Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oklahoma Supreme Court
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In 2010, plaintiff-appellant James Payne pled nolo contendere to stalking in Case No. CF-2010-27 in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma. He received a five-year deferment with special rules and conditions of probation. He was required to have no contact with the stalking victim. In addition, Payne pled guilty to violating a protective order in many other cases filed in Pittsburg County related to the same victim and was sentenced to six months in the county jail. The sentences were to run concurrently. He received extra credits and was released from custody on May 5, 2010. A month later, on June 10, 2010, the district attorney filed a motion to accelerate the deferred judgment for probation violations, alleging Payne had been contacting and harassing the victim. The district court issued a felony warrant and Payne was arrested and booked into jail by the Pittsburg County Sheriff's Office on June 11, 2010. Payne did not post bail and remained in the county jail. The district court ultimately executed a minute order finding Payne guilty of violating the terms of his deferred sentence, for which he received a five year sentence: four suspended and one year to serve in the Department of Corrections. Payne received credit for time served in the county jail since his June 10 arrest. The Judgment and Sentence ordered Payne into DOC custody and directed the Pittsburg Sheriff's office to transfer Payne to the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center to begin serving his time in DOC custody. The Sheriff's Office of Pittsburg County did not transfer Payne to the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center (LARC) until September 6, 2011, almost three months past the end of his sentence. Payne was released that same day without serving any of his time in DOC custody. Payne sue various Pittsburg county corrections and governmental officials, arguing his constitutional rights had been violated because he remained in custody beyond his sentence. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari on the remaining issue preserved for review, i.e., whether a private right of action under Article 2 Section 9 of the Oklahoma Constitution existed under the facts of this case. The Court held a private right of action existed at the time Payne was detained past his sentence, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Payne v. Kerns" on Justia Law

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After reviewing plaintiff's two Oklahoma constitutional challenges to House Bill 2684, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled restricting drug-induced abortions was unconstitutional. The 2014 measure outlawed “off-label” use of mifepristone, or RU-486, making Oklahoma the only state with such a restriction on the books. The Center for Reproductive Rights sued over the law in September 2014 and a state district court blocked it in November 2017. The state appealed the decision to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which upheld the decision after previously leaving it in place in 2016 to allow the lower-court litigation to proceed. In vacating its stay, the Oklahoma Court held: (1) decisions from the United States Supreme Court were binding on the Oklahoma Supreme Court Court and where the United States Supreme Court has spoken, the Oklahoma Court was bound by its pronouncements; and (2) the Legislature's requirement that physicians adhere to the Federal Drug Administration's (FDA) 2000 label protocol for medication-terminated pregnancies, rather than the newer, revised 2016 label protocol, placed a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman's choice and imposed an undue burden on the woman's rights pursuant to United States Supreme Court precedent as then existed. View "Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice v. Cline" on Justia Law

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to consider whether Appellant Kaye Beach sufficiently established that her "religiously motivated practice has been substantially burdened," because she was required to submit to a high-resolution facial photograph to renew her drivers license, despite her belief that doing so violated her religion. Appellant renewed her drivers license at least two to three times under the new system. Appellant stated she was first aware of changes to the system in 2004, when she was required to submit a fingerprint for a renewal. Appellant contended her sincerely held religious beliefs forbade her from participating in a global-numbering identification system, using the number of man, and eternally condemned her for participating in any such system. Appellant believed that the Department's system took measurements off facial points, from the biometric photo, to determine a number that is specific to her, for use with facial recognition technology. Appellant believed the resulting number was the "number of a man" referred to in Revelation 13:16-18 thus Appellant objects to the measurements of her body being used to identify her. Appellant states that the government intended to use the biometric photo to tie our bodies to our ability to buy and sell in order to permit or deny access to goods, services, places, and things needed to live. The Court of Civil Appeals held in her favor. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found that Appellant failed to produce any evidence from which one could reasonably conclude, or infer, that Department substantially burdened the free exercise of her articulated religious beliefs. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Civil Appeals and reinstated the trial court’s judgment. View "Beach v. Oklahoma Dept. of Pub. Safety" on Justia Law

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Drew Bowers (Ward) sustained a traumatic brain injury in 1981. As a result of the injury, he required 24-hour care. His mother, Patricia Bowers Edwards (Guardian) was appointed guardian of her son's person and property in 2004. As guardian, she was responsible for hiring approximately ten caretakers for Drew in his private residence. Two of the ten caretakers contracted to provide services for Drew were domestic workers, Deborah Sizemore and Brad Garrett. In 2013, Sizemore filed a "charge of discrimination" pursuant to the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act, with the Attorney General's Office of Civil Rights Enforcement, claiming that her hours were dramatically reduced when she told the guardian she suffered from narcolepsy. Sizemore also claimed that she was sexually harassed at work by a male co-worker. She identified co-worker Garrett as a supporting witness in her complaint. The Guardian terminated the employment of both Sizemore and Garrett when she received the complaint from the Attorney General. The Guardian admitted she discharged Sizemore and Garrett from employment because the complaint was "the straw that broke the camel's back." Guardian moved for summary judgment arguing that Drew was the actual employer and that under section 1301 of the Act, a natural person did not meet the definition of "employer." Guardian further argued that under section 1302(B) of the Act, the prohibition of discriminatory practices did not apply to " . . .employment in the domestic service of the employer." The trial court denied Guardian's motion for summary judgment and Guardian brought this original action asserting immunity under the Act. Finding that indeed, Guardian was immune from suit under the Act, and that the trial court erred by not dismissing this case, the Supreme Court remanded the matter for the trial court to vacate its judgment and dismiss the case. View "Edwards v. Andrews" on Justia Law

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Employee Chester Rouse filed a wrongful termination suit against the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) and Daniel S. Sullivan. The petition alleged GRDA and Mr. Sullivan terminated him in retaliation for filing an overtime complaint under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Rouse also alleged the termination of his employment for filing this complaint violated Oklahoma public policy protecting whistleblowers who make external reports of unlawful activity by their employers. The trial court dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, ruling: (1) sovereign immunity barred Rouse's claim based on the federal Fair Labor Standards Act; and (2) the Oklahoma Whistleblower Act provided employee's remedy for the alleged wrongful termination, not state tort law. Rouse appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court held that the trial court correctly ruled that Rouse failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and properly dismissed this suit. View "Rouse v. Grand River Dam Authority" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer alleging the employer violated both federal law and the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act (OADA) in terminating her employment. Specifically, she alleged her employer discriminated against her on the basis of her age and gender. Anticipating employer's defense that section 1350 of the OADA limited damages for discrimination claims, plaintiff alleged the damage limitations in the OADA were unconstitutional under Oklahoma's prohibition against special laws. Citing the lack of Oklahoma precedent on this issue, the district court certified the question of whether the damage provisions in section 1350 of the OADA are unconstitutional under Article V, sections 46 and 59 of the Oklahoma Constitution to the Supreme Court. Upon review, the high court held that the damage provisions in section 1350 were not unconstitutional. View "MacDonald v. Corporate Integris Health" on Justia Law

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Registered Voter Delilah Gentges sued the Oklahoma State Election Board in the district court of Tulsa County to prevent implementation of SB 692, commonly known as the Voter ID Act. Gentges alleged she had standing as a taxpayer and as a registered voter in Tulsa County. The State Election Board specially appeared in the district court of Tulsa County and asked the court to dismiss this suit. The State Election Board contended Gentges lacked standing and Tulsa County was not the proper venue for a suit against a State agency. The district court of Tulsa County rejected these challenges and the State Election Board asked the Supreme Court to assume original jurisdiction to prohibit the district court of Tulsa County from proceeding further. The Supreme Court granted partial relief by ordering the district court of Tulsa County to transfer the case to the district court of Oklahoma County. Gentges contended the Legislature violated the Oklahoma Constitution by submitting the Voter ID Act to a popular vote without first presenting it to the Governor for veto consideration. She also contended that requiring voters to present certain forms of identification in order to vote would "interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage." After review of the parties' summary judgment paperwork, the trial court ruled: (1) the Oklahoma Constitution does not require presentment of a legislative referendum to the Governor before the referendum is placed on the ballot for a vote; and (2) Gentges lacked standing. Gentges appealed. The Supreme Court concluded after its review that the trial court was correct in ruling the Voter ID Act was validly enacted, but reversed the trial court on the issue of Gentges' standing. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Gentges v. Oklahoma State Election Board" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma certified questions of Oklahoma Law to the Supreme Court: (1) does the Okla. Const. art. 2, section 30 provide a private cause of action for excessive force, notwithstanding the limitations of the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act?; (2) if such a right exists, is the cause of action recognized retrospectively? and (3) are the standards of municipal liability coterminous with a Federal section 1983 action or does the common law theory of respondeat superior apply to such action? The questions in this case arose from an altercation at the Cherokee County Detention Center (a facility operated by the Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority) whereby plaintiff Daniel Bosh was attacked while he was standing at the booking desk of the Detention Center with his hands secured in restraints behind his back. Video surveillance of the events captured images of one of the jailers, defendant Gordon Chronister, Jr., approaching the plaintiff and grabbing him behind his back. Plaintiff was seriously injured as a result of the altercation. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in state court against the Authority, the assistant jail administrator and the jailers who initiated the attack. He asserted federal Civil Rights claims against the individuals and state law claims against the Authority. The Authority removed the case to the United States District Court then filed a motion to dismiss the state tort claims based on exemptions from liability provided by Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act (the OGTCA). Upon review, the Supreme Court answered the questions: (1) the Okla. Const. art 2, section 30 provides a private cause of action for excessive force, notwithstanding the limitations of the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act; (2) the action is recognized retrospectively; and (3) the common law theory of respondeat superior applies to municipal liability under such an action. View "Bosh v. Cherokee County Bldg. Authority." on Justia Law

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Oklahoma Department of Corrections inmate Sonny Lauren Harmon brought an action against three employees of the John Lilley Correctional Center, Paul Cradduck, Warden Glynn Booher, and Alice Turner, following the seizure and alleged conversion of a gold wedding ring. The District Court of Oklahoma County entered summary judgment on behalf of each defendant. Harmon appealed the decision. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to review whether summary judgment was supported by the record. After reviewing the record, the Court found that the settled-law-of-the-case-doctrine precluded reconsideration of Harmon's compliance with administrative exhaustion requirements, and it was error to hold otherwise. In addition, the existence of a factual dispute mandated the Court's reversal of summary judgment in favor of defendant Paul Cradduck on Harmon's conversion claim. However, the Court concluded the district court properly awarded summary judgment to each of the defendants for any claim brought under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Further, any claims based on the purported tortious conduct of Booher and Turner were properly disposed of by the trial judge and COCA. View "Harmon v. Cradduck" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant, Mary Roshawn Jones was a full-time classified employee of Defendant-Appellee Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA), working at the L.E. Rader Center (Center). Plaintiff was bitten by a spider while at work. She sought medical treatment for the spider bite at the Center. A Center nurse informed Plaintiff she would have to seek a drug test in connection with its "Review of Job-Related Accidental Injury or Illness." The OJA alleged that they repeatedly tried to get Plaintiff to complete paperwork relating to her injury. The OJA also alleged that Plaintiff's delay in completing the paperwork resulted in the delay in requesting the drug test. Plaintiff alleged that the reason for the required drug test was a series of harassing and threatening calls to the Center by a former boyfriend. Plaintiff was ultimately discharged. She filed no administrative appeal from the discharge but filed a civil case, seeking compensatory and punitive damages and lost wages, or in the alternative, restoration to employment. The issue of first impression before the Supreme Court was whether the provisions of the Oklahoma Standards for Drug and Alcohol Testing Act (SWDATA) permitted a classified state employee to file an action in district court prior to the exhaustion of administrative remedies. Upon review, the Court held that SWDATA provides an independent cause of action which authorizes a classified state employee to file an action in the district court for a willful violation of the act without first exhausting the employee's administrative remedies.