Justia Health Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oklahoma Supreme Court
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The plaintiffs/appellees, doctors, parents, and the Oklahoma State Medical Association, (collectively, doctors) brought a declaratory judgment action against the State of Oklahoma and the Governor seeking: (1) a declaration that Senate Bill 658 (codified as 70 O.S. Supp. 2021 Ch. 15, §§1210-189 and 190), which restricted school districts of local control of public schools from making decisions about mask wearing to school in order to protect all students from contracting or spreading a highly contagious and infectious disease, only when the Governor declared a state of emergency was unconstitutional; and (2) an injunction enjoining the alleged unconstitutional legislation from being enforced. The trial court granted a temporary injunction, enjoining the State from enforcing portions of Senate Bill 658. The State and Governor appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that 70 O.S. Supp. 2021 §§1210-189 and 190, were an unconstitutional, impermissible delegation of Legislative authority. However, because the objectionable provision was stricken, the remainder of the statutes could be upheld. View "Ritter v. Oklahoma" 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

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An opioid manufacturer appealed a $465 million verdict following a bench trial in a public nuisance lawsuit. The district court held the opioid manufacturer liable under Oklahoma's public nuisance statute for its prescription opioid marketing campaign. The State of Oklahoma counter-appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the appeal and held that the opioid manufacturer's actions did not create a public nuisance. The district court erred in extending the public nuisance statute to the manufacturing, marketing, and selling of prescription opioids. View "Oklahoma ex rel. Attorney General of Oklahoma v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law

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Voters in the City of Enid presented a recall petition to City of Enid officials. The petition sought to recall plaintiff-appellant, City Commissioner Ben Ezzell for his support of a city wide mask mandate to combat the COVID epidemic. Ezzell objected to the recall petition, alleging that because the recall petition did not comply with the requirements of 34 O.S. 2011 section 3 and 34 O.S. Supp. 2015 section 6, which related to signature collection, the recall petition was insufficient. After a hearing, the trial court denied Ezzell's protest and determined that the petition was sufficient under the City Charter of Enid recall process. Ezzell appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held there was no conflict between the City Charter recall process, and the additional state requirements of 34 O.S. 2011 sec. 3 and 34 O.S. Supp. 2015 sec. 6, the state statutes governed, but were not properly followed. The recall petition was therefore insufficient on its face pursuant to Clapsaddle v. Blevins, 66 P.3d 352, and its predecessors. View "Ezzell v. Lack" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a negligence action based upon the alleged acts of defendants when one of the plaintiffs was staying in a hospital after surgery and received a burn from spilled hot water. The district granted defendants' motion to strike plaintiffs' witness list and defendants' motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs appealed and the Court of Civil Appeals. After its review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the trial court erred in granting summary judgment striking the list of trial witnesses when plaintiffs were not provided time to respond to the motion to strike as granted by District Court Rule 4. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Shawreb v. SSM Health Care of Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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The estate of an individual that died as a result of an injury incurred while being a patient of a nursing home sued the nursing home facility in a wrongful death action. The district court entered default judgment for Plaintiff after Defendant failed to file a response or appear in court multiple times. Over 200 days later, Defendant filed a petition to vacate default judgment and the petition was granted. Plaintiff appealed the ruling, and the Court of Civil Appeals (COCA), affirmed the trial court's decision. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded it was "patently clear" Defendant's arguments for the Petition to Vacate Judgment as to liability was without merit. "[The Nursing Home] Meeker was given a multitude of opportunities to respond to the litigation, but failed to respond to a single instance for 280 days after the initial service of process. Meeker failed to respond to any service of process or appear at any hearing, and did not have an argument with merit to support the inability to respond to the litigation." Accordingly the Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals, reversed the trial court's judgment granting the Petition To Vacate Judgment as to liability, and remanded this matter for a trial on damages. View "Williams v. Meeker North Dawson Nursing, LLC" on Justia Law

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Russell Foutch and Randall Barrios died while incarcerated in Oklahoma jails: Barrios by his own hand; Foutch from complications related to pneumonia. Their estates sued the respective jails, one sheriff, and various employees and healthcare contractors of those jails. Their claims included: (1) federal civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the federal constitution; (2) negligence and wrongful death claims; (3) negligent conduct, training, hiring, and supervision claims; and (4) tort claims alleging violations of rights guaranteed by Sections 7 and 9 of Article II of the Oklahoma Constitution. Two federal courts certified questions of law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court: (1) the Governmental Tort Claims Act renders the State immune from any tort suit arising out of the "[p]rovision, equipping, operation or maintenance of any prison, jail or correctional facility." Do Sections 7 and 9 of Article II of the Oklahoma Constitution nonetheless allow an inmate to bring a tort claim for denial of medical care? and (2) if so, is the private cause of action to be recognized retrospectively? Responding required the Court to determine whether to extend the holding in Bosh v. Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority (305 P.3d 994) to include tort claims brought by inmates alleging violations of their rights to due process and to be free from cruel or unusual punishments. The Oklahoma Legislature responded to Bosh by amending the Governmental Tort Claims Act ("GTCA"), 51 O.S. 151 et seq., to clarify that the State's immunity from suit extended even to so-called "constitutional" torts. The Court, therefore, answered the first certified question "no," and did not reach the second question. View "Barrios v. Haskell County Public Facilities Authority" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Elizabeth Cates was a former patient of defendant-appellee Integris Health, Inc.’s medical facility and claimed defendant wrongfully billed her, and others like her, for services. She filed this action in state court, alleging state-law claims for breach of contract, violation of the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act, and deceit. Defendant successfully moved to dismiss these claims on the ground that they were expressly preempted by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act. On appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed and held that plaintiff’s claims were not preempted. The case was returned to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Cates v. Integris Health, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2012, petitioners Saint Francis Hospital, Inc., Neurological Surgery, Inc., and Douglas Koontz, M.D. performed decompressive laminectomies of respondent Johnson John’s spine at the C2-3, C3-4, C4-5, C5-6 and C6-7 regions. After the operation, respondent allegedly became partially paralyzed, suffered constant pain, was hospitalized for four months and submitted to additional medical treatment. Respondent filed suit against petitioners in 2016, alleging negligence, gross negligence, medical malpractice and sought punitive damages for petitioners’ failure to render reasonable medical care, breach of the duty of care owed and respondent’s resulting injuries. In commencing the action, respondent failed to attach an affidavit of merit to the Petition or otherwise comply with Okla. Stat. tit. 12, section 19.1. In lieu of answer, petitioners filed their respective motions to dismiss and asserted, among other things, respondent’s failure to include the statutorily required affidavit of merit or, in the alternative, obtain a statutorily recognized exception. Respondent averred that the statutory directive unconstitutionally restrained a litigant's right to access the courts and was an unconstitutional special law. The district court provided notice to the Attorney General's office concerning the challenged statute. As intervenor, the Attorney General essentially urged the district court to enforce the affidavit requirements. The district court ultimately overruled petitioners’ motions to dismiss, and rejected respondent’s special law challenge. The court determined that section 19.1 unconstitutionally imposed a substantial and impermissible impediment to access to the courts, and this barrier was unconstitutional regardless of the financial worth of a litigant and was not cured by exercising the indigent from this burden. The Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed with the district court’s ruling, and found section 19.1 was an impermissible barrier to court access and an unconstitutional special law. Section 19.1 was therefore stricken. View "John v. St. Francis Hospital" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Elizabeth Cates filed on her behalf and a putative class asserting claims against the defendant-appellee INTEGRIS Health, Inc. for breach of contract, violation of the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act, deceit, specific performance, and punitive damages. INTEGRIS successfully moved to dismiss the claims based on the ground that they are all preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Cates appealed. Because the trial court in this matter did not take into consideration the federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Salzer v. SSM Health Care of Oklahoma Inc., 762 F.3d 1130 (10th Cir. 2014), which was factually similar to the facts of this case and found that the plaintiff’s claims were not preempted, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed and remanded the trial court in this matter for reconsideration in light of Salzer. View "Cates v. Integris Health, Inc." on Justia Law