Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oklahoma Supreme Court
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Appellants Taylor Hudson (Mother) and Cody Hudson (Father) appealed a trial court's judgments terminating their parental rights to their biological children, K.H., C.H., E.H., and C.H. Both judgments were entered on separate jury verdicts finding that clear and convincing evidence supported each parent's “heinous and shocking physical abuse” on another child of Father. After review on rehearing, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held: (1) admitting evidence of State's pending criminal child abuse charges against Parents; and (2) giving a jury instruction that listed the criminal charges to support State's amended petition for immediate termination of parental rights was “so inherently prejudicial” that it violated Parents' right to a fair trial. The judgments were reversed, and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "In the Matter of K. H." on Justia Law

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A physician's professional conduct was examined by the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision. During the disciplinary proceeding a stipulated protective order was entered by the Board. The professional complaint against the physician was dismissed, and approximately two years later the physician requested the Board modify its protective order to allow the physician to use three documents in a different legal proceeding. The Board refused, and the physician appealed. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held: (1) the stipulated blanket protective order making all documents in the administrative proceeding subject to the order and prohibiting their use in any other legal proceeding was contrary to the public policy expressed by the Oklahoma Open Records Act and the Oklahoma Discovery Code; and (2) the physician's claim seeking access to the initial report of misconduct was not properly before the Court. View "State ex rel. Okla. St. Bd. of Medical Licensure & Supervision v. Rivero" on Justia Law

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Appellee Highpointe Energy filed a quiet title action in Oklahoma against appellants the Viersens, and others. The disputed property concerned mineral interests from two different chains of title: one chain stemmed from a bankruptcy proceeding, while the other chain arose from a mortgage foreclosure proceeding and subsequent sheriff's sale. The trial court determined that the chain resulting from the foreclosure/sheriff's sale was superior to the bankruptcy chain. The Viersens appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that because the bankruptcy purchasers could secure no greater rights in the disputed property than the bankruptcy trustee held, the purchasers from the mortgage foreclosure proceeding held the superior title. View "Highpointe Energy v. Viersen" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s review was whether the Court of Civil Appeals properly applied the laws on parental rights in a dispute between a married couple regarding custody and visitation with a minor child who was adopted by only one of the parties prior to marriage. The Supreme Court held that it did not: the child was adopted by Respondent-Appellee Adrieanna Guzman (Adrieanna) prior to the marriage. Petitioner-Appellant Carmen Guzman (Carmen) never adopted the child. As a step-parent, Carmen had no standing to petition the court for paternity of the child. Thus, the Court of Civil Appeals' opinion was vacated, and the trial court's order granting Adrieanna's motion to dismiss was affirmed. View "Guzman v. Guzman" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit certified two questions of law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Plaintiff-appellant George Morgan was driving drunk and hit Jesse Atkins with his truck at more than 40 miles per hour. Atkins was severely injured, and his resulting medical bills totaled more than $2 million. Defendant-appellee State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company provided liability insurance to Morgan at the time of the accident under a policy with a $100,000 limit. State Farm negotiated and executed a settlement with Atkins whereby State Farm paid its policy limit to Atkins and Atkins released his claims against Morgan. During the same timeframe, Atkins pursued a workers' compensation claim because he had been traveling for work when he was injured. The workers' compensation court issued a preliminary order for compensation, and the workers' compensation insurer began making payments to Atkins. The workers' compensation insurer's subrogee, New York Marine and General Insurance Company (NYM), sued Morgan in Oklahoma state court in June 2011 for reimbursement of the amounts paid to Atkins. Morgan retained personal counsel to represent him in the action. State Farm also provided counsel to Morgan and mounted a vigorous defense. A jury would later return a verdict in favor of NYM in the amount of $844,865.89, finding that State Farm knew about NYM's potential claim but failed to apprise NYM of its pending settlement with Atkins. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the judgment, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court denied certiorari. Morgan then filed suit against State Farm alleging State Farm's failure to secure NYM's release as part of its settlement with Atkins amounted to: (1) breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing; and (2) breach of contract. The United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma found that Morgan's claims accrued in 2010, when State Farm negotiated the original settlement with Atkins and, therefore, concluded the applicable two and five year statutes of limitations for the tort and contract claims, respectively, barred Morgan's suit. Morgan appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit asked: (1) where a plaintiff is injured by entry of an adverse judgment that remains unstayed, is the injury sufficiently certain to support accrual of a tort cause of action based on that injury under 12 O.S. 95 before all appeals of the adverse judgment are exhausted?; and (2) does an action for breach of an insurance contract accrue at the moment of breach where a plaintiff is not injured until a later date? The Oklahoma Court answered the first question with a "no:" the claim accrues when the appeal is finally determined in the underlying case. The Court answered the second question with a "yes:" an action for breach of contract accrues when the contract is breached, not when damages result; the limitations period may be tolled if the defendant fraudulently concealed the cause of action. View "Morgan v. State Farm mutual Automobile Insur. Co." on Justia Law

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to address this first impression issue of whether the right to compel arbitration was waived when it is not raised as an affirmative defense in a responsive pleading. Plaintiffs-appellees filed suit alleging various claims stemming from the parties' investment relationships. Nearly seventeen months after they filed their answer in which they omitted arbitration as an affirmative defense, defendants-appellants moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the parties' agreements. Very little case activity involving defendants had taken place during that time. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court's denial of the motion to compel, holding that defendants-appellants waived any right to arbitration by failing to raise it in their answer. The Supreme Court held the right to compel arbitration was not waived in this case: defendants-appellants' motion to compel arbitration met the statutory requirements of the OUAA. “This finding, however, did not end our analysis because Oklahoma law provides that a party may waive their right to arbitration even when properly requested. After conducting an examination of the pertinent facts herein, we conclude Plaintiffs/Appellees failed to satisfy their burden of proof on the issue of waiver of the right to arbitration.” Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court was reversed. View "Howell's Well Service v. Focus Group Advisors" on Justia Law

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The three questions before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in this case were: (1) whether Oklahoma's class action attorney fee statute, 12 O.S.Supp.2017, section 2023(G), allowed for the percentage-of-common-fund method in calculating attorney fees; (2) whether the district court abused its discretion in awarding 40% of the common fund to class counsel, equaling over $19 million in attorney fees and a $2,500 hourly rate; and (3) whether the district court abused its discretion in awarding a $400,000 incentive award to the named class representatives. Objector Daniel McClure appealed a $19 million attorney fee award and a $400,000 incentive award in a class action suit. The district court calculated the attorney fee amount using the percentage-of-common-fund method pursuant to a contingency fee agreement between the class counsel and class representatives. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the district court's awards, holding: (1) an attorney fee request in a common fund case was subject to the lodestar method; (2) the district court failed to properly calculate the attorney fee award under the lodestar method; and (3) the district court abused its discretion in awarding the incentive award to the class representatives. The Supreme Court held that although Oklahoma's class action attorney fee statute gave courts flexibility and discretion in calculating fee awards under the percentage-of-common-fund method, the district court abused its discretion when it awarded an unreasonable attorney fee award and an incentive award not supported by evidence. View "Strack v. Continental Resources" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Warehouse Market subleased a commercial building from defendant Pinnacle Management, Inc. The building was on federally restricted Indian land. Subsequently, defendant-appellant, Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Office of Tax Commission (Tribe) both sought to collect sales tax from Warehouse Market. Warehouse Market filed an interpleader action in an attempt to have the court determine which entity to pay. However, the trial court dismissed the Tribe because it had no jurisdiction over it because of the Tribe's sovereign immunity. The trial court then determined that the OTC could not be entitled to the sales tax unless and until the dispute between the OTC and the Tribe was resolved in another forum or tribunal. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that because the substance of Warehouse Market's action/request for relief was a tax protest, exhaustion of administrative remedies was a jurisdictional prerequisite to seeking relief in the trial court. View "Warehouse Market v. Oklahoma ex rel. Ok. Tax Comm." on Justia Law

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The dispute in this case centered on two oil-and-gas-producing formations known as the Chester and the Marmaton, located in Beaver County, Oklahoma. In 1973, Arnold Petroleum, Inc., the predecessor in interest to plaintiffs (collectively, "Arnold") obtained six oil-and-gas leases covering land in Beaver County. Over the course of 1973 and 1974, Arnold Petroleum assigned its leases to Dyco Petroleum Corporation, expressly reserving an overriding royalty interest in any oil and gas produced under the leases. Dyco assigned the leases to Harold Courson, the predecessor in interest of defendant Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation. This assignment, too, was expressly subject to Arnold's overriding royalty interest. Two wells drilled in the Chester formation produced "mostly gas with some oil" continuously since the mid-1970s, and at no point since then did Arnold ever stop receiving payments on its overriding royalty interest in those producing wells. In 1984, Courson obtained several new leases from the mineral owners who had granted the 1973 leases. The 1984 leases purported to cover the same rights as the original 1973 leases, but were silent as to any particular geologic formation or zone. Arnold did not become aware of the 1984 leases until 1999 when it and other royalty holders received a letter from Courson explaining he had recompleted a well in the Chester formation that had originally been drilled into the separate Lower Chester formation by Natural Gas Anadarko, Inc. (NGA). In the 1999 conversation, a Courson employee told the Arnold landman the 1984 leases covered only "deep rights" or "lower depths" that had expired under the 1973 leases. This assertion would exclude the Marmaton. For the next 13 years, the matter of the Marmaton formation would remain dormant. Courson assigned his leases to Cabot in August 2011, and Cabot drilled and completed several horizontal wells in the Marmaton. Cabot rejected Arnold's request for payment, and Arnold sued in October 2012, seeking damages for nonpayment of royalties. Cabot argued Arnold's claims were barred because the applicable statute of limitations began to run with the filing of the new leases in 1984, which event (in Cabot's view) should have put Arnold on notice of an adverse claim to the Marmaton. The issue presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review was whether plaintiffs waited too long in asserting their right to payment of the overriding royalty interest. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court's judgment in favor of plaintiffs on those grounds. The Supreme Court disagreed: this litigation could not have arisen until defendant first developed the disputed formation in 2012, and then refused plaintiffs' request for payment of royalties from that production. "Nothing preceding that sequence of events could reasonably have foreclosed plaintiffs' ability to press their claim for the payments to which they were entitled under valid mineral leases." View "Claude C. Arnold Non-Operated Royalty Interest Properties v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp." on Justia 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