Articles Posted in Public Benefits

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The focus of this appeal centered on the validity of HB 2630; 2014 Okla. Sess. Laws c. 375 (effective November 1, 2014). HB 2630 created the Retirement Freedom Act (74 O.S. Supp. 2014, sec. 935.1 et seq.), with the stated purpose as creating a new defined contribution system within the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) for persons who initially became a member of OPERS on or after November 1, 2015 (this included most state employees hired on or after this date). Plaintiffs-appellants filed a Petition for Declaratory and Supplemental Relief challenging the validity of HB 2630, claiming HB 2630 was void because it was passed by the Legislature in violation of the Oklahoma Pension Legislation Actuarial Analysis Act (OPLAA). Both parties filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted defendants-appellees' motion for summary judgment and the appellants appealed. Agreeing with the trial court that the OPLAA had not been violated, the Supreme Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in defendants' favor. View "Stevens v. Fox" on Justia Law

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Parents who adopted special needs children challenged decision by the Department of Human Services (DHS) to provide a lower assistance subsidy for the children than the assistance subsidy that would be paid if the children were in a foster placement. The decision was upheld upon administrative review by DHS and sustained by the district court and Court of Civil Appeals. Parents filed a petition for certiorari, seeking review of the Court of Civil Appeals' decision. The Supreme Court concluded DHS was attempting to apply a predetermined fixed amount of subsidy without allowing adoptive parents to show greater need up to the amount provided for special needs children in foster care. This was contrary to the policy and purpose of the statutory law providing and regulating financial assistance to people who undertake parental responsibility and care of special needs children. The opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals was therefore vacated and the district court order sustaining the decision of the Department of Human Services was reversed. The case was remanded to the Department of Human Services for redetermination of the monthly subsidy amount. View "Troxell v. Oklahoma Dept. of Human Services" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Vincent James Hogg, Sr. sought review of a Workers' Compensation Court order which denied his workers' compensation benefits based upon the court's interpretation of 85 O.S. 2011, section 312 (3). Petitioner was employed by the Oklahoma County Juvenile Detention Center when in late 2011, he sustained an injury to his right shoulder and neck while subduing an unruly and combative juvenile. Petitioner was given a post-accident drug screen and a follow-up screen the next day. Both screens showed a "positive" result for the presence of marijuana in his system. Petitioner did not dispute the test results but Petitioner denied ever smoking marijuana. The trial court ultimately found there was no evidence presented to establish Petitioner was "high," nor was there any evidence to establish the marijuana in his system was the "major cause" of the accidental injury. The trial court did, however, deny Petitioner's eligibility for workers' compensation benefits by reason of its interpretation of the newly created 85 O.S. 2011, section 312 (3). The dispositive issue presented to the Supreme Court was whether the trial court erred in its interpretation of the statute. The trial court found the last sentence of paragraph 3 expressed the legislative intent of the entire paragraph without giving any weight to the other sentences in the same paragraph. In its order, the trial court indicated this sentence created an irrebuttable presumption. Upon review, the Supreme Court disagreed. The Court concluded that Petitioner overcame the rebuttable presumption of ineligibility for workers' compensation benefits. The case was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hogg v. Oklahoma Cty. Juvenile Bureau" on Justia Law

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Petitioners-Appellants Donald and Paula Thompson appealed a district court's decision that affirmed the Board of the Public Employees Retirement System's ruling to forfeit Mr. Thompson's retirement benefits earned in his state retirement account. The district court determined that Mr. Thompson's state retirement benefits had to be forfeited after he was convicted of felonies that violated his oath of office as a district court judge. The court determined that Mrs. Thompson did not have standing in the administrative proceedings and was not a proper party therein. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Mr. Thompson alleged the Board violated the Oklahoma Administrative Procedures Act when it forced him to forfeit his retirement benefits without proper notice. In addition, he argued he did not receive an individual proceeding to provide him an opportunity to proffer evidence and present witnesses pursuant to the Act. Furthermore, Mr. Thompson alleged that the strict construction of the applicable forfeiture statute requires that it apply only to the last oath of office he took. According to this logic, Mr. Thompson argued he should have only been forced to forfeit the benefits he would have earned from his last term in office. Upon review, the Supreme Court found none of Mr. Thompson's arguments persuasive, and affirmed the district court's decision. View "Thompson v. Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Ruben Espinosa sought permanent partial disability benefits for injuries to his hands, arms, and shoulders. The Workers' Compensation Court awarded benefits, but a three-judge en banc panel reduced the award to account for Petitioner's previously awarded benefits for injuries to other parts of his body. The Court of Civil Appeals vacated the panel, determining that both the trial court and the panel misapplied the applicable statute. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a conflict between two Court of Civil Appeals' opinions with differing interpretations of the limitations provided in the applicable statute. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that when the Workers' Compensation Court awards compensation for an accidental personal injury or occupational disease, pursuant to 85 O.S. 2001 Sec. 22(7), the sum of all permanent partial disability awards is limited to a total of 100% or 520 weeks (10 years) for any individual, but awards against the Multiple Injury Trust Funds, or awards for amputations and surgeries are excluded from both limitations. View "Evans & Assoc. Utility Svcs. V. Espinoza" on Justia Law