Beard v. Viene, No. 77023

CourtSupreme Court of Oklahoma
Writing for the CourtPlaintiffs brought a tort action to recover damages for injuries sustained during an automobile collision in the State of Oklahoma. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, James Ellison; OPALA; SIMMS
Citation826 P.2d 990
PartiesJo Anne BEARD and Bradley C. Brockman, Plaintiffs, v. Donna Marie VIENE and the City of Kansas City, Missouri, Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. 77023
Decision Date25 February 1992

Page 990

826 P.2d 990
1992 OK 28
Jo Anne BEARD and Bradley C. Brockman, Plaintiffs,
v.
Donna Marie VIENE and the City of Kansas City, Missouri, Defendants.
No. 77023.
Supreme Court of Oklahoma.
Feb. 25, 1992.

Page 991

Certified question from a federal court.

Plaintiffs brought a tort action to recover damages for injuries sustained during an automobile collision in the State of Oklahoma. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, James Ellison, Judge, certified for this court's answer a question of first impression.

CERTIFIED QUESTION ANSWERED.

John H. Tucker, William S. Leach, Rhodes, Hieronymus, Jones, Tucker & Gable, Tulsa, and Michael R. Conner, Stanley C. Fickle, and Arend J. Abel, Barnes & Thornburg, Indianapolis, Ind., for plaintiffs.

W. Michael Hill, Melvin C. Weiman, and Edward J. Main, Tulsa, for defendants.

OPALA, Chief Justice.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma certified for this court's answer the following question posed pursuant to the Uniform Certification of Questions of Law Act, 20 O.S.1981 §§ 1601 et seq.: Whether, as a matter of interstate comity, the State of Oklahoma will recognize and enforce a limitation on the tort liability of a municipality of a sister state pursuant to the law of that sister state, when the limitation on tort liability to be recognized and enforced is identical in amount to the limitation of tort liability for Oklahoma municipalities imposed under Oklahoma law?

As qualified by our analysis below, we answer in the affirmative and hold that, under the principle of comity, Oklahoma will recognize a limitation on the municipal tort liability of a sister state.

ANATOMY OF FEDERAL LITIGATION

The plaintiffs, Jo Anne Beard and Bradley C. Brockman [Beard and Brockman], are citizens and residents of the State of Illinois. The defendant, the City of Kansas City, Missouri [Kansas City], is a municipal corporation, organized and existing under the laws of the State of Missouri. And the defendant, Donna Marie Viene [Viene], was an employee of Kansas City through its Parks and Recreation Department. While in a vehicle owned by Beard and operated by Brockman on March 5, 1989, Beard and Brockman were injured in an automobile collision with Viene who, in the course of her employment, was driving a vehicle owned by Kansas City. The collision occurred on the Will Rogers Turnpike in Ottawa County, Oklahoma, near mile marker 328.4, approximately 15.4 miles east of the City of Miami, Oklahoma. Beard and Brockman commenced separate actions in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, which were later transferred to the Northern District of Oklahoma and consolidated. Kansas City sought a "partial summary judgment" asserting that (1) as shown by Mo.Rev.Stat.

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§ 537.600, 1 the State of Missouri adheres to the doctrine of governmental tort immunity; (2) by the terms of Mo.Rev.Stat. § 537.600(1), the immunity of the political subdivisions of the State of Missouri is waived, except to the extent provided for in Mo.Rev.Stat. § 537.610, 2 which limits recovery for tort liability arising out of a single transaction involving the negligent operation of a motor vehicle by an employee in the course of their employment, to the statutory maximum of $100,000.00 per person; (3) Oklahoma's Governmental Tort Claims Act 3 contains a similar limitation on the

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tort liability of its political subdivisions; and (4) because the State of Oklahoma recognizes a limitation on municipal tort liability and inasmuch as Kansas City is a defendant in an adjudicative proceeding in the State of Oklahoma, the principle of comity dictates that Oklahoma recognize the limitation

on the municipal tort liability of Kansas City by precluding recovery in excess of Missouri's statutory maximum.

ANALYSIS, DISCUSSION AND ANSWER

At the outset, we encounter certain semantical difficulties in the language of the certified question. 4 First, the statutory limitations on municipal tort liability in Oklahoma and Missouri are not identical. Title 51 O.S.Supp.1988 § 154(A)(1) establishes a $25,000.00 cap on the recoverability by any one person for property damage arising out of a single transaction. 5 In addition, 51 O.S.Supp.1988 § 154(A)(2) establishes a $100,000.00 cap on the recoverability by any one person for bodily injuries arising out of a single transaction. 6 These two provisions operate to provide a maximum recoverable tort liability of $125,000.00 by any one person. This is in contradistinction to the maximum recoverable tort liability (for property and bodily damage) of $100,000.00 under the applicable Missouri statutes. 7

Second, in the context in which they are used, the terms "recognize" and "enforce" appear ambiguous. At one level of discourse, the term "recognize" assumes the existence of a dispositive rule of law that is both valid and applicable. At the other level, the term "recognize" denotes not merely an assumption that there exists a dispositive rule of law, but an inquiry into whether a normative rule of law in fact exists and is applicable to a particular dispute, which in this instance would necessitate a substantial examination into the content of Missouri law, needlessly embroiling this court in the merits of the parties' action. 8 Against this latter interpretation, we narrowly construe the term "recognize" to assume, without deciding, the dispositive character of the limitation on the municipal tort liability of Kansas City in the State of Missouri. 9

As a juristic concept, enforcement is an exercise of power concomitant with sovereignty. But the term "enforce" also implies that a foreign rule of law is capable of being enforced in the courts of a second, distinct sovereign power. While this statement merely recognizes the well-settled rule that the courts of a sovereign state may enforce the laws of another sovereign

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state, 10 such a rule is inapplicable as an analytical foundation for an answer to the posited question. Rather, the conceptual predicate is one of respecting the "limitations on ... [Missouri's] statutory waiver of its immunity from suit." 11 In the courts of Oklahoma, this respect is afforded and applied solely, if at all, as a matter of comity. The characterization of applying a limitation on the municipal tort liability of a sister state under principles of comity as "enforcement" is simply inapposite.

The question certified for our answer presents a matter of relatively recent development in American jurisprudence. 12 Where nearly every state has to some extent waived the traditional doctrine of sovereign immunity in its own courts to permit recovery for governmental torts, the "privilege of immunity" afforded in the courts of sister states has been brought to forefront, 13 implicating in the process the very fundaments of "Our Federalism." Ultimately, the resolution of this question reposes in the interstices of the common-law principle of comity, contemporary approaches to conflict-of-laws analysis, and the full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution. 14 But absent a legislative mandate from Congress or definable guidelines from the United States Supreme Court, courts have been left the task of establishing parameters for such questions through the jurisprudence in the respective states.

As a matter of decisional law, 15 Oklahoma subscribes to the principle of comity, where comity seeks "to reconcile the territoriality (sovereignty) of states with the need for consideration of foreign law in appropriate cases." 16 But that Oklahoma subscribes to the principle of comity is not

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dispositive as to its application in all instances; i.e., that comity is the principle with which to resolve certain multistate situations is not the end, but the beginning of the analytical process. Accordingly, our determination to apply the laws of Missouri and to extend the benefits of that state's immunity in the courts of Oklahoma must depend on a careful balancing of multiple factors. Under this formulation, § 145 of the Restatement of Conflict of Laws provides the guiding rule. 17

"[W]ith respect to an issue in tort," this section, according to its express language, is an effectuating provision, designed to attain the underlying choice-of-law principles stated in § 6 of the Restatement. 18 Generally characterized as the "most significant relationship" test, § 145 requires a court to weigh the relative contacts in order to determine the applicable substantive law in a rational fashion. 19 Consistently with this approach, we must evaluate not only the four listed factors, but also, other more dispositive factors in determining the "most significant contacts."

The first two factors of § 145, place of injury and place of conduct causing injury,

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both point to Oklahoma law, since both of these elements occurred in Oklahoma. In addition, the last factor, place where parties' relationship is centered, is wholly irrelevant to the present inquiry, leaving the third factor, nationality of the parties, for our analysis. 20

Admitting the relevance of § 145(c), we can conceive of no greater "significant contact" than where a state or its political subdivision is a party defendant. Moreover, recognizing that the Restatement's textually demonstrable criteria are not the exclusive yardstick for assessment of all contacts, we note that certain quanta of significance must also attach to a governmental employee engaged in a governmental mission in the furtherance of a governmental purpose. These conjoined contacts, although not dispositive, are substantial factors in the evaluation matrix.

As earlier mentioned, § 145 is an effectuating provision. While the stated principles of § 6 of the Restatement are the target of § 145, they also express readily identifiable criteria for our evaluation. As the comments to § 6 indicate, the "needs of...

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13 practice notes
  • State ex rel. Hunter v. Johnson & Johnson, 118474
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • 9 d2 Novembro d2 2021
    ...but if the hurt is received by logs thrown at the person then a trespass vi et armis is proper). In Beard v. Viene, 1992 OK 28, n. 36, 826 P.2d 990, 997, we observed: "From its earliest beginnings, one of the primary objectives of the common law has been to redress civil wrongs," and we not......
  • Morrison v. Budget Rent A Car Systems, Inc.
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • 28 d1 Abril d1 1997
    ...comity (see, Clement v. State, 524 N.E.2d 36 [Ind.]; University of Iowa Press v. Urrea, 211 Ga.App. 564, 440 S.E.2d 203; Beard v. Viene, 826 P.2d 990; Schoeberlein v. Purdue University, 129 Ill.2d 372, 135 Ill.Dec. 787, 544 N.E.2d All of these themes support our conclusion. Beyond that, and......
  • State ex rel. Hunter v. Johnson & Johnson, 118,474
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • 9 d2 Novembro d2 2021
    ...but if the hurt is received by logs thrown at the person then a trespass vi et armis is proper). In Beard v. Viene , 1992 OK 28, n. 36, 826 P.2d 990, 997, we observed: "From its earliest beginnings, one of the primary objectives of the common law has been to redress civil wrongs," and we no......
  • Franchini v. Investor's Bus. Daily, Inc., Docket: Fed-20-306
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • 10 d4 Fevereiro d4 2022
    ...404, 432 S.E.2d 74, 83 (1993) (stating that the court "retains the power to reformulate questions certified to it"); Beard v. Viene , 826 P.2d 990, 993 n.4 (Okla. 1992) (noting the "generally prevailing rule" that the state court is authorized to restate the certified question); see also Me......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
13 cases
  • State ex rel. Hunter v. Johnson & Johnson, 118474
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • 9 d2 Novembro d2 2021
    ...but if the hurt is received by logs thrown at the person then a trespass vi et armis is proper). In Beard v. Viene, 1992 OK 28, n. 36, 826 P.2d 990, 997, we observed: "From its earliest beginnings, one of the primary objectives of the common law has been to redress civil wrongs," ......
  • Morrison v. Budget Rent A Car Systems, Inc.
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • 28 d1 Abril d1 1997
    ...comity (see, Clement v. State, 524 N.E.2d 36 [Ind.]; University of Iowa Press v. Urrea, 211 Ga.App. 564, 440 S.E.2d 203; Beard v. Viene, 826 P.2d 990; Schoeberlein v. Purdue University, 129 Ill.2d 372, 135 Ill.Dec. 787, 544 N.E.2d All of these themes support our conclusion. Beyond that, and......
  • State ex rel. Hunter v. Johnson & Johnson, 118,474
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • 9 d2 Novembro d2 2021
    ...but if the hurt is received by logs thrown at the person then a trespass vi et armis is proper). In Beard v. Viene , 1992 OK 28, n. 36, 826 P.2d 990, 997, we observed: "From its earliest beginnings, one of the primary objectives of the common law has been to redress civil wrongs,"......
  • Franchini v. Investor's Bus. Daily, Inc., Docket: Fed-20-306
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • 10 d4 Fevereiro d4 2022
    ...432 S.E.2d 74, 83 (1993) (stating that the court "retains the power to reformulate questions certified to it"); Beard v. Viene , 826 P.2d 990, 993 n.4 (Okla. 1992) (noting the "generally prevailing rule" that the state court is authorized to restate the certified questio......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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