Articles Posted in Oklahoma Supreme Court

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Bob Hensley (Buyer) purchased real estate by contract for deed. He sued the insurer of the property's previous owner, State Farm Fire & Casualty, alleging breach of the implied-in-law duty of good faith. Insurer filed a motion for summary judgment and argued buyer was a stranger to the insurance contract and could not bring an action against insurer. The trial court granted the insurer's motion for summary judgment. The judgment was appealed and affirmed by the Court of Civil Appeals. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the buyer's action in this case for breach of the implied-in-law duty of good faith by an insurer was based upon his status as an insured or third party beneficiary; and buyer's equitable title to property arising from a contract for deed is insufficient by itself to confer upon him the status of an insured. The Court also held the buyer presented facts on the issue whether he was an intended third party beneficiary, and these facts and their inferences were disputed by insurer. Whether buyer was a third party beneficiary and an insured under the policy based upon disputed facts and inferences was a matter for the trier of fact, and summary judgment for insurer was improvidently granted. View "Hensley v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co." on Justia Law

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Stephens Production Company sought to condemn underground natural gas storage easements and surface easements to complete an underground natural gas storage facility on and underneath approximately 900 acres of mostly rural property in Haskell County. Approximately 140 Defendants were named in the Petition. Stephens Production had previously offered such Defendants "just market value" for their respective interests, but the Defendants refused the offers. The trial court appointed three commissioners to value just compensation due for each Defendant listed in the Petition. All Defendants except one, appellant Royce Larsen, settled with Stephens Production. The Commissioners valued Larsen's property taken and the damage to the remainder at $12,400.00. Larsen objected to this amount, and his case proceeded to trial. Larsen's expert testified the just compensation value was approximately $419,000.00; Stephens Production's expert valued the just compensation at $9,000.00. The trial court determined that just compensation for the property was $9,000.00. Without any evidence from Larsen regarding the reasonable probability of combination or the market demand for underground gas storage in the area, the highest and best use of the property was the use to which it was subject at the time of the taking - natural resource, agricultural, and recreational use. The Supreme Court concluded the record supported the trial court's valuation of just compensation at $9,000.00. View "Stephens Production Co. v. Larsen" on Justia Law

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Prior to filing condemnation proceedings the Appellee Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) offered Appellants, Cedars Group, L.L.C., A. Sam Coury and Bush, Ltd. d/b/a Deer Creek Texaco, (collectively, Coury Defendants), $562,500.00 for the acquisition of certain real property. The offer was not accepted and ODOT commenced two condemnation proceedings. In one, a commissioners' report estimated the value of just compensation for the property to be $285,000.00. In the second proceeding, the value of just compensation was estimated as $177,500.00. The combined value of the two commissioners' awards totaled $462,500.00. The Coury Defendants hired Gregg Renegar's law firm to provide representation in the condemnation proceedings. Pursuant to the firm’s attorney-client agreement, the Coury Defendants agreed to pay forty percent of the difference between an award and jury verdict, plus any attorney’s fees allowed by the court. A jury trial was held, and the jury awarded just compensation of $525,000 for the two tracts. Defendants applied for attorney fees. The trial court determined Defendants were not entitled to an award of fees because they never actually incurred any. In the end, the trial court awarded appraisal fees but denied reasonable attorney, engineering and expert witness fees, costs and expenses of Defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part; the case was remanded for a determination of reasonable attorney fees, engineering and expert witness fees, and costs. View "Oklahoma ex rel. Dept. of Trans. v. Cedars Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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BoDe Tower was an Oklahoma limited liability company which owned a tract of land in the Gooseneck Bend area of Muskogee County. In 2009, BoDe Tower began the process of securing authorization from state and federal officials for the construction of a telecommunications tower on the tract in an effort to fill a gap in cellular coverage. Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the BoDe Tower asserting a nuisance claim. Plaintiffs' cause of action was predicated on the placement of a cellular telephone tower adjacent to their respective properties. Following a bench trial, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and directed BoDe Tower to disassemble the cellular tower. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the judgment. The Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari and concluded the trial court's decision was against the clear weight of the evidence. "Considering the totality of the evidence presented in this case, BoDe's cellular tower cannot be deemed actionable nuisance. Our case law prohibits nuisance claims based entirely on aesthetic concerns. It would be wholly unreasonable to allow one individual's visual sensitivities to impede development of cellular phone service for the residents of Muskogee. BoDe Tower undertook significant investment and complied with all regulatory hurdles. The judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals is vacated, and the trial court's judgment in favor of the Plaintiffs is reversed." View "Laubenstein v. BoDe Tower, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Steven Scott (grantor) owned real property in Canadian County. In 1997, Scott executed a warranty deed conveying 120 acres of the property to defendants-appellees Martin Peters, Jr. and Tammy Peters (grantees). Scott alleged that he only conveyed his surface interest in the 120 acres. In June 2000, Scott agreed to convey the surface only in a remaining 40 acres to the Peters, for a total of 160 acres of the NE/4 of Section 5, Township 13 North, Range 6 West. The warranty deed was executed on June 12, 2000, and filed on June 16, 2000, in the Canadian County Clerk's office. However, no mineral interests were retained by the grantor in this 40 acre deed. By 2014, Scott filed suit against the Peters, seeking to quiet title in the mineral interests on the 160 acres. The Peters answered Scott's allegations and asserted a slander of title claim against the grantor, arguing that they were the owners of the mineral interests in all 160 acres, due to his various conveyances over the years. Further, the Peters argued that any claims relating to the 120 acre tract were also barred by the five year statute of limitations for reformation because the cause was brought more than thirteen years after (as subsequent deed to the same parcel as the Peters') deed was filed, and more than six years after the Peters' oil and gas lease was filed. The trial court denied summary judgment. The trial court held a hearing on the limitations issue, whereby Scott conceded that the five year limitation period for reforming the deed filed in 2000 had expired and that he was consequently precluded from reforming that deed. However, Scott argued that the five year limitation period on reformation of the 1997 deed did not begin to accrue when the deed was filed because it did contain a mineral reservation, but the reservation was alleged to have been insufficient in that deed and a layman, such as himself, should not be held to know the legal effect of such an insufficiency until the legal effect is questioned or disputed. The Oklahoma Supreme retained this case to address the dispositive issue of whether notice imposed upon the grantor by the filing of a deed with the county clerk precluded this action as untimely. The Court held it does, and affirmed the trial court. View "Scott v. Peters" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants, sisters, Lisa Calvert and Teresa Roper were attorneys in fact for their father, Allen Downy, under a durable power of attorney. He owned Oklahoma real property which included mineral interests. In 2000, acting as attorneys in fact for their father under a durable power of attorney, the sisters entered into an agreement to sell the property (surface only) with Wayland and Dawn Swinford (grantees). The sisters retained Kansas attorney, Randee Koger and his law firm, Wise & Reber (then named Bremyer & Wise) to represent them as their legal counsel and to prepare legal documents in connection with the real property transaction. The sisters also retained Powers Abstract Co., Inc., an Oklahoma abstract company, to perform abstracting and closing functions for the sale of the property. Plaintiffs sold the Oklahoma property, allegedly intending to keep their mineral interests in the property. Twelve years after the deeds were filed, the sisters realized that mineral interests were not reserved and they filed a lawsuit for professional negligence against the abstract office. The abstract office moved for summary judgment arguing that the lawsuit was untimely, which the trial court granted. The issue presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on the dispositive issue of whether the statute of limitations for an action brought by a grantor begins to accrue when a deed is filed with the county clerk. The Court held that it did: any action for negligence regarding the mistaken deeds began to accrue when the deeds were filed. As such, the trial court was affirmed. View "Calvert v. Swinford" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Pat Blair brought an action alleging that a conveyance of real property from her grandmother to her sister, the defendant-appellee Gayle Richardson (grantee), was void because the grandmother (grantor) lacked legal competency and because the deed was executed under undue influence. The trial court ruled in favor of Richardson on both theories of recovery. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed, concluding that the grantor was rendered legally incompetent by operation of 43A O.S. 1961 section 64. Richardson appealed. Finding no reversible error in the appellate court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Blair v. Richardson" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Lacey & Associates, LLC, contracted with Everest Homes, LLC, to purchase a commercial building. In addition, Lacey and Everest executed an escrow agreement for the release of additional funds to Everest if the roof was replaced after title had transferred to Lacey. After title passed to Lacey, Everest entered into a contract with the Williams Group, a contractor, to replace the roof. The Williams Group then hired Andrea Pizano to remove the old roof and HVAC units, which service she performed. In early 2013, Pizano sued alleging the Williams Group did not pay the contractual amount of $11,085, as agreed by the two parties. She filed a mechanic's lien on Lacey's building one day before she filed her petition. The lawsuit sought judgment against the Williams Group in the amount of $11,085, plus interest. The Williams Group never filed an answer. The trial court thereafter entered a default judgment against the Williams Group, awarding Pizano $11,085, an attorney's fee of $2,500.00 and court costs of $461.81. Pizano then sought to foreclose her lien against Lacey and be awarded court costs and attorney fees. She requested that the property be sold to satisfy the judgment. Lacey answered and included a "Cross-motion for Summary Judgment," contending that the new roof leaked so badly that large barrels had to be placed inside the building to catch the water. Therefore, no party was entitled to be paid for the roof. Lacey also asserted that Pizano's motion should be denied because Lacey had no contract with Pizano, and also that the plaintiff failed to file the required pre-lien notice. The trial court granted Pizano's summary judgment motion in part, and denied Lacey's counter-motion for summary judgment. Lacey appealed and Pizano counter-appealed. The Court of Civil Appeals held that Pizano successfully preserved her subcontractor's lien, but found that genuine disputes of fact remained as to the amount owed to Pizano and the enforceability of the lien. The Supreme Court found that the Legislature intended amounts less than $10,000 to be exempt from pre-lien notice. Having provided such an exception, the wording of the applicable statute persuaded the Court that "if a claimant filed a claim of $10,085 without a pre-claim notice, the claim would be enforceable up to $9,999. We do not believe that the claim would be completely unenforceable if it exceeded that legislatively-approved amount by a mere $86." The trial court's order entitling Pizano to a reduced judgment amount of $9,999.00 and an award of attorneys' fees and costs was affirmed. This case was remanded to the trial court to issue a judgment consistent with the law as expressed in the Supreme Court's opinion. View "Pizano v. Lacey & Assoc., LLC" on Justia Law

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Cottonwood Creek watershed was an area covering approximately 379 square miles in parts of Logan, Oklahoma, Canadian and Kingfisher Counties. The area was prone to flooding, and in March of 1962, Logan County Soil and Water Conservation District No. 9 (LCSWCD), Cottonwood Creek Water and Soil Conservancy District No. 11 (CCWSCD), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), prepared a plan to alleviate dangers associated with uncontrolled water flow. One of the structures included in the work plan was Floodwater Retarding Structure No. 54 (FWRS 54). On September 24, 1962, D.C. and Odessa Fitzwater granted an easement (Fitzwater Easement) to CCWSCD. Years later, changes in safety criteria and the development of houses downstream compelled the USDA and Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) to recast FWRS 54 as a high hazard class (c) dam.3 This new classification was based on changes in safety criteria, the development of 26 houses downstream, and the potential for loss of life following a structural failure. In March of 2006, the USDA issued a written proposal calling for the rehabilitation of FWRS 54. The USDA watershed plan suggested multiple repairs and improvements to FWRS 54. Logan County Conservation District (LCCD) filed a declaratory action seeking permission to perform rehabilitation work on FWRS 54. The petition alleged the Fitzwater and Impoundment Easements vested LCCD with the right to complete the rehabilitation project. Property owners Phyllis Crowder and John White, Jr. answered and claimed that the proposed work did not fall within the scope of the original easements. Accordingly, Crowder and White maintained the rehabilitation project would lead to an improper taking of their land. Pleasant Oaks Lake Association (POLA) and individual homeowners also answered, alleging the project would constitute a taking requiring payment of compensation. LCCD filed a motion seeking summary judgment. The motion asserted LCCD was authorized to perform work on FWRS 54 based upon the unambiguous language contained in deeds establishing the Fitzwater and Impoundment Easements. The homeowners and the homeowners association appealed a judgment finding Conservation District was authorized to enter their respective properties to perform the rehabilitation work. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the plain language in the deeds creating the easements included a right to ensure the dam's structural integrity through a rehabilitation project. View "Logan County Conservation Dist. v. Pleasant Oaks Homeowners Ass'n" on Justia Law

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The Kirks purchased a house in Osage County from Buel and Peggy Neece in 1987. The Kirks signed a Contract for Deed that required monthly payments of $400 to the Neeces. In 1998, the Neeces sold their property to Thomas and Claudia McGinnity and assigned the Contract for Deed to the McGinnitys. The McGinnitys brought claims against the Kirks based upon breach of contract and a foreclosure of the contract for deed. They asserted that the contract for deed was breached by the Kirks due to (1) failing to keep the property insured for full replacement value, (2) conveying an interest in the property to Mary Komonce without express written consent, (3) committing and permitting waste of the real property, (4) failing to keep the buildings and improvements in good repair, and (5) failing to begin immediate restoration. The McGinnitys sought foreclosure as their remedy, with attorney's fees and costs, but did not seek damages. The Kirks asserted estoppel, waiver, duress, accord and satisfaction, laches and claims based upon breach of contract and abuse of process. The trial court denied the McGinnitys' request for judgment at the conclusion of their case in chief. Ultimately, the trial court determined that the Kirks breached the terms of the contract for deed. The trial court granted foreclosure on the real property in rem, quieted title in and to the McGinnitys against any claim of the Kirks and Komonce. The trial court reserved the issue of attorney's fees and costs to be presented to the trial court by a separate motion. The trial court found in favor of the McGinnitys on all of the Kirks' defenses and counterclaims. The Kirks appealed and the trial court's judgment was affirmed by the Court of Civil Appeals. The Kirks petitioned for certiorari review of the Court of Civil Appeals’ judgment. The Supreme Court held that the value of the property exceeded the amount due on the mortgage and no waste was present, but the District Court's finding that the Kirks breached the contract for deed was not against the clear weight of the evidence on the McGinnitys' claims of failure to maintain insurance and the property. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of the McGinnitys and against the Kirks on their counterclaims. View "McGinnity v. Kirk" on Justia Law