Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Petitioner Derrick Scott filed a petition to establish paternity. Respondent-Mother Candice Foster moved to dismiss, asserting that title 10, section 7700-609(B) required a party to commence an adjudication of paternity within two years of an acknowledgment of paternity. The district court granted Mother's motion to dismiss and ordered Petitioner to pay substantial attorney fees. Petitioner appealed and the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, overturning the district court's order regarding attorney fees. The Oklahoma Supreme Court previously granted certiorari to address whether the Court of Civil Appeals properly affirmed the district court in dismissing Petitioner's claim. The Supreme Court responded in the negative: "Contrary to COCA's recitation of the 'undisputed facts before the court,' the record does not show that Scott firmly believed that he was the biological father when Child was born. Rather, the record before this Court fails to show when the relationship between Scott and Mother actually took place or concluded, when Scott learned of Mother's pregnancy or childbirth, when he first thought that he was Child's father, when he became aware of the Acknowledgment of Paternity, or when he came to believe Mother committed fraud. The district court erred in granting summary judgment based on its determination that section 7700-609 is a statute of repose and erred in dismissing Scott's claim." View "Scott v. Foster" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants Michael Cathey and Vonderosa Properties, LLC (collectively "Vonderosa") filed suit seeking declaratory relief against Defendant-Appellee Board of County Commissioners for McCurtain County (Board) and moved for a temporary injunction to restrain and enjoin the Board from enforcing and collecting a lodging tax increase passed at a special election held in McCurtain County on November 8, 2022, in conjunction with the general election. The district court denied Vonderosa's request for a temporary injunction and Vonderosa appealed, seeking emergency relief from the Oklahoma Supreme Court. On March 28, 2023, the Supreme Court entered an Order temporarily enjoining enforcement of the 2% increase to the lodging tax until the special election was fully and finally litigated. The Court expressed no opinion concerning the validity of the special election in its emergency Order. While Appellee's petition for rehearing was still pending before the Supreme Court and before the mandate issued, the district court granted Appellee-Intervenor's Motion for Summary Judgment and held the special election was valid. The Supreme Court held that under the facts of this specific case the district court was without jurisdiction to enter summary judgment for Appellee while the appeal was pending before the Supreme Court and before mandate had issued. The District Court's Order of June 20, 2023 was void for lack of jurisdiction and the Order was vacated. The case was remanded to the district court with instructions. View "Cathey v. McCurtain County Bd. of County Comm'rs" on Justia Law

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An Oklahoma district court ordered the admission to probate of a will executed in 2018 by Velda Mae Rivenburg, after denying challenges to the will brought by the testator's son. Velda Mae was survived by one son, Appellant Earl Austin Rivenburg (Austin), and one daughter, Appellee Bridget Ciliberti (Bridget). In April 2018, Rivenburg fell ill. Bridget traveled from her home in Tennessee to help her mother. Austin, who was stationed overseas as a civilian employee with United States Government, obtained leave from his post to travel to Oklahoma. That summer, after Austin returned to his overseas job, he was contacted by a long-time friend of Rivenburg's, Karen Heizer. Heizer was concerned that Bridget might be manipulating their mother into selling or mortgaging real estate to help Bridget pay off debt. Austin called his mother in June 2018 and broached the subject. Rivenburg became angry and hung up. Within weeks of returning to his job, Austin received notice that Bridget had initiated guardianship proceedings for their mother. The topic had never been discussed while Austin was in Oklahoma. Writing to the court, Austin objected to Bridget being appointed guardian, listed examples of what he believed to be a history of Bridget's financial manipulation of their mother. The guardianship was abandoned as soon as Rivenburg decided to change her will in September 2018. This will differed considerably from one Rivenburg had made in 2014, substantially reducing the property bequeathed to Austin in favor of Bridget. After Rivenburg's death in early 2020, Bridget sought to probate the 2018 will and have herself named personal representative. Austin challenged the will, claiming it was the product of fraud and undue influence on Bridget's part. The trial court granted demurrers to both of Austin's claims and admitted Rivenburg's 2018 will to probate. Austin appealed. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined the Court of Civil Appeals erred by conflating the concepts of fraud and undue influence, and by treating certain facts as essentially dispositive as to both. "While the ultimate burden of persuasion remains with Austin as challenger to the will, the burden of producing evidence to rebut an inference of fraud shifted to Bridget. Accordingly, the trial court's order admitting Rivenburg's will to probate is reversed, and the case is remanded to give Bridget an opportunity to present evidence on the issue of fraud." View "Rivenburg v. Cilberti" on Justia Law

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Medical providers sued insurance company to enforce their perfected medical liens for professional services rendered to a person injured in a car accident. Insurance company disputed the: (1) reasonableness of the charges; and (2) necessity of the services. The providers argued the insurance company had no legal standing to dispute these issues, absent an assignment from the injured party. Although Insurance company prepared the "Release" with the injured person, it failed to include such an assignment. Insurance company argued that in spite of this omission, there was an "implied" assignment from the injured party as evidenced by precontract settlement discussions. The trial court ruled that there was no assignment in the executed written release and that insurance company was barred by the Parol Evidence Rule from presenting evidence to establish an implied assignment. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court holding that summary judgment was not proper when there was a question of fact surrounding the issue of an assignment. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found there was no assignment in the executed release and there was no question of fact on material issues. Without evidence of fraud, the Court found precontract negotiations and all discussions were merged into and superseded by the terms of an executed written release. The decision of the Court of Civil Appeals was vacated; and this matter was remanded to the trial court for proceedings. View "Accident Care & Treatment Center v. CSAA General Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Church of the Servant was affiliated with the Oklahoma Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC). The Church wished to undergo the process of disaffiliation from UMC while retaining its real property, as provided in Paragraph 2553 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. The Church ultimately sued UMC in pursuit of this goal, and the trial granted it injunctive relief. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded this remedy violated the doctrine of church autonomy, and the respondent court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case. View "Oklahoma Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church v. Timmons" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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The First United Methodist Church of Oklahoma City (First Church) was affiliated with the Oklahoma Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC). First Church wished to undergo the process of disaffiliation from UMC while retaining its real property, as provided in Paragraph 2553 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. First Church ultimately sued UMC in pursuit of this goal, and the trial granted it injunctive relief. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded this remedy violated the doctrine of church autonomy, and the respondent court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case. View "Oklahoma Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church v. Timmons" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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Plaintiffs were allegedly injured from a collision with an Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP) Trooper. Less than three weeks after the accident, plaintiffs' lawyer sent the OHP a letter asking it to preserve any evidence relating to the incident, and to request some additional information. OHP forwarded the letter to the Oklahoma Office of Management & Enterprise Services (OMES) and OMES unilaterally determined that the request letter was the statutory notice of a governmental tort claim, triggering the time limits within the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act (the Act). Plaintiffs' lawyer disagreed. Less than one year after the accident, the lawyer sent a notice of governmental tort claim to OMES. Five months later, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the OHP, seeking recovery for their injuries. OHP filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the letter requesting the preservation of evidence was notice of a governmental tort claim triggering time limits which had already expired by the time plaintiffs filed their lawsuit. The trial court agreed, and dismissed the cause. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted review to determine whether plaintiffs' letter requesting the preservation of evidence constituted the required statutory notice of a governmental tort claim. The Court held that it did not. View "Ullman v. Oklahoma Highway Patrol" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Debbie Leo d/b/a Miller Lake Retreat, LLC, Larinda McClellan, Louise Redman Trust, Walter Myrl Redman, and Kenneth Roberts appealed a district court's order affirming the Oklahoma Water Resources Board's (the OWRB) final order granting a permit to The City of Oklahoma City (the City) to divert stream water from the Kiamichi River in Pushmataha County, Oklahoma. The City cross-appealed the district court's order denying its motion to dismiss Petitioners' petition for judicial review for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The City contended Petitioners' failure to name the City as a respondent in their petition for judicial review of the OWRB's order was a fatal, jurisdictional flaw under the Oklahoma Administrative Procedures Act, (OAPA). The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that 75 O.S.2011, § 318(B)(2) required that the agency (here, the OWRB) be named as a respondent in the caption of the petition for review for the district court to acquire jurisdiction to review a final agency order. However, Section 318(B)(2) of the OAPA did not require the City be named as a respondent in the petition. Therefore, the district court's order finding it had jurisdiction to review the final agency order was affirmed. The Supreme Court further held the district court properly applied the Four Points of Law in O.A.C. § 785:20-5-4, including using the OWRB's calculation of available stream water and evaluation of beneficial use, which was based on substantial evidence in the record, with no findings of prejudicial error. Therefore, the district court's order affirming the OWRB's order was affirmed. View "Leo v. Oklahoma Water Resources Board" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Steven Bird, an independent contractor hired to install a new checkout lane at Defendant Pruett's Food store, was injured after falling off a ladder Defendant had supplied to aid Plaintiff in completing the work. Plaintiff initiated a negligence action, seeking damages from his injuries and lost wages. Plaintiff presented his case at trial, after which Defendant demurred to Plaintiff's evidence. The trial court sustained the demurrer. Plaintiff appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that Plaintiff failed to establish that Defendant owed him a duty of care. View "Bird v. Pruett's Food, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Oil Valley Petroleum, LLC and defendant Clay Moore (Moore) sought equitable relief to adjudicate title based upon two oil and gas leases. Plaintiff requested the trial court to quiet title, cancel an oil and gas lease, and declare its top-lease to be in force and effect. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The district court granted defendant's motion and denied plaintiff's motion. Plaintiff appealed and the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the district court and directed judgment for plaintiff. Defendant sought certiorari to review the Court of Civil Appeals' opinion. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held: (1) exhibits presented during summary judgment proceedings were insufficient to show a material fact that a well was commercially profitable for the purpose of the habendum clause of an oil and gas lease; (2) an overriding royalty interest may be extinguished by an extinguishment of the working interest from which it was carved by a lessee's surrender of the lease in substantial compliance with the lease, unless the surrender is the result of fraud or breach of a fiduciary relationship; and (3) prevailing party status for the purpose of an attorney fee is determined by the trial court when not determined on appeal. The opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals was vacated and the Court reversed the order granting Moore a partial summary judgment and remanded for additional proceedings. View "Oil Valley Petroleum v. Moore" on Justia Law