Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to review a certified interlocutory order dismissing Defendant-respondent OSU Medical Trust, doing business as OSU Medical Center (OSUMC), from a medical malpractice lawsuit. The issue was whether Plaintiffs-appellants Miranda and Colby Crawford, Natural Parents and on Behalf of C.C.C., a Minor, and Miranda and Colby Crawford, Individually (collectively, the Crawfords) complied with the notice provisions of the Governmental Tort Claims Act (GTCA). The Supreme Court held that the Crawfords failed to present notice of their tort claim within one year of the date the loss occurred and, pursuant to 51 O.S.Supp.2012 section 156(B), their claims against OSUMC were forever barred. The Court thus affirmed the trial court's order dismissing OSUMC with prejudice. View "Crawford v. OSU Medical Trust" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Magnum Energy, Inc. appealed a Board of Adjustment for the City of Norman (Board) decision denying Plaintiff's application for a variance from the City's business licensing requirement that oil and gas operators maintain two million dollars in umbrella liability coverage. The trial court granted summary judgment in Plaintiff's favor, finding that the requirement conflicted with State law and was therefore unenforceable. The Board appealed the trial court's order; the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the order, finding no conflict between the requirement and State law. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, finding the requirement conflicted with 52 O.S.Supp.2015 section 137.1, rendering the requirement invalid and unenforceable. View "Magnum Energy v. Bd. of Adjustment for the City of Norman" on Justia Law

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The Okay Public Works Authority (OPWA) appealed a jury verdict in an inverse condemnation lawsuit. The jury found that a taking occurred when OPWA installed wastewater sewer lines in a mobile home community. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the district court's judgment holding OPWA did not possess the power of eminent domain over the installation of wastewater sewer lines. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari, and held that the Legislature granted eminent domain power to OPWA for the transportation, delivery, treatment, and furnishing of water for domestic purposes, which included the power to install wastewater sewer lines in the mobile home community. View "Barnett v. Okay Public Works Authority" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jeffrey Booth, then an installation service manager for Appellee Home Depot, U.S.A., noticed at a job site that a customer was being charged for window wraps that were not needed. Booth phoned and emailed his supervisor about the perceived overcharge. The next day, Appellee began an investigation of Booth for an email he sent ten days earlier critiquing a colleague's work performance. After a one-day investigation of the allegation in the email, and two days after the overcharge report, Appellant Booth was terminated. Booth sued Home Depot in Oklahoma state court claiming wrongful termination under Burk v. K-Mart Corp., 770 P.2d 24 (1989), alleging his job performance was good and that the email investigation was only a pretext for the real reason for termination -- his reporting of the overcharging of customers to his supervisor. Home Depot removed the Oklahoma County case to the federal district court under diversity jurisdiction. In his amended federal complaint, Booth claimed that the overcharging of customers violated the Oklahoma Home Repair Fraud Act and/or the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act. Home Depot did not dispute that, if overcharging occurred, it would violate those acts. Home Depot argued that the violation of the statutes did not articulate a clear mandate of Oklahoma public policy sufficient to support a Burk tort. The federal district court agreed with Home Depot that the statutes did not articulate a clear public policy and dismissed the petition for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Booth then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which then certified a question about the statutes to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Supreme Court responded: the OHRFA and the OCPA protect specific individual consumers against fraud with criminal and civil remedies for those individual victims. "The Court will not expand our public policy exceptions to include protection from economic harm. Without a clear mandate from the Legislature, the Acts do not qualify as an established public policy." View "Booth v. Home Depot, U.S.A." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellees Ronda Owens, Darryl Hubbard, Selena Freymiller, Shanika Crowley, Valerie Killman, Michael Lee Pitts, Ebony Warrior, John Ball, Michelle Bullock, Logan Bellew, Sondia Bell, Tumeeka Baker, and Jay Reid (collectively "Citizens") filed the underlying lawsuit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Citizens claimed that Oklahoma Governor J. Kevin Stitt and Defendant-appellant Shelley Zumwalt, in her official capacity as Executive Director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, acted without authority and violated 40 O.S.2011 section 4-313 of the Oklahoma Employment Security Act by terminating agreements with the U.S. Department of Labor to administer COVID-related unemployment programs. The trial court entered a preliminary injunction ordering Zumwalt to immediately reinstate and administer the programs. Zumwalt appealed, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court stayed the trial court's order pending appeal. The Supreme Court found 40 O.S. 4-313 did not create a private right of action and, therefore, the trial court abused its discretion by granting a preliminary injunction. View "Owens, et al. v. Zumwalt" on Justia Law

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Li Meng ("Tenant") leased a commercial property from the Plaintiffs, Mohammad Rahimi and Tahereh Dinpajooh ("Landlords") in August, 2019 for the sole purpose of operating a massage business for a two year term. The parties specifically agreed in the written lease that Tenant use of the commercial space was for the sole purpose of conducting a massage business and Tenant was prohibited from using the space for any other purpose. The Landlords prohibited any use of the leased premises which could endanger life. The Landlords noted that even though Tenant was prohibited from any use of the premises which violated public law or governmental rule, the lease specified there would be no abatement of rent even if there was a loss of business arising from some future law. Landlords argued that Tenant's obligation to pay rent was not excused because of these lease provisions. In January, 2020, approximately five months after the parties executed the lease, the first case of the COVID-19 virus was reported within the United States and soon thereafter in Oklahoma. In March, the Oklahoma governor declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19 and businesses that were not part of critical infrastructure were ordered to close for a period of time. Tenant stated that she closed the business on March 19, 2020 after she and her sole employee became ill with symptoms of the COVID-19 virus. Tenant did not pay rent after March 2020, and she never re-opened her business. By June 2020, Landlords filed this action against the Tenant for past due rent and eviction. Tenant argued that rent was not due from April through August because performance of the contract had become impossible in light of the public health risk with massage which temporarily excused the payment of rent under the doctrine of frustration of purpose or impracticability. The court stated that the defense of impracticability was not a legitimate excuse for the nonpayment of rent and did not allow Tenant to present any evidence in support of this defense. The trial court awarded Landlords $6,400 in past due rent and granted them possession. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the trial court, finding that the trial court erred when it did not allow Tenant to present evidence in support of the affirmative defense. View "Meng v. Rahimi" on Justia Law

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S.A.H. was born out-of-wedlock on February 3, 2009. S.A.H.'s mother (Mother) had sole legal custody of S.A.H. until Mother could no longer care for the minor child due to a terminal illness. In Case No. 118,986, Appellant S.A.H.'s maternal first cousin (Cousin) appealed the district court's denial of her motion to vacate an order finalizing the adoption of the minor child to Appellees, S.A.H.'s paternal grandparents (Grandparents). In Case No 119,218, Cousin appealed the dismissal of her petition for general guardianship based on Grandparents' adoption of S.A.H. The issues these cases presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review were: (1) whether the adoption court erred in granting the adoption of the minor child to Grandparents based on the consent of S.A.H.'s father (Father) while Cousin had a claim for general guardianship pending; and (2) whether the guardianship court erred in dismissing Cousin's petition for guardianship due to the adoption. The Supreme Court answered both in the negative: Cousin held no constitutional or statutory right to unwind Grandparents' adoption to which Father consented. Due to Grandparents' adoption of the minor child, a guardianship was not necessary. View "In the Matter of the Adoption of S.A.H." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Plaintiff-respondent Keely Rickard purchased the subject residential real property from the Coulimore Family Living Trust, U/A/D March 6, 2014 ("the Coulimore Trust"). Rickard later sued Defendants-petitioners Jonathan Coulimore and Elinor Coulimore, individually, and as Trustees of the Coulimore Trust, for damages from defects they failed to disclose. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to review a certified interlocutory order to determine whether the transaction was exempt from the Residential Property Condition Disclosure Act (RPCDA). The Court found the transaction was a transfer by a fiduciary who was not an owner occupant of the subject property in the course of the administration of a trust and, pursuant to 60 O.S.2011 section 838(A)(3), the transaction was exempt from the RPCDA. The Court therefore affirmed partial summary judgment as to the inapplicability of the RPCDA and remanded for further proceedings. View "Rickard v. Coulimore" on Justia Law

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Ikia Pope and Brandi Powell were in a motor vehicle collision. Pope left the scene of the collision. Powell alleged Pope drove a vehicle owned by third parties who gave permission for Pope to drive the vehicle. Progressive Direct Insurance Company insured the vehicle driven by Pope. Powell made bodily injury and property damage claims with Progressive Direct Insurance Company (insurer). Powell asserted she was entitled to treble property damages. Progressive sought a declaratory judgment for the purpose of adjudicating whether its insurance policy excluded treble damages pursuant to 47 O.S.2011, section 10-103. Progressive filed a motion for summary judgment, and the court concluded the treble damages provided by 47 O.S. 2011, section 10-103 were punitive in nature, and excluded by a clause excluding punitive damages. Powell appealed the subsequent consent judgment which was based, in part, upon the trial court's adjudication of the treble damages issue. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the appeal sua sponte, concurring with the district court that the statutory treble damages in 47 O.S.2011, section 10-103 were punitive in nature, and punitive damages were expressly excluded by the policy. View "Progressive Direct Ins. Co. v. Pope" on Justia Law

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Appellant Kristi Ho, a nurse, sued her employer, appellee Tulsa Spine & Specialty Hosptial, L.L.C., alleging that the Hospital fired her because she would not come to work. She refused to go to work because of concern for her health and safety. She alleged the Hospital violated the Governor's directive to discontinue elective surgeries for a short time during a COVID-19 pandemic, and it did so without providing her proper personal protective equipment. The Hospital filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the nurse was an employee-at-will, and that she failed to state a claim for wrongful discharge under Oklahoma law. The trial court agreed, and dismissed the lawsuit. The nurse appealed, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the case to address a matter of first impression: whether the Governor's temporary emergency COVID orders expressed public policy necessary to apply an exception to at-will employment which would support an action for wrongful discharge. After review, the Court held that because the Legislature expressly granted the Governor authority to issue temporary emergency orders, and the orders expressed the established public policy of curtailing an infectious disease, the exception to at-will employment as articulated by Burk v. K-Mart Corp., 770 P.2d 24 and its progeny, was applicable from March 24, 2020, until April 30, 2020. View "Ho v. Tulsa Spine & Specialty Hospital" on Justia Law