Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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The case revolves around a dispute between Sheena Hayes and Morgan Lawrence-Hayes, and Richard Penkoski. The dispute arose from Penkoski's social media posts, which the Hayes couple claimed were harassing and stalking. Penkoski, a public figure who identifies as a pastor, activist, and street preacher, posted content on Facebook criticizing the Hayes couple's church and their organization, Oklahomans for Equality. The Hayes couple, who are also public figures, claimed that they and their minor child were pictured in the posts, which they found offensive and threatening.The Hayes couple obtained a protective order against Penkoski from the District Court of Washington County. The court issued a permanent order of protection for five years, prohibiting Penkoski from posting any pictures, images, videos, or any likenesses of the Hayes couple or their minor child on any social media, making reference to them, or coming within 500 feet of them.Penkoski appealed the decision, arguing that his actions did not meet the requirements of stalking or harassment as defined by the Protection from Domestic Abuse Act, and that his posts were protected by his constitutional right to free speech.The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma reversed the lower court's decision. The court found that Penkoski's actions were not directed toward an individual person, but rather were public Facebook posts that named two organizations, not individuals. The court concluded that Penkoski did not direct his posts or comments toward the Hayes couple, and therefore, the district court abused its discretion in issuing the order of protection. The court vacated the order of protection. View "Hayes v. Penkoski" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma reviewed the termination of parental rights of Victoria Rodriguez and Everardo Rodriguez, Sr., parents of four children who were adjudicated deprived. The children were removed from their parents' custody following allegations of severe sexual abuse against the eldest daughter, M.R., by her father over a two-year period, and the mother's failure to protect the children from this abuse.The District Court of Oklahoma County terminated the parents' rights after a jury trial. Both parents appealed separately, and their appeals were considered together in this opinion. The mother argued that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was unconstitutional as it denied her equal protection under the law. However, the court found that she lacked standing to challenge the constitutionality of ICWA. The court also held that the trial court did not violate her right to equal protection under the law by failing to apply a heightened burden of proof under ICWA.The father argued that the trial court erred by not making certain required findings under federal and state law and by granting the State's Motion in Limine. The court found that the trial court did not err in these respects. The court affirmed the trial court's orders terminating the parental rights of both parents. View "In the Matter of M.R." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma affirmed the termination of a mother's parental rights in a case concerning two deprived children. The mother, Brianna Tatum, had sought certiorari review from the Court of Civil Appeals' opinion which upheld the trial court's final order terminating her parental rights. On certiorari, Tatum claimed that the record did not support a finding that she had waived her right to a jury trial in a parental termination proceeding.The case hinged on two key questions: whether a Court Minute memorializing a contemporaneous court proceeding could support a party's oral consent to waive a jury trial in a parental termination proceeding, and whether a party who proceeds to trial without demanding a jury trial or objecting to a non-jury trial has waived any right to a jury trial. The Court answered both questions affirmatively.The Court found that Tatum had waived her right to a jury trial by her conduct, proceeding with the non-jury trial without any demand for a jury trial or raising an objection to the non-jury trial. Furthermore, the Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in proceeding with a non-jury trial. Therefore, the opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals was vacated, and the judgment of the trial court terminating Tatum's parental rights was affirmed. View "IN THE MATTER OF E.J.T." on Justia Law

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In this case, a mother and her husband (the appellants) sought to adopt the mother's biological child, A.J.B., born out of wedlock, without the consent of the child's biological father. The biological father (the appellee) was incarcerated for a significant portion of the statutory period under consideration. The appellants claimed that the biological father failed to maintain a substantial and positive relationship with the child and failed to contribute to the child's support, both of which would allow for adoption without his consent under Oklahoma law. The trial court denied the adoption, finding that the evidence was insufficient to grant an adoption without the biological father's consent. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals agreed that the father did not willfully fail to support the child, but found that the appellants had established a prima facie case that the father did not maintain a substantial and positive relationship with the child. The case was remanded for an evidentiary hearing on the father's defenses.However, the Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma disagreed with the Court of Civil Appeals. The Supreme Court found that the mother had intentionally concealed her and the child's whereabouts from the biological father, thus making it impossible for him to maintain a relationship with the child. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgement, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the adoption without the father's consent because the evidence was insufficient to sustain the application for adoption without consent. View "IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF A.J.B." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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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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Nicole Fitzpatrick obtained a dissolution of her marriage to Jeremy Fitzpatrick. The couple had minor children and significant marital assets, including real property, bank accounts, investments, and personal possessions. Among these were investments in oil and gas assets. The issue this case presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s review centered on the Court of Civil Appeals decision regarding the division of the oil and gas assets. During the course of the marriage, Husband pursued a mutual goal of investments in oil and gas assets through two different ventures. He inextricably tied the Bakken and Energy deals and encumbered marital assets. The trial court found that all the A and B units of both the Bakken and Energy properties were acquired during the marriage through joint efforts of both parties, and were marital property subject to division. Because part of the properties' value lay in their future growth, the trial court considered the most equitable form of property division. The court ordered that future distributions and proceeds flowing from both sets of A and B units were to be held in constructive trust for both parties' benefit, and for Husband to distribute her equal marital share to Wife. COCA reversed the trial court's decisions regarding the Energy A and B units, finding that the trial court should have determined the units' value and set a valuation date. COCA also found that the trial court's use of a constructive trust for the Energy units was not proper. However, COCA did not disturb the trial court's use of a constructive trust with regard to the Bakken units. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s authority to distribute the assets although they could not be valued at the time of the divorce decree; the Court concurred with the trial court’s imposition of a constructive trust to ensure protection of the assets’ future value. View "Fitzpatrick v. Fitzpatrick" on Justia Law

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After the Carter County, Oklahoma District Court adjudicated S.J.W. (child) as deprived, Parents-appellants appealed. S.J.W., through child's attorney, filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. S.J.W. claimed the Chickasaw Nation had exclusive jurisdiction pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 1911(a) based on the plain language in the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), because S.J.W. resided within the Chickasaw reservation, notwithstanding the fact that S.J.W. was an Indian child and member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Parents raised two issues to the Oklahoma Supreme Court: (1) whether Oklahoma courts have subject matter jurisdiction over a nonmember Indian child's deprived case arising in Carter County, which was completely within the external, territorial boundaries of the Chickasaw reservation; and (2) if the court did have jurisdiction, whether a delay in the adjudication hearing deprived Parents of their due process rights. With respect to the first issue, the Supreme Court held the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate S.J.W. deprived. Pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 1911(b), the State of Oklahoma shared concurrent territorial jurisdiction with an Indian child's tribe when the Indian child is not domiciled or residing on the Indian child's tribe's reservation. "In our dual federalism system, an Oklahoma district court's subject matter jurisdiction may be limited by the Oklahoma or U.S. Constitution. U.S. Const., amend. X; Okla. Const. art. I, §§ 1, 7(a)." In addition, the Supreme Court found no violation of the Parents' right to due process of law as any delay was not "arbitrary, oppressive or shocking to the conscience of the court," and Parents had a meaningful opportunity to defend throughout the proceeding. View "In the Matter of S.J.W." on Justia Law

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Petitioners Grant and Kalan Lloyd sought to adopt minor child L.B.L. without Mother Sara Pollard's consent. The District Court found that Child was eligible for adoption without Mother's consent. Mother appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court. "Ideally, the child's best interests run together with the parent's. In practice these principles seldom conflict, because a trial court may usually give equal effect to both. Sometimes, this can only be done by ensuring the parent's due process rights are protected, then considering which outcome is in the child's best interests." Here, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that the Court of Civil Appeals specifically acknowledged the best interests of the child standard, but allowed it to be outweighed by other considerations in reaching its conclusion. Consequently, the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Civil Appeals opinion, affirmed the trial court, and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "In the Matter of the Adoption of L.B.L." on Justia Law

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Respondent-appellant Wife appealed the property division incorporated into a divorce decree. The parties initially agreed to a settlement after mediation, but Wife later changed her mind. Petitioner-appellee Husband moved to enforce the settlement agreement, and the trial court held a hearing on the request. The trial court's divorce decree divided property between the parties based on information provided at the settlement conference and the hearing. Wife contended that the court's property division was unfair, and she appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court questioned the timeliness of Wife's appeal but allowed the appeal to proceed, reserving consideration of the timeliness issue until the decisional stage. After review, the Court determined Wife's appeal of the trial court's judgment was timely, and that the property division reached by the trial court was fair, just, and reasonable. Therefore judgment was affirmed. View "Owens v. Owens" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Raisa Pinto ("Mother") and Sailesh Arulkumar ("Father") were married in 2015. Both parents were trained physicians who attended medical school in India. In the summer of 2017, the couple moved to Oklahoma to allow Mother to attend a three-year Hematology and Oncology fellowship at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center ("OUHSC"). In July 2017, shortly after beginning her fellowship, Mother gave birth to the couple's only child. At the time, Father was working in Tulsa, commuting from the couple's home in Oklahoma City. He later took a job in Oklahoma City to reduce his commute time. In April 2018, Mother filed for divorce in Oklahoma County. The trial court granted the couple's divorce on the grounds of incompatibility. In its order, the trial court designated Mother as the custodial parent, but ordered equal visitation time. The couple has adhered to the custody plan and split time with their child equally since the divorce. While completing the final year of her fellowship, Mother began her search for employment. During her job search, Mother applied to 120 positions and underwent thirty interviews. Of those interviews, Mother received seven job offers for positions located in California, New York, and Pennsylvania. Mother did not receive any job offers in Oklahoma. Prior to accepting an out of state job offer, Mother contacted Father to inquire if he knew of any job openings in Oklahoma. The next day Mother accepted an offer from a hospital in New York. Later that month, Mother notified Father of her intent to relocate to which Father timely objected. Although finding Mother's request was made in good faith, the trial court denied the relocation request finding Father met his burden showing relocation was not in the child's best interest. Mother appealed the trial court's ruling. After its review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Mother's proposed relocation. View "Arulkumar v. Arulkumar" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law