Articles Posted in Oklahoma Supreme Court

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The State filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights pursuant to 10A O.S.Supp.2014, section 1-4-904(B)(5), alleging Mother failed to correct the conditions that led to the deprived child adjudication of B.K. B.K. was removed from the home as the result of a delusional episode in which Mother believed the police had planted listening devices in B.K.'s ears to spy on Mother. This delusional episode was reported to police by B.K.'s seventeen-year-old brother. Both a psychologist and a psychiatrist diagnosed Mother as having a delusional persecution disorder that medication would help control. When Mother said she would not take medication for the delusional disorder, the State pursued termination of Mother's parental rights because B.K. had been in DHS foster care for over 36 months. A jury returned a verdict that found Mother failed to correct the conditions. The trial court entered judgment on the verdict and terminated Mother's parental rights. Mother appealed. Upon review, a majority of the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the judgment, finding undisputed evidence revealed Mother's mental disorder was the cause of B.K. being adjudicated deprived, not deficiencies in parenting. The majority opinion held that any termination must be based on the mental health ground found in 10A O.S.Supp.2014 sec. 1-4-904(B)(13) and, therefore, it was fundamental error to terminate pursuant to 10A O.S.Supp. 2014 sec. 1-4-904(B)(5). The State sought review from the Oklahoma Supreme Court to address whether the Legislature intended 10A O.S.2011, section 1-4-904(B)(13) to be the exclusive ground for termination in cases where a parent has a "diagnosed cognitive disorder" or can such a disorder be a "condition" leading to a deprived adjudication that a parent must correct under 10A O.S.2011, section 1-4-904(B)(5). The Supreme Court vacated the majority opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals, and held: (1) subsection 1-4-904(B)(13) did not exclusively apply, and (2) the trial court did not err in terminating Mother's parental rights based on subsection 1-4-904(B)(5). View "In the Matter of B.K." on Justia Law

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Appellant Jennifer Boatman, now Walls (Mother), and Appellee Nick Boatman (Father) married in 2004. They have a single child, a daughter, born in 2005. The parties divorced in 2007, and equally shared time with their daughter under a joint custody plan. In 2013, Mother filed a Notice of Intent to relocate with the child, and Father objected. The trial court denied Mother's application to relocate, concluding that the proposed relocation was not made in good faith and not in the best interest of the child. It also ordered each party to pay their own attorney fees. Mother appealed both judgments in separate companion cases, and both were affirmed by the Court of Civil Appeals. The Supreme Court held that before a joint custodian can invoke the relocation provisions, the court must determine a primary physical custodian. The Court also held that the trial court did not err in directing that each party pay their own fees. View "Boatman v. Boatman" on Justia Law

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The question presented to the Oklahoma Supreme Court by this case was whether the district court abused its discretion when it denied Appellant's (Biological Mother) second motion for reconsideration. In 2013, the district court terminated Biological Mother's parental rights to K.S. In 2015, Biological Mother filed a petition for guardianship over Child in Oklahoma County District Court. The district court denied the petition for guardianship without prejudice. The court noted Biological Mother's failure to serve or notify the proper parties and inability to do so in the future due to the confidentiality of adoption proceedings. The same day, Biological Mother filed a motion for reconsideration of the petition for guardianship and a motion asking the court to grant time to provide notice. The district court denied the motions for reconsideration and to grant time. The court noted that the motions were incoherent and stated that the court felt the petition contained circumstances such that the motions should be decided without a hearing under Rule 4(h) of the Rules for District Courts of Oklahoma. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's ruling, finding the district court was correct that notifying Parents of the guardianship proceeding was “an insurmountable hurdle” to Biological Mother and that it was allowed to deny the motion without a hearing. There was no abuse of discretion. View "In the matter of K.S." on Justia Law

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Appellants Bruce Schultz and Jared Bruce mutually sought to vacate their adult adoption granted ten years prior. The issue in this case was whether the trial court lacked authority to vacate an adult adoption where both parties sought the termination of parental rights as competent adults. The trial court opined that because the Oklahoma Adoption Code, 10 O.S. 2011, section 7507-1.1, neither authorized nor prohibited the vacation of adult adoptions, it lacked authority to vacate the existing order. Appellants appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court directly, and the Supreme Court retained the first impression matter. Based on the Legislature's provisions in granting adult adoptions, parallel provisions for vacating adoptions of minor children, and the overall intent of the Adoption Code, the Supreme Court found an error warranting remand to the trial court to rehear Appellants' petition. As the trial court correctly found consent and competency of the parties, upon remand it needed only conduct a best-interest determination in deciding the matter. "With neither bad faith nor fraudulent motive of the parties, we find no evidence to suggest that the termination of rights herein would not serve their best interests." View "In the Matter of the Termination of Parental Rights of Schultz" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellant and wife, Jennifer Baggs filed for divorce from her firefighter husband, respondent-appellee, Steven Baggs. As part of the firefighter retirement plan, the husband was vested in what was known as a DROP or Plan B option created specifically for Oklahoma Firefighters. Plan B was an alternative option for firefighters' pensions available when a vested firefighter retired. It was not funded until the firefighter chose the Plan B retirement alternative. Petitioner sought any portion of the Plan B which would be attributable to the years in which she and the husband were married, in the event he chose Plan B when he retired, after the divorce was granted. The trial court declined to divide the Plan B option as marital property and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. After review, the Supreme Court held that, in the event the Plan B option was chosen by a vested former spouse when the firefighter retires, it was divisible to the extent that any funds deposited into it were attributable to the marital years. View "Baggs v. Baggs" on Justia Law

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The issue in this cause is whether Plaintiff-appellant Rhonda Brown was estopped from asserting her status as the surviving spouse of the Decedent, Bobby Joe Brown, Jr. Plaintiff and Bobby Joe Brown, Jr. were married in 1995, and three children were born of the marriage. Rhonda testified that after a few years of marriage, she told Bobby she could no longer stay with him if he did not cease his extra-marital affairs. He did not comply with this condition, and Rhonda moved out of the marital home. They were never divorced through a court proceeding. She moved frequently and, at different times, lived in several Oklahoma cities, as well as in Kansas. After Bobby and Rhonda separated, he began living with Ami Alley in 2004. Two children were born to the couple. Ami testified she and Bobby held themselves out as husband and wife to everyone and established a home together in Perry, Oklahoma. Rhonda testified she was aware of the relationship between Ami and Bobby and that he was living with her and their two children. Rhonda testified that Bobby referred to Ami as his girlfriend. In 2013, Bobby died in a motorcycle accident. Ami was named Personal Representative of his estate upon the court's finding she was Bobby's surviving spouse in a common law marriage. Rhonda was not sent notice of the proceeding, and Ami did not advise the court of Rhonda's relationship with Bobby. Ami explained that the court asked if there was anybody to object, and no one appeared to do so. She said the court did not ask about Rhonda, and she did not raise the issue. She also testified Rhonda knew about the proceeding but would not give Ami her address. In the judgment denying Rhonda's Petition and Motion to Revoke Letters of Administration, the trial court found Bobby and Ami's relationship met the requirements of a common law marriage; and that Rhonda re-married in a ceremonial, traditional marriage in 2012. The court based its decision to deny Rhonda's motion to revoke the letters of administration on the issue of estoppel, rather than the legal classification of her marriage to Bobby. Finding that the trial court properly held that Rhonda was estopped from asserting she should have been appointed Personal Representative of Bobby's estate (instead of Ami), the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Alley" on Justia Law

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The issue in this case was whether Father and Stepmother's adoption of the Child, at which proceedings the Child's biological maternal Grandmother did not appear, controlled the outcome of Grandmother's previously filed and pending visitation petition. The trial court ruled that Grandmother's nonappearance divested her right to seek visitation, and the opposition of both parents in this newly created intact nuclear family precluded the court from authorizing such a visitation. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed this judgment, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari. Grandmother argued that she did not lose her right to seek visitation by not appearing at the adoption (at which she lacked standing to do so); her due process rights were violated by the trial court's sua sponte ruling; and the adoption--granted subsequent to and while her visitation petition remained pending--equally did not divest her of this right. The Supreme Court found that Grandmother's properly filed, undecided petition arrived to the court four months before Stepmother petitioned to adopt and six months before the court granted the adoption. Grandmother followed all required procedure by filing, providing notice, and awaiting her day in court. "She should not be penalized for another court's decision to resolve the separate and subsequently-filed action of adoption without reference to the impact of that ruling on her pending petition." Furthermore, by deciding the adoption prior to resolution of the visitation petition--thereby framing Grandmother's rights in reference to the subsequently filed, subsequently granted adoption--the trial court disposed of Grandmother's opportunity to ever obtain any "previously granted" visitation right. The court's determination of the adoption before resolution of the previously filed visitation effectively deprived Grandmother of her statutory right to seek visitation of the Child. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the trial court to hear Appellant's petition for grandparental visitation. View "Birtciel v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellee Tracey Childers (wife) and Respondent-Appellant Kelly Childers (husband) were divorced pursuant to a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage that distributed their marital estate. The husband appealed the Decree, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. It concluded that the trial court's valuation of the marital estate was against the clear weight of evidence. It also ordered the trial court to rule on the husband's request for attorney fees on remand. The three dispositive questions presented for the Supreme Court's review were whether: (1) the trial court's valuation of the parties' marital estate was against the clear weight of evidence; (2) the trial court's distribution of the parties' marital estate was just and reasonable; and (3) the trial court's order that each party pay its own attorney fees was an abuse of discretion. The Court held that the trial court's valuation of the parties' marital estate was not against the clear weight of evidence, that its distribution of the parties' marital estate was just and reasonable, and that its order that each party pay its own attorney fees was not an abuse of discretion. View "Childers v. Childers" on Justia Law

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M.H.C. (child) was born in September of 2013. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) placed the child in protective custody on November 5, 2013. In the initial petition filed on November 18, 2013, the State declared the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) were applicable. On November 21, 2013, the Cherokee Nation appeared at the initial appearance, and the natural mother informed the court that she had a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood but was not currently a tribal member. Thereafter, the Cherokee Nation received official notice from the State that it planned to adjudicate the child as deprived. The Cherokee Nation sent DHS a response notifying DHS that the child was eligible for enrollment in the tribe and enclosing a tribal-enrollment application for DHS to complete. After the Cherokee Nation's initial attempt to have DHS complete the enrollment application, the Cherokee Nation sent DHS three additional enrollment applications. The district court ruled the ICWA inapplicable because the mother was not a registered tribal member, the child was not a member either. The natural mother was also told if ICWA applied, the child would likely have to leave foster mother's care because foster mother was a non-ICWA compliant placement. No party informed the natural mother of ICWA's benefits and protections. The natural mother declined to enroll at the time. The district court subsequently found the State broke confidentiality by allowing the Cherokee Nation to attend a family team meeting in a non-ICWA case. The district court granted the Cherokee Nation's motion to transfer the case to tribal court, finding the State failed to provide clear-and-convincing evidence of good cause to deny the transfer. The State and foster mother (together Appellants) appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the appeal for disposition. Neither DHS, nor the natural mother, nor the child through her attorney objected to the transfer to tribal court jurisdiction. Only the State and the foster mother objected. After review, the Supreme Court found that the district court did not err in finding ICWA applicable upon the natural mother's enrollment in the Cherokee Nation. ICWA applied to the proceedings prospectively from the date the record supports its application. Appellants failed to present clear-and-convincing evidence of "good cause" for the case to remain with the district court. Because the district court did not err in granting the motion to transfer to tribal court, the Court affirmed the order granting the motion to transfer. View "In the Matter of M.H.C." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jackie Watkins ("Watkins"), in her capacity as guardian of her adult daughter, Jane Doe, sought damages against defendants, Central State Griffin Memorial Hospital ("Griffin"), Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services ("ODMHSAS") and Dr. Asma Mudassir, in her official capacity as a resident physician and individually. Plaintiff's allegations against defendants all sounded in tort. Doe was admitted to Griffin at 4:00 a.m. on March 19, 2011, for treatment of suicidal thoughts. At the time of admission, she was nineteen years old, five months pregnant and lived at home with her mother. Later that day, Doe told Nicholas Schiavo, R.N. she was having abdominal pain and was concerned she was having contractions. Schiavo took Doe into an exam room with no other witness present to check her for bleeding. He remained present in the room and watched while Doe removed her clothing from the waist down. Schiavo did not provide Ms. Doe with a sheet, drape or a gown. He then put on a glove, and conducted a pelvic exam while she was undressed on the exam table. No female staff was present. They were alone in the exam room for nine minutes. Sometime later, Schiavo asked Doe if she was still involved in a relationship with the father or interested in dating other people. He also offered to perform another pelvic exam when she felt better. Doe filed a complaint with Griffin prior to her March 21, 2011, discharge, claiming she felt violated by Schiavo conducting a "pelvic exam with no doctor or female present then joked and asked if [Doe] wasn't with the father was [she] looking to see other people and touched [her] shoulder". It was undisputed that Watkins knew about the specific concerns raised in the complaint submitted to Griffin. Watkins followed up with Griffin about the status of this complaint. She was told a formal investigation of the incident was being conducted. Unsatisfied with the results of the investigation, Watkins filed suit. Griffin and ODMHSAS were state institutions and argued claims against these defendants were subject to the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act ("GTCA"). The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this matter to address two issues: (1) whether the limitations period in the GTCA tolled when state employees allegedly withheld facts critical to the analysis of potential negligence claims; and (2) whether the record contained disputed facts material to this analysis? The Supreme Court answered both questions in the affirmative, holding that the resolution of these issues contained questions for the trier of fact, making summary adjudication improper. View "Watkins v. Central State Griffin Memorial Hospital" on Justia Law