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Hart v. Warner

Court of Appeals of Oklahoma, Division II

January 23, 2017

TOMMY RAY WARNER and TAPP WORLDWIDE, L.L.C., Defendants/Appellees. and ERIN KATHLEEN HART, Plaintiff/Appellant,

          Mandate Issued: 05/24/2017


          Timothy B. Hummel, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff/Appellant

          Thomas G. Ferguson, Jr., WALKER, FERGUSON & FERGUSON, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Defendant/Appellee


         ¶1 Erin Hart appeals a December 12, 2014 Journal Entry granting her motion for prejudgment interest in this personal injury action. The issue in this case is whether the applicable law is the law in effect when Hart's suit was filed, or the law in effect when the verdict in Hart's case was accepted. Hart argues that it was unconstitutional for the district court to apply 12 O.S.Supp. 2013 § 727.1, the law in effect on the date the jury returned a verdict in her favor. We affirm because the 2013 version of section 727.1 provides a mode of procedure that the district court was required to follow.


         ¶2 Hart was severely injured in an automobile accident in March of 2011. On October 31, 2011, Hart filed suit naming as defendants the driver of the vehicle who caused the accident and his employer. The jury returned a verdict in Hart's favor on June 18, 2014, in the amount of $960, 000 and judgment was entered on that verdict on July 8, 2014. Hart filed a post-trial motion seeking in excess of $100, 000 in prejudgment interest based on her interpretation of the pre-November 1, 2013 law, the law in effect when Hart filed her petition. The district court granted Hart's motion on September 12, 2014, but applied the law in effect when Hart's verdict was accepted and awarded her prejudgment interest in the amount of $366.67. Hart challenges the constitutionality of 12 O.S.Supp. 2013 § 727.1 as it was applied in her case. [1]


A constitutional analysis begins with the well-known judicial recognition that the Oklahoma Legislature is constitutionally vested by Article 5 § 36 of our Constitution with a supreme legislative power extending to all rightful subjects, and the presumed constitutionality of a legislative enactment is rebutted only when either the State Constitution or federal law prohibits that enactment.

Torres v. Seaboard Foods, LLC, 2016 OK 20, ¶ 17, 373 P.3d 1057 (footnotes omitted). An appellate court will not invalidate an act of the legislature "unless it is clearly, palpably, and plainly inconsistent with the terms of the Constitution." Rivas v. Parkland Manor, 2000 OK 68, ¶ 6, 12 P.3d 452 (citing Hazel-Atlas Glass Co. v. Walker, 1945 OK 176, 159 P.2d 268). The standard of review is de novo, without deference to the district court's legal ruling. Neil Acquisition, L.L.C. v. Wingrod Inv. Corp., 1996 OK 125, n.1, 932 P.2d 1100.


         ¶3 For certain personal injury cases filed between January 1, 2000, and January 1, 2005, 12 O.S.2001 § 727 (E) governed the award of prejudgment interest. In 2004, the Legislature replaced section 727(E). The new statute governed prejudgment and postjudgment interest for cases filed after January 1, 2005, and provided that prejudgment interest would be added based on a rate of 2% above the prime interest rate and for the period from the date the suit was filed until the earlier of when the verdict was accepted or the judgment was filed. See 12 O.S.Supp. 2004 § 727.1. Section 727.1 was amended in 2009 to reduce the interest rate to the amount paid by United States Treasury Bills and to exclude the first two years after the suit was filed from the period of the calculation.

         ¶4 On June 4, 2013, the 2009 amendment was declared unconstitutional in Douglas v. Cox Retirement Properties, Inc., 2013 OK 37, 302 P.3d 789 (holding that the Comprehensive Law Suit Reform Act of 2009, including the 2009 version of section 727.1, violates the "single subject rule" and is unconstitutional). One effect of the Douglas decision was to temporarily reinstate the 2004 version of section 727.1. However, in response to Douglas the Legislature amended section 727.1 again, restoring the 2009 prejudgment interest rate and calculation period. The amended version became effective November 1, 2013. [2] The verdict in Hart's case was rendered on June 18, 2014, and judgment on that verdict was filed on July 8, 2014. Hart's motion for prejudgment interest was filed in August of 2014 and granted by the district ...

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