Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
Dayna Foresee (Dayna) and Thomas Allen Foresee (Decedent) were married for thirty-nine years. The record was unclear as to precisely when the parties separated, but Dayna moved out of the parties' marital residence in Eufaula, Oklahoma and filed a divorce proceeding in Tulsa County in July 2019. Decedent had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). On December 31, 2019, he executed his Last Will and Testament, naming two of the parties' children, appellees Jeremy Foresee and Jacie Michelle Cook, to serve as co-personal representatives. Further, the will expressly excluded Dayna from taking anything from Decedent's estate. Decedent passed away from Lou Gehrig's disease on January 11, 2020. Two days later, Appellees filed a probate petition seeking appointment as special administrators of Decedent's estate. Appellees alleged the Decedent had "orally expressed wishes for disposition of his bodily remains." Dayna filed an objection contesting the decedent's will to probate, and sought a restraining order and injunction. She argued the will was invalid because the decedent was of unsound mind at the time of the will's drafting, thereby making any assignment of the right to control his body also invalid. Appellees claimed that as representatives of the Decedent's estate, duly appointed under the terms of his will, they were to be afforded statutory priority to control the disposition of the remains. The will vested the co-personal representatives with the power to pay debts associated with Decedent's "last illness, funeral, and burial;" however, nothing in the will explicitly entrusted them with control over decedent's remains. The trial court ruled the decedent's last will and testament sufficiently vested power over his remains in the named personal representatives, citing 21 O.S. 2011 §sections 1151(B) and 1158(2). The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained this appeal as a question of first impression and affirmed the trial court's ruling in part. The Supreme Court held that the will did not expressly assign authority over the remains such that it satisfied the requirements of section 1151(B); however, the personal representatives did have priority over the body according to section 1158(2). As such, the trial court properly denied surviving spouse's request for a temporary injunction. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Foresee" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
In 2016, plaintiff-appellee Isaac Sutton went shopping for a vehicle at the defendant-appellant David Stanley Chevrolet, Inc.'s (hereafter DSC) car dealership. He agreed to purchase a 2016 Chevy Silverado on credit and he agreed to trade-in his 2013 Challenger. He was informed by DSC that his credit was approved. In addition, he was given $22,800.00 for the Challenger for which he still owed $25,400.00. The documents for the purchase of the vehicle amounted to approximately eighty-six pages, which included a purchase agreement and a retail installment sale contract (RISC). He left the dealership that evening with the Silverado and left his Challenger. Several days later he was informed by DSC that his financing was not approved and he would need a co-signor to purchase the Silverado. Sutton visited DSC but was then told he did not need a co-signor and there was no need to return the vehicle. At the end of June his lender for his 2013 Challenger contacted him about late payments. Sutton contacted DSC who said it was not their responsibility to make those payments since they did not own the Challenger he traded-in. A few days later, he was notified by DSC that his Challenger had been stolen and the matter was not the responsibility of DSC. Sutton had to make an insurance claim on his Challenger and DSC took back the Silverado. In the meantime, Sutton continued to make payments on the Challenger. Plaintiff and his wife Celeste Sutton sued DSC over the whole transaction involving the Challenger. DSC moved to compel arbitration. Plaintiffs alleged they were fraudulently induced into entering the arbitration agreement. The trial court found there was fraudulent inducement and overruled the motion to compel arbitration. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings concerning the unconscionability of the arbitration agreement. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari, and found the trial court's order was fully supported by the evidence. The opinion of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals was therefore vacated and the matter remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Sutton v. David Stanley Chevrolet" on Justia Law

by
Appellant operating company, Stephens & Johnson Operating Company (Operator), requested an award of attorney fees and costs in this case brought under the Oklahoma Surface Damages Act. Operator claimed it was entitled to the fees and costs as the prevailing party in the underlying suit since the State of Oklahoma ex rel. the Commissioners of the Land Office (Surface Owner) did not recover a jury verdict greater than the appraisers' award. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found the statutes in question did not provide for fees and costs to the prevailing party but instead imposed specific conditions which were not satisfied in this case. View "Oklahoma, ex rel. Comm'rs of Land Office v. Stephens & Johnson Operating Co., Inc." on Justia Law

by
Petitioners and respondents owned real property in McClain County, Oklahoma, containing and abutting Colbert Lake (the Lake). Petitioners also owned real property containing Colbert Creek, which was the sole source of water that fed the Lake. Respondents sought a permit from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB), to sell water from the Lake to oil companies for use in fracking operations. The only notice that the OWRB provided to petitioners of the respondents' permit application was by publication in newspapers. The permits were issued, and petitioners subsequently filed suit at the district court, arguing that they were not given proper and sufficient notice of the permit proceedings. The district court dismissed the lawsuit in a certified interlocutory order, and petitioners appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to address the proper, constitutionally required notice to landowners in such proceedings. The Court held that the notice given was inadequate, therefore judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for for further proceedings. View "Purcell v. Parker" on Justia Law

by
Defendant the City of Tulsa (City), passed an ordinance creating a tourism improvement district that encompassed all properties within City which had hotels or motels with 110 or more rooms available for occupancy. Plaintiff-appellee Toch, LLC owned Aloft Downtown Tulsa (Aloft) with 180 rooms. Toch petitioned for a declaratory judgment that the ordinance was invalid for a variety of reasons, including that the district did not include all hotels with at least 50 rooms available. The court granted summary judgment to Toch based on its determination that City exceeded the authority granted in title 11, section 39-103.1. The question before Oklahoma Supreme Court was whether section 39-103.1 granted authority to municipalities to limit a tourism improvement district to a minimum room-count of a number larger than 50. To this, the Court answered in the affirmative, reversed the trial court, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Toch, LLC v. City of Tulsa" on Justia Law

by
Boardman, LLC, a custom heavy metal fabricator, employed Debtor Eddie Joe Adams as a sales representative for approximately 33 years. Adams and his employer entered into an Employment Agreement in 2013 (Original Agreement). The Original Agreement covered a period of ten years (until January 1, 2023) and compensated Adams through regular salary, bonuses, and severance. On January 1, 2014, Adams and his employer entered into the First Amendment to the Original Agreement (First Amendment) that included an additional performance incentive in the form of a "Deferred Bonus." In 2017, Adams executed an Amended and Restated Employment Agreement (Restated Agreement), which had a term until January 1, 2020. On January 1, 2019, the Deferred Bonus fully vested, and on October 31, 2019, Adams filed a voluntary chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. Boardman, LLC did not renew the Restated Agreement, and it expired on January 1, 2020. Adams received his first payment of $41,634.14, less withholding tax, under the Deferred Bonus on January 2, 2020. In his bankruptcy filings, Adams claimed the Deferred Bonus (payable over 5 years) as exempt under 31 O.S.2011, section 1(A)(20). The Bankruptcy Trustee Susan Manchester (Trustee) objected to the exemption. The United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Oklahoma certified a question of law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court concerning whether the Deferred Bonus was exempt. The Supreme Court determined this was a question of first impression, and concluded the deferred bonus was not exempt as "retirement plan or arrangement qualified for tax exemption or deferment purposes" as required to be exempt under 31 O.S.2011, section 1(A)(20). View "In re: Adams" on Justia Law