Smith v. City of Stillwater & the Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs for Payne Cnty.

Decision Date20 May 2014
Docket NumberNo. 111971.,111971.
Citation328 P.3d 1192
PartiesRandy SMITH, as the natural father and next of kin of Kyle Smith, deceased, Petitioner/Appellant, v. The CITY OF STILLWATER and the Board of County Commissioners for Payne County, Defendants/Appellees.
CourtOklahoma Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

On Certiorari to the Court of Civil Appeals, Division I.

¶ 0 Petitioner/Appellant Randy Smith (Smith), the father of Kyle Smith (Decedent), brought action against the state and political subdivisions alleging tortious conduct on the part of law enforcement in pursuing Decedent, who was killed during police pursuit while operating a motorcycle. The trial court dismissed the Board of County Commissioners (County) on grounds of sovereign immunity, denied Smith's request to reconsider, and granted summary judgment in favor of the City of Stillwater (City) after determining its officers owed no legal duty to Decedent. Smith appealed. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. Both Smith and the County filed Petitions for Certiorari. The Court granted certiorari to address: 1) whether the County possesses immunity from suit for the actions taken by its law enforcement officers in pursuit of decedent; and 2) whether the City and County owed a legal duty to Decedent. This Court determines the answer to both questions is no.

CERTIORARI PREVIOUSLY GRANTED; OPINION OF THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS VACATED; JUDGMENT OF THE DISTRICT COURT AFFIRMED IN PART AND REVERSED IN PART; REMANDED WITH INSTRUCTIONS.

Woodrow K. Glass and Scott F. Brockman, Ward & Glass, L.L.P., Norman, Oklahoma, for Petitioner/Appellant Randy Smith.

John Edward Dorman, Stillwater, Oklahoma, for Defendant/Appellee City of Stillwater.

Chris J. Collins and Stephen L. Geries, Collins Zorn & Wagner, PC, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Defendant/Appellee Board of County Commissioners for Payne County.

COMBS, J.:

¶ 1 Decedent was allegedly engaged in drag racing while operating a motorcycle on the night of August 8, 2008. A police officer for the City of Stillwater attempted to stop Decedent. When Decedent failed to stop, several Payne County and City of Stillwater law enforcement officers pursued him. In the course of the pursuit, Decedent drove his motorcycle into the edge of a “T” intersection, resulting in a crash into a creek where he struck a tree and was killed.

I.Procedural History

¶ 2 Smith, as the natural father and next of kin of Decedent, filed a wrongful death action pursuant to 12 O.S. § 1054 on February 8, 2010, against the City, the County, and the State of Oklahoma.1 In his Petition, Smith asserted, among other things, that the defendants: 1) “maintained policies related to pursuits of individuals suspected of committing major and minor offenses”; 2) the defendants' law enforcement officers “negligently failed to follow standard and acceptable policy practices”; and 3) the defendants “negligently trained and supervised those individual law enforcement officers engaged in the pursuit of Kyle Smith on August 8, 2008.” Petition, Record on Accelerated Appeal, pp. 3–5.

¶ 3 The County filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on April 21, 2010, pursuant to 12 O.S. § 2012(B)(6). The County argued that it was immune from any liability pursuant to certain provisions of the Governmental Tort Claims Act (GTCA), namely those found at 51 O.S. Supp.2004 § 155(4)-(5)2 , which provides:

The state or a political subdivision shall not be liable if a loss or claim results from:

...

4. Adoption or enforcement of or failure to adopt or enforce a law, whether valid or invalid, including, but not limited to, any statute, charter provision, ordinance, resolution, rule, regulation or written policy;

5. Performance of or the failure to exercise or perform any act or service which is in the discretion of the state or political subdivision or its employees;

The trial court sustained the County's motion to dismiss on July 1, 2010, based upon the application of the immunity provisions of the GTCA.

¶ 4 Approximately one week after the trial court granted the County's motion to dismiss, this Court decided State ex rel. Oklahoma Dept. of Public Safety v. Gurich, 2010 OK 56, 238 P.3d 1. In Gurich, this Court examined the applicability of the immunity provisions of Section 155 of the GTCA to suits based on the actions of law enforcement officers engaged in police pursuits, and determined the State did not enjoy absolute immunity for the actions of its officers engaged in police pursuits. 2010 OK 56, ¶ 7, 238 P.3d 1. On August 9, 2010, after this Court decided Gurich, Smith filed a motion to reconsider, citing the Gurich decision. The trial court entered an order November 9, 2010, overruling Smith's motion and formally dismissing the County.

¶ 5 The City made a motion for summary judgment on August 31, 2012. In its Motion for Judgment and Brief in Support, the City argued that, much like the County, it was immune from liability pursuant to Section 155 of the GTCA. The City also asserted that its law enforcement officers owed no duty of care to Decedent because: 1) at common law officers did not owe a duty of care to a fleeing suspect; and 2) while this Court determined in Gurich that officers owe a duty of care to innocent bystanders when they are engaged in pursuit of a fleeing suspect, the Court was silent concerning a duty to the fleeing suspect.

¶ 6 In response, Smith argued that pursuant to Gurich, the City was not immune to suit based on the protections of 51 O.S. § 155. Smith also argued that the City did owe a duty of care to Decedent, created by the pursuit policies of the City's police department and by the language of 47 O.S. § 11–106. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the City on June 10, 2013, finding: 1) the City was not immune from tort liability for the manner in which emergency vehicles were operated, pursuant to Gurich; and 2) law enforcement officers owe no duty to protect fleeing suspects from their own actions, as the relief contemplated by Gurich was limited to bystanders. The trial court also declined to revisit its earlier ruling dismissing the County.

¶ 7 Smith appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals, Division I, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, holding that: 1) the trial court abused its discretion by denying Smith's motion to reconsider the order dismissing the County based on governmental immunity; and 2) the City was entitled to judgment as a matter of law, as law enforcement officers in a police pursuit do not owe a duty of care to the fleeing suspect.

¶ 8 Smith filed his Petition for Writ of Certiorari on December 23, 2013, asserting that the Court of Civil Appeals erred by holding that law enforcement officers in a police pursuit do not owe a duty of care to the fleeing suspect. The County filed its Petition for Certiorari on December 26, 2013, asserting that: 1) its dismissal by the trial court was proper because it was immune to suit for the actions of its law enforcement officers pursuant to 51 O.S. § 155; and 2) the Court of Civil Appeals erred by holding that a duty of care to a fleeing suspect might be imposed by mandatory guidelines set forth in a law enforcement entity's policy on vehicular pursuits. The Court granted both petitions for certiorari, and the cause was assigned to this office on March 10, 2014.

II.

Title 51 O.S. § 155 Does Not Immunize Political Subdivisions for the Actions Taken by their Law Enforcement Officers while Engaged in Police Pursuits.

¶ 9 The County asserts on certiorari that the Court of Civil Appeals erred when it determined the trial court abused its discretion by failing to grant Smith's motion to reconsider the trial court's dismissal of the County on the grounds that the County is immune from liability pursuant to the GTCA, 51 O.S. § 151 et seq., for actions taken by its law enforcement officers engaged in police pursuit. This Court determines that the County is not immune from liability pursuant to the GTCA, 51 O.S. § 151 et seq., and the trial court abused its discretion by failing to reconsider its dismissal of the County.

A. Standard of Review

¶ 10 A motion to reconsider does not technically exist within the statutory nomenclature of Oklahoma practice and procedure. Pierson v. Canupp, 1988 OK 47, ¶ 3 n. 1, 754 P.2d 548; Sellers v. Oklahoma Pub. Co., 1984 OK 11, ¶ 11, 687 P.2d 116. However, if timely filed, a motion to reconsider may be treated as a motion for new trial under 12 O.S. § 651 (if filed within ten (10) days of the filing of the judgment, decree, or appealable order), or it may be treated as a motion to modify or to vacate a final order or judgment under the terms of 12 O.S. §§ 1031 and 1031.1 (if filed after ten (10) days but within thirty (30) days of the filing of the judgment, decree, or appealable order). Pierson, 1988 OK 47, ¶ 3 n. 1, 754 P.2d 548; Schepp v. Hess, 1989 OK 28, ¶ 1 n. 2, 770 P.2d 34.

¶ 11 The standard of review for both denial of a motion for a new trial and denial of a motion to modify or to vacate a final order or judgment is the same: abuse of discretion. Capshaw v. Gulf Ins. Co., 2005 OK 5, ¶ 7, 107 P.3d 595; Ferguson Enters., Inc. v. H. Webb Enters., Inc., 2000 OK 78, ¶ 5, 13 P.3d 480. An abuse of discretion occurs when a decision is based on an erroneous conclusion of law or where there is no rational basis in evidence for the ruling. Spencer v. Oklahoma Gas & Elec. Co., 2007 OK 76, ¶ 13, 171 P.3d 890; Fent v. Oklahoma Natural Gas Co., 2001 OK 35, ¶ 12, 27 P.3d 477; KMC Leasing, Inc. v. Rockwell–Standard Corp., 2000 OK 51, ¶ 10, 9 P.3d 683. However, in this cause, the propriety of the trial court's denial of the motion for reconsideration rests on the underlying correctness of its decision to dismiss the County. The abuse of discretion question is therefore settled by our de novo3 review of the dismissal's correctness.4

¶ 12 This Court discussed the parameters of motions to dismiss in detail in Gens v. Casady School,...

To continue reading

Request your trial
65 cases
  • Crawford ex rel. C.C.C. v. OSU Med. Trust
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • 22 March 2022
    ...GTCA is the exclusive remedy by which an injured plaintiff may recover against a governmental entity for its negligence." Smith v. City of Stillwater , 2014 OK 42, ¶ 14, 328 P.3d 1192, 1198. The GTCA narrowly structures the method and timeframe for bringing a tort claim against the State or......
  • Miranda v. OSU Med. Tr.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • 22 March 2022
    ...... novo . See Grisham v. City of Oklahoma City ,. 2017 OK 69, ¶ 4, 404 P.3d ... governmental entity for its negligence." Smith v. City of Stillwater , 2014 OK 42, ¶ 14, 328 ......
  • Andrew v. Depani-Sparkes
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • 16 May 2017
    ...underlying action.19 LCR, Inc. v. Linwood Properties, 1996 OK 73, 918 P.2d 1388, 1393.20 Smith v. City of Stillwater, 2014 OK 42, ¶10, 328 P.3d 1192, 1196.21 Smith v. City of Stillwater, at ¶10, 328 at 1196, emphasis added and material omitted.22 12 O.S.2011 1031, note 11, supra.23 LCR, Inc......
  • Tucker v. Cochran Firm-Criminal Def. Birmingham L. L.C.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • 16 December 2014
    ...the defendant).24 Coulter v. First American Resources, L.L.C., 2009 OK 53, 214 P.3d 807.25 Smith v. City of Stillwater, 2014 OK 42, ¶ 13, 328 P.3d 1192, 1197–1198 (“Where not all claims appear to be frivolous on their face or without merit, dismissals for failure to state a claim upon which......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT