Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court previously declared that certain tribal gaming compacts the Oklahoma Executive branch entered into with the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria Tribes were invalid under Oklahoma law because the gaming compacts authorized certain forms of Class III gaming prohibited by state law. While "Treat I" was pending before the Supreme Court, the Executive branch entered into two additional compacts with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Kialegee Tribal Town. The parties to the compacts submitted the tribal gaming compacts to the United States Department of the Interior, and the Department of the Interior deemed them approved by inaction, only to the extent they are consistent with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined these new compacts were also not valid: for the new compacts to be valid under Oklahoma law, the Executive branch must have negotiated the new compacts within the statutory bounds of the Model Tribal Gaming Compact (Model Compact) or obtained the approval of the Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations. Without proper approval by the Joint Committee, the new tribal gaming compacts were invalid under Oklahoma law. View "Treat v. Stitt" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review centered on a child custody dispute between divorced parents where divorce actions were filed in two different states at different times. Petitioner-Appellant Ty Rader ("Father") appealed an Oklahoma trial court's order finding Kansas had exclusive, continuing child custody jurisdiction, and that Oklahoma did not have jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination under Oklahoma's Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA"). The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that because the Kansas child custody proceeding was dismissed by the parties, it was of no effect in the present matter, and the Oklahoma judge erred in failing to determine whether or not Oklahoma had become the minor child's new home state under the UCCJEA at the commencement of this proceeding. Thus, the Court reversed the part of the trial court's order finding the Oklahoma court did not have jurisdiction over child custody, and remanded to the trial court to consider whether or not Oklahoma became the minor child's new home state, and, if so, to consider Respondent-Appellee Brenda Rader's ("Mother") forum non conveniens argument, pursuant to 43 O.S. section 551-207. If Petitioner failed to establish Oklahoma as the new home state, the trial judge was ordered to transfer the matter to Kansas, pursuant to the UCCJEA. View "In re Marriage of Rader" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Tokiko Johnson's real property was damaged in a storm and she filed a claim with her insurance company. Johnson also executed an assignment of her insurance claim for the purpose of repairing the property with the execution in favor of Triple Diamond Construction LLC (the construction company). An appraiser retained by the construction company determined storm damage to the property in the amount of $36,346.06. The insurer determined the amount of damage due to the storm was $21,725.36. When sued, the insurer argued the insured property owner was required to obtain written consent from the insurer prior to making the assignment. The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined an insured's post-loss assignment of a property insurance claim was an assignment of a chose in action and not an assignment of the insured's policy. Therefore, the insured's assignment was not prohibited by either the insurance policy or 36 O.S. section 3624. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. The insurer's motion to dismiss the appeal was thus denied. View "Johnson v. CSAA General Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In January 2020, summary judgment was entered in favor of defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (State Farm) against its insured, plaintiff Eric Thurston. In 2012, Thurston first obtained automobile liability insurance through State Farm. On June 9, 2016, Thurston was injured in an automobile accident. At that time, Thurston had three separate, six-month term, insurance policies with State Farm, with separate UM coverage on each, for which Thurston paid three separate premiums. The accident vehicle had $25,000 in UM coverage and the other two vehicles each had $50,000 in UM coverage. After determining that Thurston's medical expenses from the accident exceeded the at-fault driver's policy limits, State Farm initially paid Thurston $25,000 in UM benefits under the policy for the vehicle involved in the accident. State Farm eventually paid Thurston another $25,000 under a second policy, for a total of $50,000 in paid UM benefits. While Thurston's injuries exceeded that amount, State Farm refused further payment. Thurston brought claims against State Farm, Janis Yearout (Agent), and Yearout Insurance Agency (Agency) for fraud, breach of contract, bad faith, and failure to procure appropriate coverage. In April 2019, Thurston filed his third amended petition arguing, in part, that State Farm expressly provided for stacking when it continued to charge and accept full premiums on multiple policies without advising that the policies no longer stacked. In support, Thurston submitted his deposition testimony that he did not recall receiving notice of changes in policy language after the 2014 statutory amendment. Thurston alleged that his claims were also supported by State Farm's internal claim documents, which described the policy for the accident vehicle as "stacking" with another. The question before the Oklahoma Supreme Court was whether State Farm expressly provided for stacking of uninsured motorist policies, pursuant to 36 O.S. Supp. 2014, section 3636(B), by charging and accepting separate premiums for uninsured motorist coverage on separate policies. The Supreme Court found State Farm's charging separate UM premiums for vehicles on separate policies did not fall within section 3636's exception of expressly providing for stacking of UM coverage. Because State Farm did not take action to expressly provide for stacking of UM coverage, they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The district court's order granting summary judgment was affirmed. View "Thurston v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a negligence action based upon the alleged acts of defendants when one of the plaintiffs was staying in a hospital after surgery and received a burn from spilled hot water. The district granted defendants' motion to strike plaintiffs' witness list and defendants' motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs appealed and the Court of Civil Appeals. After its review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the trial court erred in granting summary judgment striking the list of trial witnesses when plaintiffs were not provided time to respond to the motion to strike as granted by District Court Rule 4. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Shawreb v. SSM Health Care of Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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Appellant, police officer Randy Harrison, joined the Del City Police Department in 1995. He joined the Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System. Both he and his employer made the statutorily required contributions to this plan until he resigned from the police force in 2014. At the time he left employment he had almost nineteen years of service. On January 28, 2014 he notified the pension system of his resignation and he applied to receive a full pension benefit, claiming he had the required twenty years of credited service. On February 5, 2014, Harrison was convicted of manslaughter for the on-duty shooting and killing of a suspect who tried to shoot him. In a July 2014 letter to Harrison, his request for a full service pension was denied on the basis that he had less than twenty (20) years of credited service at the time his employment ended. In December, 2014, Harrison filed an application and requested to receive a "vested benefit" instead of the return of his accumulated contributions. This application was denied by OPPRS finding that officer's "retirement benefits were forfeited in accordance with the provisions of 11 O.S. section 1-110." Following the filing of a Petition for Judicial Review of a Final Agency Determination, the district court affirmed the order of the OPPRS. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed, finding that as a matter of law, Harrison had a retirement benefit that was vested within the meaning of section 1-110(A) and 11 O.S. section 50.111.1, which was not subject to forfeiture. View "Harrison v. Oklahoma Police Pension & Retirement System" on Justia Law

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After decedent Charles Fulks died, his wife, petitioner-appellee Dorothy Fulks, filed the probate of his estate in the District Court of Nowata County, Oklahoma. An heir at law-appellant, the decedent's daughter, Tammy McPherson, objected to the probate in Nowata County. She argued that: (1) the decedent died in Osage County, and all of the decedent's real and personal property was located in Osage County; (2) pursuant to 58 O.S. 2011 section 5, the proper venue for the probate was solely in Osage County, Oklahoma; and (3) the case should have been transferred pursuant to the doctrine of intrastate forum non conveniens. The trial court determined that Nowata County was also a proper venue, and it denied the daughter's request to transfer the cause to Osage County. The daughter appealed, and after review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held venue was proper in Osage County. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Fulks" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Revolution Resources, LLC, (Revolution), an oil and gas well operator, filed an action under the Oklahoma Surface Damages Act (SDA), to Appoint Appraisers. In February 2018, Revolution acquired and became the operator of a 30,000 acre unit that was created in 1947 pursuant to Order 20212 of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC). The unit wasknown as the West Edmond Hunton Lime Unit (WEHLU). Defendant-appellant Annecy, LLC, (Annecy) purchased the subject premises in August 2019, with the intent to build expensive luxury homes. Appellant unsuccessfully sought a temporary injunction against Appellee's operations. Appellant appealed the interlocutory order denying its motion for temporary injunction. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted an injunction pending the appeal. Appellant was required to post a bond securing the cost and attorney fees of the Appellee if the Supreme Court determined later the temporary injunction should not have been granted. The Supreme Court concluded the injunction should not have been granted: Annecy purchased its surface estate subject to the outstanding mineral estate held by Revolution. Annecy's surface estate is servient to that of Revolution's mineral estate. Annecy did not meet its burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that it would be irreparably harmed by Revolution's oil and gas operations. Having failed to establish one of the four factors required, i.e., irreparable harm, by clear and convincing evidence, Annecy did not meet its burden to prove all necessary factors to obtain extraordinary relief, therefore its motion for temporary injunction was correctly denied. The temporary injunction granted by the Supreme Court was dissolved, and the matter remanded for further proceedings to determine the costs and attorney fees owed the Appellee which were secured by bond. View "Revolution Resources, LLC v. Annecy, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Comanche Nation of Oklahoma ex rel. Comanche Nation Tourism Center, filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that defendant-appellant Wallace Coffey was indebted to it for the amount of the outstanding balance on an open account. The trial court granted Coffey's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed the case with prejudice. Thereafter, Coffey filed an application for prevailing party attorney fees pursuant to 12 O.S.2011 section 936. The trial court denied Coffey's request for attorney fees, finding he was not the prevailing party because he had not prevailed on the merits of the action. Coffey appealed the order denying attorney fees, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the appeal, holding a defendant was not a "prevailing party" within the meaning of section 936 when the trial court dismissed the action with prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The trial court's order denying Coffey's motion for attorney fees was therefore affirmed. View "Comanche Nation v. Coffey" on Justia Law

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The United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Oklahoma certified two questions of state law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. White Star Petroleum, LLC, along with its wholly-owned subsidiary, White Star Petroleum II, LLC were engaged in the business of exploring, acquiring, drilling, and producing oil and natural gas, either as an operator or non-operating working interest owner of various leaseholds across Oklahoma. In 2019, several of White Star's unpaid vendors filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against White Star. White Star and its affiliates filed a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. During the bankruptcy proceedings, 78 unpaid vendors filed adversary proceedings seeking adjudication of statutory lien claims under 42 O.S. 144 against White Star's interests in various wells and establishment of trust fund claims under 42 O.S. 144.2. These proceedings were stayed when White Star initiated two adversary proceedings of its own. The first sought adjudication of the priority, validity, and value of approximately 2,000 mechanic's and materialman's liens ("M&M liens") asserted by the 78 unpaid vendors over various interests held by White Star. The second sought an order of the Bankruptcy Court directing several first purchasers of oil and gas to turn over to White Star approximately 2 million dollars, which were being held in suspense after the purchasers received statutory lien notices from the M&M lien claimants. The Bankruptcy Court certified the questions to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to aid in the resolution of these two adversary proceedings. The federal court asked: (1) were the "trust funds" created by Title 42 O.S. 144.2 limited to obligations due non-operator joint working interest owners, or did such funds include payments due holders of mechanic's and materialmen's liens arising under and perfected by Title 42 O.S. 144?; and (2) did the Oil and Gas Owners' Lien Act of 2010, grant an operator and non-operator working interest owners a lien in proceeds from purchasers of oil and gas which is prior and superior to any claim of the holder of a mechanic's and materialmen's lien asserted under Title 42 O.S. 144? The Supreme Court found that answering both questions would have been dispositive of issues pending in the underlying bankruptcy proceedings and that there was then no controlling law on the subject matter of either question. The Court answered both questions in the negative: funds which must be held in trust for payment of lienable claims pursuant to 42 O.S. 144.2 were not exclusively limited to joint-interest billing payments received by operators for services rendered by the lienholders; the Oil and Gas Owners' Lien Act did not grant operators and non-operating working interest owners a lien in proceeds from the sale of oil and gas which is prior and superior to any claim of the holder of a mechanic's and materialman's lien asserted under 42 O.S. 144. View "White Star Petroleum v. MUFG Union Bank" on Justia Law