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Garcia v. Lane

Court of Appeals of Oklahoma, Division III

March 30, 2017

OSVALDO GARCIA, Plaintiff/Appellant,
v.
STEVEN LANE, Defendant/Appellee.

          Mandate Issued: 04/26/2017

         APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF TULSA COUNTY, OKLAHOMA HONORABLE REBECCA B. NIGHTINGALE, JUDGE

          Jon Williford, GRIFFIN, REYNOLDS, & ASSOCIATES, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff/Appellant,

          W.G. "Gil" Steidley, Jr., Stacie L. Hixon, Douglas R. Scott, Mary O'Reilly, STEIDLEY & NEAL, P.L.L.C., Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Defendant/Appellee.

          Kenneth L. Buettner, Chief Judge.

         ¶1 Plaintiff/Appellant Osvaldo Garcia appeals from the trial court's order dismissing the action with prejudice. The trial court dismissed the case with prejudice because Garcia was not ready to proceed with trial on the day of trial. We hold it was within the trial court's inherent power to dismiss the action for failure to prosecute and, given the circumstances, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing the action with prejudice. AFFIRMED.

         ¶2 Garcia and Defendant/Appellee Steven Lane were involved in a motor vehicle accident January 22, 2011. Garcia filed a personal injury lawsuit against Lane December 18, 2012. Pre-trial conference was held May 5, 2014. The pre-trial order set the case for jury trial October 6, 2014. Trial was re-set several times due to Garcia obtaining new counsel, a joint motion to continue, the case being re-assigned to a different judge, and Garcia's motion to continue due to illness. Ultimately, the case was set for jury trial September 14, 2015. On the morning of trial, Garcia filed a Motion to Dismiss Without Prejudice, pursuant to 12 O.S. § 684. Lane objected. The trial court heard arguments and denied Garcia's Motion to Dismiss Without Prejudice based on Garcia not providing an explanation for the last minute dismissal, the age of the case, and prejudice to the defense. Garcia's only response was that § 684 did not authorize the trial court to deny his motion and the court was required to issue an order dismissing the case without prejudice. The court ordered to proceed with trial. When asked if Garcia was prepared to proceed with trial, Garcia's counsel announced he was not and that his client was not present. Because Garcia was not ready for trial on the day of trial, the trial court ordered the case dismissed with prejudice. A Journal Entry of Judgment was filed November 20, 2015. Garcia appeals.

         ¶3 Garcia's first proposition of error is that 12 O.S. § 684 does not permit a trial court to deny a plaintiff's motion to dismiss without prejudice. Issues of statutory construction are questions of law to be reviewed de novo, and appellate courts exercise plenary, independent, and non-deferential authority. Welch v. Crow, 2009 OK 20, ¶ 10, 206 P.3d 599. In cases requiring statutory construction, the cardinal rule is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the Legislature. Id. The words of a statute will be given their plain and ordinary meaning, unless it is contrary to the purpose and intent of the statute considered as a whole. Naylor v. Petuskey, 1992 OK 88, ¶ 4, 834 P.2d 439.

         ¶4 The 2013 version of the 12 O.S. § 684 applies in this case.

A. An action may be dismissed by the plaintiff without an order of court by filing a notice of dismissal at any time before pretrial. After the pretrial hearing, an action may only be dismissed by agreement of the parties or by the court. Unless otherwise stated in the notice of dismissal or stipulation, the dismissal is without prejudice.
B. Except as provided in subsection A of this section, an action shall not be dismissed at the plaintiff's request except upon order of the court and upon such terms and conditions as the court deems proper. If a counterclaim has been pleaded by a defendant prior to the service upon the defendant of the plaintiff's motion to dismiss, the action shall not be dismissed against the defendant's objection unless the counterclaims can remain pending for independent adjudication by the court. Unless otherwise specified in the order, a dismissal under this subsection is without prejudice.

12 O.S.Supp.2014 § 684 (A)-(B) (emphasis added). [1] Garcia's Motion to Dismiss Without Prejudice was made after the pre-trial hearing, and the parties did not agree to dismissing the action. Therefore, a court order was required.

         ¶5 We hold the plain and ordinary meaning of the language in 12 O.S.Supp.2014 § 684 (A) and (B) permits the trial court to deny a plaintiff's request to dismiss an action after pre-trial. This interpretation is consistent with the purpose and intent of the Legislature. The previous version of the statute permitted the plaintiff to dismiss a case without a court order any time before trial:

A. Except as provided in Section 5 of this act, an action may be dismissed on the payment of costs and without an order of court by the plaintiff at any time before a petition of intervention or answer praying for affirmative relief against the plaintiff is filed in the action. A plaintiff may, at any time before the trial is commenced, on payment of the costs and without any order of court, dismiss the action after the filing of a petition of intervention or answer praying for affirmative relief, but such dismissal shall not prejudice the right of the intervenor or defendant to proceed with the action.

12 O.S.Supp.2004 ยง 684 (A) (emphasis added). In the 2013 version of the statute, the Legislature deliberately limited a plaintiff's ability to dismiss an action at the eleventh hour by requiring either the agreement of the parties or a court order. Garcia's suggestion that the trial court is required to issue an order dismissing the action upon the plaintiff's request is ...


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