381 P.3d 736 (Okla. 2016), 114563, Lee v. Bueno

Docket Nº:114563
Citation:381 P.3d 736, 2016 OK 97
Opinion Judge:COMBS, V.C.J.:
Party Name:JHONHENRI JABRILLE LEE, Plaintiff/Petitioner, v. DIANA CATALINA SALGADO BUENO, Defendant/Respondent
Attorney:Rick W. Bisher, Ryan, Bisher, Ryan & Simons, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff/Petitioner. Rodney D. Stewart and Joshua I. Peach, Stewart Law Firm, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Defendant/Respondent. Sarah A. Greenwalt, Assistant Solicitor General, and Mithun S. Mansinghani, Deputy Solicitor ...
Judge Panel:COMBS, V.C.J. CONCUR: REIF, C.J., COMBS, V.C.J., WINCHESTER, EDMONDSON, and TAYLOR, JJ. CONCUR SPECIALLY: KAUGER, J. (by separate writing) CONCUR IN PART; DISSENT IN PART: GURICH, J. DISSENT: WATT and COLBERT, JJ. CONCUR: REIF, C.J., COMBS, V.C.J., WINCHESTER, EDMONDSON, and TAYLOR, JJ. CONCUR IN...
Case Date:September 20, 2016
Court:Supreme Court of Oklahoma
SUMMARY

The primary question before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in this case was the constitutionality of 12 O.S. 2011 section 3009.1, limiting the admissibility of evidence of medical costs in personal injury actions. In 2014, plaintiff-petitioner Jhonhenri Lee was involved in a motor vehicle collision with defendant-respondent Diana Catalina Bueno. Lee was driving a vehicle that was struck from behind... (see full summary)

 
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Page 736

381 P.3d 736 (Okla. 2016)

2016 OK 97

JHONHENRI JABRILLE LEE, Plaintiff/Petitioner,

v.

DIANA CATALINA SALGADO BUENO, Defendant/Respondent

No. 114563

Supreme Court of Oklahoma

September 20, 2016

Page 737

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Editorial Note:

This opinion is not been released for publication in the permanent reporters. It is subject to revision or withdrawal.

PETITION FOR CERTIORARI TO REVIEW CERTIFIED INTERLOCUTORY ORDER PREVIOUSLY GRANTED; ORDER OF THE TRIAL COURT AFFIRMED.

SYLLABUS

[¶0] Plaintiff/Petitioner Jhonhenri Jabrille Lee filed suit against Defendant/Respondent Diana Catalina Salgado Bueno after the two were involved in a motor vehicle collision. Petitioner moved for a declaratory judgment holding 12 O.S. 2011 § 3009.1, a statute limiting the admissibility of certain types of evidence, was unconstitutional. The trial court denied Petitioner's motion, but certified its order for interlocutory review. This Court granted certiorari to examine the matter.

Rick W. Bisher, Ryan, Bisher, Ryan & Simons, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff/Petitioner.

Rodney D. Stewart and Joshua I. Peach, Stewart Law Firm, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Defendant/Respondent.

Sarah A. Greenwalt, Assistant Solicitor General, and Mithun S. Mansinghani, Deputy Solicitor General, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for the State of Oklahoma.

Rex Travis and Paul Kouri, Travis Law Office, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Amicus Curiae Oklahoma Association for Justice.

Erin A. Renegar and Caroline J. Lewis, Wiggins, Sewell & Ogletree, for Amicus Curiae Oklahoma Association of Defense Counsel.

COMBS, V.C.J. CONCUR: REIF, C.J., COMBS, V.C.J., WINCHESTER, EDMONDSON, and TAYLOR, JJ. CONCUR SPECIALLY: KAUGER, J. (by separate writing) CONCUR IN PART; DISSENT IN PART: GURICH, J. DISSENT: WATT and COLBERT, JJ.

OPINION

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CERTIORARI TO REVIEW CERTIFIED INTERLOCUTORY ORDER

COMBS, V.C.J.:

[¶1] The primary question before this Court is the constitutionality of 12 O.S. 2011 § 3009.1, a section of the Oklahoma Evidence Code limiting the admissibility of evidence of medical costs in personal injury actions. Plaintiff/Petitioner asserts, broadly, that 12 O.S. 2011 § 3009.1: 1) is an unconstitutional special law prohibited by Okla. Const. art. 5, § 46; 2) denies personal injury plaintiffs access to the courts and their right to a trial by jury under Okla. Const. art. 2, § § 6 & 19; 3) violates the due process rights of personal injury plaintiffs; 4) violates the separation of powers limitations found in Okla. Const. art. 4, § 1 by attempting to control the rules of evidence; and 5) abolishes the collateral source rule for insured victims of torts. This Court determines Plaintiff/Petitioner has not met the burden required to demonstrate the unconstitutionality of 12 O.S. 2011 § 3009.1, and the statute controls over the collateral source rule to the extent the two might conflict.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

[¶2] On or about October 9, 2014, Plaintiff/Petitioner Jhonhenri Jabrille Lee (Lee) was involved in a motor vehicle collision with Defendant/Respondent Diana Catalina Salgado Bueno (Bueno). Lee was driving a vehicle that was struck from behind by a vehicle driven by Bueno at the intersection of N.W. Expressway and Blackwelder in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The collision pushed Lee's vehicle into the vehicle in front of him. After the collision, Lee sought medical treatment for injuries he sustained. At the time of the collision, Lee was insured under a policy with Blue Cross Blue Shield. Lee filed suit against Bueno on July 14, 2015, alleging he sustained injuries for which he incurred property damage, medical expenses, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and was prevented from transacting business, as a result of Bueno's actions and non-actions. Lee claimed damages in excess of $25,000.

[¶3] On September 15, 2015, prior to the commencement of discovery, Lee filed a Motion for Declaratory Relief Regarding the Constitutionality of 12 O.S. 2011 § 3009.1. In his motion, Lee asserted he incurred approximately $10,154 in medical expenses for treatment of injuries caused by Bueno's alleged negligence. Lee further asserted expenses totaling $8,112.81 were submitted to his insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield, who paid $2,845.11. Lee argued in his motion that 12 O.S. 2011 § 3009.1 is: 1) unconstitutional as a special law in violation of Okla. Const. art. 5, § 46; 2) unconstitutional because it violates his right to due process and a trial by jury; and 3) because it is unconstitutional, the collateral source rule should apply.

[¶4] Bueno filed a Response and Objection to Plaintiff's Motion for Declaratory Relief on October 16, 2015. Bueno challenged both the merits of Lee's constitutionality claims and also asserted that Lee's motion was premature. The trial court denied Lee's request for declaratory relief in a ruling memorialized on October 29, 2015, and granted Lee's oral request for certification of its order for immediate appeal, over Bueno's objection. The trial court filed its certification order on December 7, 2015.

[¶5] Lee filed a Petition for Certiorari Certified Interlocutory Order on December 29, 2015. This Court granted Lee's petition on February 16, 2016, and the cause was assigned to this office. On February 18, 2016, the Attorney General gave notice of his intent to exercise his right to be heard on the constitutional issues presented. The Attorney General filed his brief on April 4, 2016. This Court also granted the requests of the Oklahoma Association for Justice and the Oklahoma Association of Defense Counsel to file briefs as Amici Curiae. Their briefs were filed on March 28, 2016, and April 4, 2016, respectively.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶6] At issue in this cause is the constitutionality and application of 12 O.S. 2011 § 3009.1. Issues of a statute's constitutional validity, construction, and application are questions of law subject to this Court's de novo review. Butler v. Jones ex rel. State ex rel. Okla. Dep't of Corr., 2013 OK 105, ¶ 5, 321 P.3d 161; Gilbert v. Sec. Fin. Corp. of Okla., Inc., 2006 OK 58, ¶ 2, 152 P.3d 165;

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Samman v. Multiple Injury Trust Fund, 2001 OK 71, ¶ 8, 33 P.3d 302. In conducting a de novo review of a trial court's legal rulings, this Court possesses plenary, independent, and non-deferential authority to examine the issues presented. Crownover v. Keel, 2015 OK 35, ¶ 12, 357 P.3d 470; Sheffer v. Carolina Forge Co., L.L.C., 2013 OK 48, ¶ 10, 306 P.3d 544; Martin v. Aramark Servs., Inc., 2004 OK 38, ¶ 4, 92 P.3d 96.

[¶7] In considering the constitutionality of a statute, courts are guided by well-established principles and a heavy burden is cast on those challenging a legislative enactment to show its unconstitutionality. Douglas v. Cox Ret. Properties, Inc., 2013 OK 37, ¶ 3, 302 P.3d 789; Thomas v. Henry, 2011 OK 53, ¶ 8, 260 P.3d 1251. Every presumption is to be indulged in favor of a statute's constitutionality. Douglas, 2013 OK 37, ¶ 3, 302 P.3d 789; Thomas, 2011 OK 53, ¶ 8, 260 P.3d 1251; Fent v. Okla. Capitol Improvement Auth., 1999 OK 64, ¶ 3, 984 P.2d 200. A legislative act is presumed to be constitutional and will be upheld unless it is clearly, palpably and plainly inconsistent with the Constitution. Rural Water Sewer and Solid Waste Mgmt. v. City of Guthrie, 2010 OK 51, ¶ 15, 253 P.3d 38; Kimery v. Public Serv. Co. of Oklahoma, 1980 OK 187, ¶ 6, 622 P.2d 1066; Matter of Daniel, Deborah and Leslie H., 1979 OK 33, ¶ 10, 591 P.2d 1175. If two possible interpretations of a statute are possible, only one of which would render it unconstitutional, a court is bound to give the statute an interpretation which will render it constitutional, unless constitutional infirmity is shown beyond a reasonable doubt. Fent, 1999 OK 64, ¶ 3; Gilbert Cent. Corp. v. State, 1986 OK 6, ¶ 7, 716 P.2d 654; Okla. State Election Bd. v. Coats, 1980 OK 65, ¶ 12, 610 P.2d 776.

[¶8] The nature of this Court's inquiry is limited to constitutional validity, not policy. It is not the place of this Court, or any court, to concern itself with a statute's propriety, desirability, wisdom, or its practicality as a working proposition. Douglas, 2013 OK 37, ¶ 3, 302 P.3d 789; In re Assessments for Year 2005 of Certain Real Property Owned by Askins Properties, L.L.C., 2007 OK 25, ¶ 12, 161 P.3d 303; Fent, 1999 OK 64, ¶ 4. A court's function, when the constitutionality of a statute is put at issue, is limited to a determination of the validity or invalidity of the legislative provision and a court's function extends no farther in our system of government. Douglas, 2013 OK 37, ¶ 3, 302 P.3d 789; Edmondson v. Pearce, 2004 OK 23, ¶ 17, 91 P.3d 605; Fent, 1999 OK 64, ¶ 4.

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