Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Class Action
Strack v. Continental Resources
The three questions before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in this case were: (1) whether Oklahoma's class action attorney fee statute, 12 O.S.Supp.2017, section 2023(G), allowed for the percentage-of-common-fund method in calculating attorney fees; (2) whether the district court abused its discretion in awarding 40% of the common fund to class counsel, equaling over $19 million in attorney fees and a $2,500 hourly rate; and (3) whether the district court abused its discretion in awarding a $400,000 incentive award to the named class representatives. Objector Daniel McClure appealed a $19 million attorney fee award and a $400,000 incentive award in a class action suit. The district court calculated the attorney fee amount using the percentage-of-common-fund method pursuant to a contingency fee agreement between the class counsel and class representatives. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the district court's awards, holding: (1) an attorney fee request in a common fund case was subject to the lodestar method; (2) the district court failed to properly calculate the attorney fee award under the lodestar method; and (3) the district court abused its discretion in awarding the incentive award to the class representatives. The Supreme Court held that although Oklahoma's class action attorney fee statute gave courts flexibility and discretion in calculating fee awards under the percentage-of-common-fund method, the district court abused its discretion when it awarded an unreasonable attorney fee award and an incentive award not supported by evidence. View "Strack v. Continental Resources" on Justia Law
Heath v. Guardian Interlock Network, Inc.
Defendant-appellee Guardian Interlock Network, Inc. installed an ignition interlock device in plaintiff-appellant, Nathan Heath's car. The device allowed Heath to start the vehicle if his breath/alcohol concentration did not meet or exceed a pre-set amount. Because Heath's monthly payment for rental, insurance of the device, taxes, and monthly maintenance exceeded the $25.00 "maintenance fee" cap set forth in 47 O.S. Supp. 2013 section 6-212.3, he brought a class action lawsuit in the District Court of Oklahoma County against Guardian Interlock Inc., alleging that its fees were excessive. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit and Heath appealed. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the $25.00 maintenance fee cap set forth did not preclude the collection of other fees such as rental fees, taxes, or insurance/damage waiver fees. View "Heath v. Guardian Interlock Network, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Class Action
Hess v. Voklswagen of America, Inc.
The single issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on attorney's fees: was the trial court's grant of over $7 million in a multi-jurisdictional, class action law suit an abuse of discretion when the entire class was awarded only $45,780. The trial court originally determined the appropriate attorney fees to be $3,610,719.15 based on Oklahoma ex rel. Burk v. City of Oklahoma City, 598 P.2d 659 and the directives of 12 O.S. Supp. 2009 section 2023.2 Rajine Hess filed a motion to reconsider based on the fees awarded in Berry v. Volkswagen Group of America, 397 S.W.3d 425 (Mo. 2013), a Missouri Supreme Court case involving a class action against Volkswagen related to defective window regulator claims. The trial court considered the Missouri case; and, adopting the identical analysis utilized in reaching a determination that the appropriate fee award was approximately $3.6 million, the trial court amended its order to reflect a multiplier of 1.9 for an adjusted award of $7,221.438.30. In calculating the lodestar, the trial court included hours in failed, out-of-state litigation concerning similar issues to those presented here. Based on these facts, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the $7 million attorneys' fee award constituted an abuse of discretion. View "Hess v. Voklswagen of America, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Class Action
Krug v. Helmerich & Payne, Inc.
Helmerich & Payne, Inc. (H&P) appeals a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, who are a class of oil and gas royalty owners. The class alleged that the defendant breached contractual and fiduciary duties by allowing uncompensated drainage of natural gas to occur from the leases and that the defendant engaged in constructive fraud and was unjustly enriched by failing to pay royalty amounts that the class alleged were included in a settlement between the defendant and ANR Pipeline. The jury returned verdicts on three alternative theories of recovery. The trial court judge granted judgment that included disgorgement of profits based on a sum the trial court found unjustly enriched H&P. On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, and remanded with instructions. H&P argued on appeal to the Supreme Court that: (1) the trial court erred in its jury instructions for uncompensated drainage that barred consideration of counterdrainage; (2) the appellate court erred by allowing a breach of contract claim to be recast as an equitable unjust enrichment claim; (3) the appellate court erred in affirming a "mathematically impossible" jury verdict on plaintiffs' constructive fraud claims; and (4) the appellate court erred in affirming the constructive fraud damage award notwithstanding that no fraud claim was ever certified. After review, the Supreme Court found: (1) the trial court committed no reversible error; (2) the jury found that plaintiffs did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that H&P acted in reckless disregard for the rights of others, nor that H&P acted intentionally and with malice toward others; (3) because the Court reversed the judgment based on equity, the third reason for granting certiorari was answered; and (4) having reversed the constructive fraud damage award, the Court held this issue was moot. View "Krug v. Helmerich & Payne, Inc." on Justia Law
James v. Tyson Foods, Inc.
Fifty-four individuals and business entities sued Appellants-Defendants Tyson Foods, Inc., Tyson Poultry, Inc., and Russell Adams (collectively, Tyson), in association with contracts under which they were to raise chickens owned by Tyson on feed supplied by the company. Tyson moved to sever the claims for separate trials. The trial judge denied the motion, allowing the plaintiffs to select eleven individuals and entities to proceed to trial under theories of violation of the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act and fraud. The poultry growers contended that Tyson targeted them for failure by delivering unhealthy birds and feed in retaliation for their refusal to modernize operations. The jury, in a nine to three split, awarded the growers compensatory and punitive damages approaching $10 million. Alleging evidentiary errors and juror misconduct, Tyson filed a motion for new trial. The trial judge recused and the new trial motion was heard by an assigned judge. Acknowledging concerns about the conduct of the trial, the substitute judge denied the motions for new trial and judgment notwithstanding the verdict, staying further proceedings pending resolution of the appeal. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that: 1) where attorneys were advised that voir dire would be limited to questions not covered in the juror questionnaire and jurors gave incomplete, untruthful, and/or misleading answers in those documents, Appellants were entitled to a new trial; and 2) a poultry grower having no title to the chickens or feed placed with the grower for fattening and future marketing of the birds by the flock's owner is not an "aggrieved consumer" for purposes of the Consumer Protection Act. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "James v. Tyson Foods, Inc." on Justia Law