Oklahoma's High Court Strikes Down Civil Justice Law

Article excerpt

A law passed by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2009 has been ruled unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

In a 7-2 decision issued Tuesday, the court said the Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform Act of 2009 violated the single- subject rule of the Oklahoma Constitution because it contained multiple subjects that did not reflect a common theme. Justices said the bill contained 90 sections on a variety of subjects. The measure made several changes to the state's civil justice system.

In addition, the court ruled - in a separate decision - against a requirement that forced residents who were injured to submit a certificate of merit before they could file a professional malpractice lawsuit.

That requirement, the majority said, was also unconstitutional. Writing for the majority, Justice Yvonne Kauger said the law, touted as a tort reform measure, failed.

"We hold that this is a special law regulating the practice of law and that it places an impermissible financial burden on access to the courts," Kauger wrote.

The Oklahoma Constitution, she wrote, was a unique document containing provisions different from many other states. And some of its provisions were more detailed and restrictive than those of other states, she said.

She said section 46 of the constitution was an example of one of those provisions. That section, Kauger wrote, specifically prevented the Oklahoma Legislature from enacting laws that address issues in 28 subject areas.

"The shortcoming of a special law," she wrote, "is that it does not embrace all the classes that it should naturally embrace."

Kauger also criticized the fee assessed by the law, saying the state's constitution did not anticipate that litigants would be burdened with the entire bill for the maintenance of the court system. …