Articles Posted in Government Law

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Zaloudek Grain Company held a workers' compensation policy with CompSource Oklahoma for approximately ten years prior to 2011. Zaloudek was required each year to provide payroll audit information to CompSource. The audit information was used to determine the proper premium for each year. CompSource sent a notice in late 2010 to Zaloudek requesting audit information. In January, 2011, Zaloudek's policy was renewed for all of 2011 through January 1, 2012. On January 18, 2011, CompSource sent another letter requesting Zaloudek provide the necessary payroll audit information, but Zaloudek was unresponsive. Subsequently, CompSource sent Zaloudek a notification to inform the company that the process of canceling its policy would begin if CompSource did not receive the audit information. The audit information was not provided; CompSource ultimately canceled the policy when Zaloudek ignored several subsequent requests. CompSource issued a refund for payments made under the policy. Later that summer, two teenage workers were seriously injured in the grain auger at Zaloudek's facility. CompSource did not accept the company's new insurance application because it was incomplete and was not signed by an owner of Zaloudek. Zaloudek sued a few weeks following the rejection of its application, asking for a judgment against CompSource for breach of contract and bad faith and further requested declaratory relief in the form of an order requiring CompSource to provide workers' compensation coverage. Zaloudek filed a motion for summary judgment claiming CompSource lacked legal justification for terminating its policy and requested orders to establish there was no lapse in coverage and requiring CompSource to provide coverage for its two injured employees. Zaloudek further requested a finding that CompSource was in breach of contract. CompSource moved for summary judgment, arguing Zaloudek was not covered at the time of the incident and its policy was properly canceled. Zaloudek filed a counter-motion for summary judgment asserting CompSource should be estopped from denying coverage because it retained premiums and acted in a manner toward Zaloudek consistent with continued coverage. The trial court issued an order dismissing Zaloudek's bad faith claim but left pending its claims for breach of contract and declaratory relief. CompSource appealed. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that CompSource was authorized to cancel a policy for an insured's failure to participate in the audit. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings on the other contract issues raised.View "Zaloudek Grain Co. v. CompSource Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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In August of 2009, Samson Resources Company owned oil and gas leases covering 87.78 mineral acres in Roger Mills County, Oklahoma, including the Schaefer Lease. The Schaefer Lease covered 70 net acres in the Southwest Quarter of Section 28 and had a three-year primary term that ended on November 22, 2007. If drilling operations were commenced by the end of the primary term, the lease would continue so long as such operations continued. On August 2, 2007, Newfield sent a letter to Samson, proposing to drill a well in Section 28. The estimated cost of the well was over $8.5 million dollars. On August 9, 2007, Newfield filed an application with the Commission, seeking to force pool the interests of Samson and other owners in Section 28. Newfield sent an e-mail dated April 14, 2008, to Samson that informed Samson that Newfield had commenced operations prior to the expiration of the Schaefer Lease. Newfield's e-mail stated that Samson had underpaid well costs and that an election to participate with 87.78 acres would require prepayment of $1,411,982.45. Samson responded by e-mail on the same date, informing Newfield its intent was only to elect its 17.78 acres. On April 28, 2008, Samson filed an Application seeking to have its election to participate in the well limited to 17.78 acres rather than 87.78 acres. After an administrative hearing, the Administrative Law Judge determined that Samson's timely election to participate only covered 17.78 acres of its interest and that Samson accepted the cash bonus as to its remaining 70 acres. The Oil and Gas Appellate Referee reversed the ALJ's determination, finding that the ALJ improperly relied on actions which occurred prior to the issuance of the pooling order. The Commission issued Order No. 567706, which adopted the Referee's report, reversed the ALJ, and declared that Samson had elected to participate to the full extent of its 87.78 acre interest in the unit. The Commission found Samson made a "unilateral mistake" when it elected to participate to the full extent of its interest. Samson appealed the Commission's order to the Court of Civil Appeals, which affirmed. Before COCA issued its opinion affirming the Commission, Samson filed an action in the district court alleging actual fraud, deceit, intentional and negligent misrepresentation, constructive fraud, and breach of duty as operator. Samson also alleged Newfield's actions amounted to extrinsic fraud on the Commission, rendering Pooling Order No. 550310 invalid as to Samson's working interest attributable to the 70-acre Schaefer Lease. The trial court granted Newfield's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, finding the petition to be an impermissible collateral attack on a valid Commission order. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. After its review, the Supreme Court found that Samson's actions for damages sounding in tort were beyond the Commission's jurisdiction, and the district court in this case was the proper tribunal for Samson to bring its claims. The trial court's order granting Newfield's Motion to Dismiss was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.View "Samson Resources Co. v. Newfield Exploration Mid-Continent, Inc." on Justia Law

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An employee of a tribal enterprise sought to invoke the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court. Petitioner John A. Waltrip fell on a patch of ice while working as a surveillance supervisor at a casino and injured primarily his right shoulder. Petitioner initially obtained treatment from his personal physician but Tribal First, the employer Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino's claim administrator, sent him to an orthopedic specialist who recommended surgery in 2009. Petitioner filed a claim in the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court on July 17, 2009, seeking medical treatment and temporary total disability. The Casino and Insurer Hudson Insurance Company asserted that court lacked jurisdiction based on the tribe's sovereign immunity. A hearing was held solely on the jurisdictional issue; the Workers' Compensation Court denied jurisdiction and dismissed the claim holding that the tribe enjoyed sovereign immunity and that the provisions of the tribe's workers' compensation policy did not subject the insurance company to liability for claims in state court. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari review. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that: (1) the tribe enjoyed sovereign immunity and was not therefore subject to the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court; and (2) the workers' compensation insurer did not enjoy the tribe's immunity and was estopped to deny coverage under a policy for which it accepted premiums computed in part on the employee's earnings.View "Waltrip v. Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino" on Justia Law

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The Tulsa County Assessor's office assessed ad valorem taxes on the Shadybrook Apartment Complex for the years 2004, 2005, and 2006. Shadybrook, under protest, timely paid the taxes each year, but appealed the Assessor's valuation to the Tulsa County Board of Tax Roll Corrections and the Tulsa County Board of Equalization. After receiving unfavorable decisions, Shadybrook appealed to the district court. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Shadybrook, determining that Shadybrook qualified for an exemption from ad valorem taxation pursuant to the Oklahoma Constitution, Article 10, sec. 6A. The Assessor appealed. On the first appeal in this case, the appellate court upheld the trial court's ruling in part but reversed and remanded with instructions to the trial court to determine whether Shadybrook's use of the property was for charitable purposes under Article 10, sec. 6A so as to overcome the Supreme Court's ruling in "London Square Village v. Oklahoma County Equalization and Excise Board." Neither party petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari based on that opinion. On remand, the trial court found in favor of Shadybrook and the Assessor appealed. The Supreme Court retained the appeal. After further review, the Supreme Court held that Shadybrook's operation of the low-income housing complex was a charitable use under the constitutional ad valorem tax exemption in Article 10, sec. 6A of the Oklahoma Constitution. The statutory language in 68 O.S. 2004 sec. 2887(8)(a)(2)(b) excluding property funded with proceeds from the sale of federally tax-exempt bonds from ad valorem exemption is unconstitutional. The Court overruled "London Square Village."View "AOF/Shadybrook Affordable Housing Corp. v. Yazel" on Justia Law

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A commercial website operator filed this declaratory judgment action seeking a determination of the reasonableness of the fee charged by the Rogers County Clerk for electronic copies of records and for a determination that the corporation was entitled to an electronic copy of the official tract index of county land records. Plaintiff County Records, Inc. is in the business of operating a website that provides land records to on-line subscribers, including the county clerk records for all 77 counties in Oklahoma. In April 2009, Plaintiff requested electronic copies of land records from the County Clerk's office including an electronic copy of the official tract index. The request for an electronic copy of the official tract index was denied based on Defendant's belief that she is legally prohibited from providing it to Plaintiff for its intended commercial sale of the information. The trial court granted summary judgment to the corporation and directed the Clerk to provide all the requested electronic copies at a "reasonable fee." Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed, finding that Plaintiff was not legally entitled to the tract index information in electronic form and the county clerk is prohibited by a specific provision in the Open Records Act from providing information from the land records for resale.View "County Records, Inc. v. Armstrong" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit certified two questions under the Revised Uniform Certified Questions of Law Act. Plaintiff-Appellant Oklahoma Corrections Professionals Association having a membership of approximately nineteen hundred state employees, filed suit against Defendant-Appellee Oscar B. Jackson, Jr., Administrator and Cabinet Secretary for Human Resources, in federal district court. It sought a preliminary injunction prohibiting the termination of voluntary payroll deductions for members of the Corrections Association scheduled to terminate on January 31, 2011 along with preservation of the "status quo" which it defined as an order requiring reinstatement of dues collection through the voluntary payroll deduction program should payroll deductions be terminated before the district court could act. The Corrections Association alleged that the 2008 amendment was designed to eliminate, by doubling the membership requirements for voluntary payroll deductions, the organization as a rival to the Oklahoma Public Employees Association. The Corrections Association contended that its very existence was dependent on collecting membership dues through the payroll deduction system. It asserted that: 1) the Public Employees Association was unfairly exempted from the numerosity requirement; and 2) the new membership requirement should be invalidated as unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The federal district court issued an order dismissing the Correction Association's federal claims for lack of standing and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any state law claims. Specifically, the district court held that the Correction Association had not met standing requirements of redressability. Even assuming the statutory provision's unconstitutionality, it reasoned that: 1) striking the offending statutory subsection would not restore the availability of voluntary payroll deductions; and 2) because the Legislature would not have included the provision without the numerosity provision, severing the requirement would amount to "rewriting" the law. Thus the question from the federal district court, reformulated as a question of first impression for the Oklahoma Supreme Court was: "[w]hether the two thousand (2,000) membership numerosity requirement of 62 O.S. 2011 sec. 34.70(B)(5), if determined to conflict with constitutional guarantees of free speech, may be severed pursuant to 75 O.S. 2011 sec. 11a?" The Court answered the question "yes."View "Oklahoma Corrections Professional Assoc., Inc. v. Jackso" on Justia Law