Oklahoma Supreme Court Finds Comprehensive Tort Reform Law Unconstitutional
To the chagrin of tort reform advocates, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found, by a 7-2 majority, a comprehensive tort reform law unconstitutional on the grounds that the 90-section law violated the state single-subject rule, which prevents the legislature from crafting “veto-proof” bills that combine unrelated subjects. Douglas v. Cox Retirement Properties, Inc., No. 110270 (Okla. June 4, 2013),available at http://www.oscn.net/applications/oscn/deliverdocument.asp?citeid=469532.
The Plaintiff in Douglas brought a wrongful death action, alleging that a rehabilitative care center provided negligent treatment and care. Douglas, slip op. ¶¶ 1-2. The Defendant moved to dismiss for failure to attach an expert affidavit to the petition in compliance with the Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform Act of 2009, in response to which Plaintiff argued the tort reform law was unconstitutional. Id.¶ 2. The trial court granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss, and then certified its decision to the state supreme court for immediate review. Id.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed. Id. ¶ 12. Under the Oklahoma Constitution, in contrast to the United States Constitution, acts of the Oklahoma state legislature may only include one subject. Id. ¶ 4. The purpose of the rule is to prevent both misleading laws and “logrolling,” the practice of packaging multiple subjects into one bill, which can force a choice of whether to enact an unfavorable law in order to pass a favorable one. Id.
Although the law at issue had a broad unifying topic of lawsuit reform, the court held that this did not cure the myriad of disparate subjects across its 90 sections—ranging from procedural revisions to the state Medicaid program, to a new act governing asbestos and silica claims; from laws requiring seat belt use to liability of firearm manufacturers; from school discipline to livestock, and many more.Id. ¶¶ 7-10. Because of the sheer quantity of subjects, the court found that it was unable to sever the bill, holding it void as a whole. Id. ¶ 11.
The dissent warned that the majority’s interpretation would make it nearly impossible for the Oklahoma legislature to pass comprehensive tort reform, and that it could call into question other comprehensive legislation that had been enacted years earlier.