Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Appellant, John Burks was a bondsman who posted one hundred thousand dollar ($100,000) bail for defendant Billy Durfey in a criminal case. Durfey did not appear in court and the court forfeited the bond. On December 15, 2014, the same day that Durfey failed to appear, the bondsman made a written request to the Sheriff's office that Durfey be entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. The bondsman did not place any restrictions or limitations on his request and he signed a letter agreeing to pay for all extradition expenses incurred in returning Durfey to Garvin County, Oklahoma. Days later, Burks learned that the Sheriff's office had entered Durfey into the database, but that the extradition directive had been geographically limited to Oklahoma and its surrounding states. At his own expense, Burks conducted an investigation for Durfey which led him to Montana. Local law enforcement, however, was unable to assist Burks because Durfey was not listed in the NCIC database due to the restrictions placed by the Garvin County Sherriff. Burks again contacted the Sheriff's office and asked that any territorial restrictions be removed. It was not until the Bondsman obtained information that Durfey may have traveled to Mexico that an Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper assigned to the U.S. Marshal's office got involved. The Sheriff ultimately lifted the geographical restrictions pursuant to the Highway Patrol's request. The bondsman paid the bond forfeiture after he was unable to apprehend Durfey and return him to Garvin County. The only question presented to the Oklahoma Supreme Court in this case was whether, under the facts of this case, the bondsman was entitled to remittance of the posted bond pursuant to 59 O.S. Supp. 2014 section 1332. The Supreme Court found Burks fully complied with 59 O.S. Supp. 2014 section 1332, yet the Sheriff did not honor his request within the statutory period. Consequently, the bond was exonerated by operation of law. Burks presented convincing evidence of good cause why Durfey did not appear. The bondsman was entitled to remittance of the posted bond pursuant to statute. View "Oklahoma v. Durfey" on Justia Law

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Prior to the Oklahoma Voter ID Act, Title 26, Section 7-114 required that "[e]ach person presenting himself to vote shall announce his name to the judge of the precinct, whereupon the judge shall determine whether said person's name is in the precinct registry." In April 2009, the Oklahoma Legislature passed S.B. 692, and referred it for a vote of the people as State Question 746, Legislative Referendum 347. The Voter ID Act was approved on November 2, 2010. The Voter ID Act amended Section 7-114 to require that voters provide proof of identity in the form of a document issued by the United States, the State of Oklahoma, or the government of a federally recognized Indian tribe or nation that showed: (1) the name of the person to whom it was issued (substantially conforming to the name in the precinct registry); (2) a photograph of the person to whom it was issued; and (3) an expiration date after the present election (unless the identification belonged to someone over the age of 65 and is valid indefinitely). The Voter ID Act also provided, as an alternative, that a person could present a voter identification card issued by the appropriate county election board. If a person is unable or unwilling to produce proof of identity, the person could sign a statement under oath swearing that they were the person identified on the precinct registry, then the person will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. Appellant filed suit against the State Election Board contending that the Voter ID Act was unconstitutional as an interference with the free right to suffrage and equivalent to a poll tax. The Oklahoma County District Court held a hearing on competing motions for summary judgment and determined: venue was proper in Oklahoma County, there was no evidence of any voter fraud in Oklahoma, and there was a question of fact regarding the impact of the Voter ID Act on the right to suffrage which would be determined in an evidentiary hearing. In October 2016, the district court found that Appellant had not met her burden of proof and that based on the evidence presented, the Voter ID Act did not violate the Oklahoma Constitution, and entered judgment for the State Election Board on all claims in the case. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed. View "Gentges v. Oklahoma Election Bd." on Justia Law

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On December 20, 2017, Respondents Michael Thompson, Ray Potts, and Mary Lynn Peacher (collectively, Proponents) filed Initiative Petition No. 416, State Question No. 795 (IP 416) with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. IP 416 would create a new Article XIII-C in the Oklahoma Constitution. IP 416 contains 8 sections, which Proponents asserted will levy a new 5% gross production tax on oil and gas production from certain wells, and provide for the deposit of the proceeds primarily in a new fund entitled the "Oklahoma Quality Instruction Fund" (the Fund). Monies from the Fund would be distributed: (1) 90% to Oklahoma common school districts to increase compensation and benefits for certified personnel, and the hiring, recruitment and retention thereof; and (2) 10% to the State Department of Education to promote school readiness, and to support compensation for instructors and other instructional expenses in "high-quality early learning centers" for at-risk children prior to entry into the common education system. The opponent petitioners alleged the gist of the petition was insufficient and misleading. Upon review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the gist of the petition was legally sufficient. View "McDonald v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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On December 20, 2017, Respondents Michael Thompson, Ray Potts, and Mary Lynn Peacher (collectively, Proponents) filed Initiative Petition No. 416, State Question No. 795 (IP 416) with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. IP 416 would create a new Article XIII-C in the Oklahoma Constitution. IP 416 contains 8 sections, which Proponents asserted will levy a new 5% gross production tax on oil and gas production from certain wells, and provide for the deposit of the proceeds primarily in a new fund entitled the "Oklahoma Quality Instruction Fund" (the Fund). Monies from the Fund would be distributed: (1) 90% to Oklahoma common school districts to increase compensation and benefits for certified personnel, and the hiring, recruitment and retention thereof; and (2) 10% to the State Department of Education to promote school readiness, and to support compensation for instructors and other instructional expenses in "high-quality early learning centers" for at-risk children prior to entry into the common education system. The opponent petitioners alleged the gist of the petition was insufficient and misleading. Upon review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the gist of the petition was legally sufficient. View "McDonald v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Frank Benedetti, an employee of Schlumberger Technology Corporation, was working on an oil rig near El Reno, Oklahoma, when he slipped on an icy platform and fell more than thirty feet down a stairwell. Benedetti sued Cimarex Energy Company, the owner and operator of the well site, and Cactus Drilling Company, the owner and operator of the oil rig, for negligence. Cimarex moved to dismiss pursuant to 85 O.S. 2011 section 302(H), which provided that "any operator or owner of an oil or gas well . . . shall be deemed to be an intermediate or principal employer" for purposes of extending immunity from civil liability. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, and Benedetti appealed. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. Pursuant to the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in Strickland v. Stephens Production Co., 2018 OK 6, ___ P.3d ___, the Supreme Court concluded section 302(H) of Title 85 was an impermissible and unconstitutional special law under Art. 5, section 59 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Subsection (H) was severed from the remainder of that provision. View "Benedetti v. Cimarex Energy Co." on Justia Law

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Initiative Petition No. 415, State Question No. 793, proposed to amend Article 20 of the Oklahoma Constitution by adding a new Section 3. The purpose of the amendment was to merge the rights and restrictions placed on optometrists and opticians, while eliminating restraints on the ability to practice their professions in retail mercantile establishments. A protest was filed contesting the validity of the initiative petition as unconstitutional logrolling in violation of the general subject requirement mandated in Okla. Const. art. 24, sec. 1. The sole issue presented for consideration, restated, was whether Initiative Petition No. 415, State Question No. 793, satisfied the single subject requirement of article 24, section 1, of the Oklahoma Constitution. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded that the proposed amendment embraced one general subject and therefore complied with article 24, section 1, of the Oklahoma Constitution. View "Oklahoma Assoc. of Optometric Physicians v. Raper" on Justia Law

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An employee of a trucking company was killed while on the job at an oil-well site. The employee's surviving daughter brought a wrongful death action against the owner and operator of the well site, Stephens Production Company. Stephens Production Company moved to dismiss the case pursuant to 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 sec. 5(A), which provides that "any operator or owner of an oil or gas well . . . shall be deemed to be an intermediate or principal employer" for purposes of extending immunity from civil liability. The district court denied the motion to dismiss, finding that section 5(A) of Title 85A was an unconstitutional special law. The trial court certified the order for immediate interlocutory review, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari review. The Supreme Court concluded that the last sentence of section 5(A) of Title 85A was an impermissible and unconstitutional special law under Art. 5, section 59 of the Oklahoma Constitution. The last sentence of section 5(A) was severed from the remainder of that provision. View "Strickland v. Stephens Production Co." on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged the constitutionality of both Impaired Driving Elimination Act 2, (S.B. No. 643), and Oklahoma Governor's Executive Order 2017-19, issued on June 8, 2017, to implement the new Act or a portion thereof. The Oklahoma Supreme Court heard oral argument with all parties participating. After review, the Supreme Court concluded:(1) petitioners had standing; (2) two members of the Oklahoma Legislature possessed constitutional legislative immunity from legal liability sought to be imposed by petitioners and these two respondents were dismissed as parties; (3) Section 13 of the Impaired Driving Elimination Act 2 violated Okla. Const. Art. 2 section 7; and (4) the Impaired Driving Elimination Act 2 violated Okla. Const. Art. 5 section 57. View "Hunsucker v. Fallin" on Justia Law

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In 2012, petitioners Saint Francis Hospital, Inc., Neurological Surgery, Inc., and Douglas Koontz, M.D. performed decompressive laminectomies of respondent Johnson John’s spine at the C2-3, C3-4, C4-5, C5-6 and C6-7 regions. After the operation, respondent allegedly became partially paralyzed, suffered constant pain, was hospitalized for four months and submitted to additional medical treatment. Respondent filed suit against petitioners in 2016, alleging negligence, gross negligence, medical malpractice and sought punitive damages for petitioners’ failure to render reasonable medical care, breach of the duty of care owed and respondent’s resulting injuries. In commencing the action, respondent failed to attach an affidavit of merit to the Petition or otherwise comply with Okla. Stat. tit. 12, section 19.1. In lieu of answer, petitioners filed their respective motions to dismiss and asserted, among other things, respondent’s failure to include the statutorily required affidavit of merit or, in the alternative, obtain a statutorily recognized exception. Respondent averred that the statutory directive unconstitutionally restrained a litigant's right to access the courts and was an unconstitutional special law. The district court provided notice to the Attorney General's office concerning the challenged statute. As intervenor, the Attorney General essentially urged the district court to enforce the affidavit requirements. The district court ultimately overruled petitioners’ motions to dismiss, and rejected respondent’s special law challenge. The court determined that section 19.1 unconstitutionally imposed a substantial and impermissible impediment to access to the courts, and this barrier was unconstitutional regardless of the financial worth of a litigant and was not cured by exercising the indigent from this burden. The Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed with the district court’s ruling, and found section 19.1 was an impermissible barrier to court access and an unconstitutional special law. Section 19.1 was therefore stricken. View "John v. St. Francis Hospital" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, Sierra Club, requested the Oklahoma Supreme Court to assume original jurisdiction and petitioned for a writ of prohibition or mandamus. Petitioner alleged that House Bill 1449 was a revenue bill that violated Article V, Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution. H.B. 1449 created the Motor Fuels Tax Fee for electric-drive and hybrid-drive vehicles, of $100 and $30 per year respectively, and directed that the money from the fees be deposited to the State Highway Construction and Maintenance Fund. The House passed H.B. 1449 on May 22, 2017 and the Senate passed it on May 25, 2017. H.B. 1449 passed with more than 51%, but less than 75%, of the vote in both chambers. It was scheduled to take effect November 1, 2017. The Oklahoma Supreme Court assumed original jurisdiction and transformed the petition into a request for declaratory relief. The Court found H.B. 1449 was enacted to raise revenue and was in violation of Article V, Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution. View "Sierra Club v. Oklahoma ex rel. Oklahoma Tax Comm'n" on Justia Law