on Justia 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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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

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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. Dobson made detailed, confidential information regarding the project's costs available for inspection to the Commission's OUSF Administrator. This included information regarding the costs incurred, invoices for engineering, equipment and supplies, and internal employee timesheets and wages. The Administrator reviewed Dobson's application, inspected the confidential information and ultimately approved a reimbursement for Dobson in the amount of $54,766.71. It disallowed $265.83 due to a lack of supporting invoices and/or accounting in Dobson's documents. Various competitor telephone companies objected and filed a Request for Reconsideration. A hearing was held before an ALJ, where the evidence was briefed and summarized, additional testimony was taken, and the objecting parties were permitted to cross-examine witnesses--including the Administrator--and present evidence or argument to the contrary. The ALJ upheld the Administrator's recommendation, agreeing that Dobson was an eligible provider, that the facilities in question were used in the provision of primary universal services, and that the expenses incurred by Dobson were as a result of a state government mandate. Thereafter, the Commission voted, 2-1, to deny Dobson's request. The two-person majority found that Dobson's request was not sufficiently supported by evidence as the confidential information reviewed by its Administrator was not included in the record before the Commission. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded that although the Commission was not bound by the Administrator's recommendation, 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 ex rel. Oklahoma Corporation Comm." 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. Dobson made detailed, confidential information regarding the project's costs available for inspection to the Commission's Oklahoma Universal Service Fund ("OUSF") Administrator. This included information regarding the costs incurred, invoices for engineering, equipment and supplies, and internal employee timesheets and wages. The Administrator reviewed Dobson's application, inspected the confidential information and ultimately approved a reimbursement for Dobson in the amount of $21,794.27. It disallowed $330.61 due to a lack of supporting invoices. Various competitor telephone companies objected and filed a Request for Reconsideration. A hearing was held before an ALJ, where the evidence was briefed and summarized, additional testimony was taken, and the objecting parties were permitted to cross-examine witnesses--including the Administrator--and present evidence or argument to the contrary. The ALJ upheld the Administrator's recommendation, agreeing that Dobson was an eligible provider, that the facilities in question were used in the provision of primary universal services, and that the expenses incurred by Dobson were as a result of a state government mandate. Thereafter, the Commission voted, 2-1, to deny Dobson's request. The two-person majority found that Dobson's request was not sufficiently supported by evidence as the confidential information reviewed by its Administrator was not included in the record before the Commission. The Commission further determined that Dobson failed to prove that the expenditures at issue were necessary to provide primary universal services at a reasonable and affordable rate. Finally, the Commission stated that it was without sufficient information to determine whether the expenses were incurred only for primary universal services. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded that although the Commission was not bound by the Administrator's recommendation, 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 ex rel. Oklahoma Corp." 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. Dobson made detailed, confidential information regarding the project's costs available for inspection to the Commission's OUSF Administrator. This included information regarding the costs incurred, invoices for engineering, equipment and supplies, and internal employee timesheets and wages. The Administrator reviewed Dobson's application, inspected the confidential information during multiple on-site visits, and ultimately approved a reimbursement for Dobson in the amount of $95,417.92. A nominal amount of $12.54 was disallowed due to a lack of supporting invoices. Various competitor telephone companies objected and filed a Request for Reconsideration. A hearing was held before an ALJ, where the evidence was briefed and summarized, additional testimony was taken, and the objecting parties were permitted to cross-examine witnesses--including the Administrator--and present evidence or argument to the contrary. The ALJ upheld the Administrator's recommendation, agreeing that Dobson was an eligible provider, that the facilities in question were used in the provision of primary universal services, and that the expenses incurred by Dobson were as a result of a state government mandate. Thereafter, the Commission voted, 2-1, to deny Dobson's request. The two-person majority found that Dobson's request was not sufficiently supported by evidence as the confidential information reviewed by its Administrator was not included in the record before the Commission. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded that although the Commission was not bound by the Administrator's recommendation, 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 ex rel. Oklahoma Corporation Comm." on Justia Law

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Medicine Park Telephone Company appeals the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's denial of its application for reimbursement from the Oklahoma Universal Services Fund for reasonable investments and expenses incurred in providing primary universal service to its customers. The FCC created the Interstate Common Line Support (ICLS) program, which was paid from the federal Universal Service Fund. ICLS was available to, among others, rural incumbent carriers and was designed to help such carriers recoup some of the high fixed costs of providing telephone service in areas with fewer customers while also ensuring that their subscriber line charges remained affordable to their customers. Effective January 1, 2012, the FCC changed its rules to limit the operations expenses that may be included in an ICLS calculation. The FCC did not, however, eliminate the legal requirement that Medicine Park and other carriers of last resort continue to provide such services. After its federal ICLS support was eliminated by FCC order, Medicine Park submitted an application for reimbursement to recover $60,707.00 for 2014 and $5,058.92 per month beginning January 2015. The PUD Administrator conducted a thorough review of Medicine Park's application and ultimately recommended approval of the amounts as requested. Various other telecommunications companies, including Sprint, Virgin Mobile, and Verizon, requested denial of any reimbursement. Despite the ALJ's recommendation, the Commission issued an order denying Medicine Park's request for reimbursement. The Commission concluded that there was no dispute that Medicine Park was an eligible service provider qualified for reimbursement, or that it had suffered a reduction in federal universal service fund revenues as a result of the FCC order to eliminate the ICLS. Nevertheless, the Commission ruled that Medicine Park could not recover any funding because the company had made the confidential and proprietary information supporting its application available for onsite review, rather than filing it with the Commission as a matter of public record. Additionally, the Commission would not issue the reimbursement because Medicine Park "failed to prove, and no determination was made as to, whether Medicine Park's rates for primary universal services are reasonable and affordable," or "that the requested funding is necessary to enable Medicine Park to provide primary universal services at rates that are reasonable and affordable." The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded that although the Commission was not bound by the Administrator's recommendation, the record reflected ample evidence with which to support the Administrator's determination. The Administrator, as well as the dissenting Commissioner, both agreed Medicine Park was entitled to reimbursement of the losses it incurred as a result of the FCC order decreasing federal funding. The Commission's wholesale denial of Medicine Park's request was in error. The Commission's wholesale denial of Dobson's request was in error. View "Medicine Park Telephone Co. v. Oklahoma Corporation Comm." on Justia Law