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Jones v. Stalick

Court of Appeals of Oklahoma, Division I

November 7, 2017

GARYANNA STALICK, LILA BROWNING AND DEBRA HAZELETT, Defendants/Appellees, and Grayhorse, Inc., an Oklahoma Corporation, Nominal Defendant, Annette Smith and Terry Schmoe, Third-Party Defendants.

          Mandate Issued: 12/05/2017


          Johnny G. Beech, M. Hossein Farzaneh, SPENCER, FANE, L.L.P., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Plaintiffs/Appellants,

          Richard E. Butner, Rhett Butner, Wewoka, Oklahoma, for Defendants/Appellees.


         ¶1 Plaintiffs/Appellants, Shirley L. Jones, Barbara Petty and Lawrence Merl Schmoe, brought this action against Defendants/Appellees, Garyanna Stalick, Lila Browning and Debra Hazelett, to recover mineral interests and punitive damages. Plaintiffs alleged the theories of constructive trust, slander of title, fraud, deceit and conspiracy to commit fraud. The mineral interests were previously owned by Tracie Schmoe, deceased. Tracie was Lawrence's mother. Lawrence assigned his mineral interests to his daughters, Shirley and Barbara, and he was later added as a necessary party-plaintiff for the fraud-related claims. Garyanna and Lila are Tracie's daughters. Debra Hazelett, is Lila's daughter. Garyanna and Lila assigned their mineral interests to Debra.

         ¶2 Plaintiffs sought to recover the minerals from Debra, who holds legal title to same. Plaintiffs also sought damages for the fraud perpetrated by Defendants when they filed affidavits of heirship claiming to be Tracie's sole heirs. The trial court held that as a matter of law, Shirley and Barbara lacked standing to pursue the fraud claims because Defendants filed the affidavit of heirship when Lawrence held the mineral interest and Lawrence cannot assign his tort claims to his daughters. The court also held Lawrence cannot lodge a fraud claim against Defendants because he failed to file an amended petition prior to the court-imposed deadline for filing pleadings. The trial court granted partial summary judgment to Defendants and dismissed the fraud-related claims. After de novo review of the record, we affirm the trial court's partial summary judgment dismissing Shirley's and Barbara's tort claims. We reverse the dismissal of Lawrence's tort claims and remand this matter for further proceedings.

         ¶3 On May 2, 1994, Tracie Schmoe died seized with mineral interests in Seminole County. Tracie was survived by her five children, Lawrence, Garyanna, Lila, Russell Schmoe (now deceased and survived by third party defendants), and Ray Othel Schmoe (now deceased without surviving children). On January 8, 2010, Garyanna and Lila filed affidavits of heirship representing that they and the Estate of Ray Schmoe were Tracie's sole heirs. Barbara claimed that on August 31, 2012, she first discovered the affidavits of heirship. Garyanna and Lila then transfered their interests in the minerals to Debra. On September 10, 2012, Lawrence filed an affidavit of heirship delineating all of Tracie's heirs. On April 15, 2013, Lawrence, who is in his nineties, assigned his mineral interests to his daughters. Shirley and Barbara filed this lawsuit, including, inter alia, a claim for fraud. On March 22, 2016, the trial court issued an unopposed order finding Lawrence was a necessary party and allowing his joinder as a Plaintiff. Lawrence never filed a petition in the proceeding. Notwithstanding, the parties and the trial court treated Lawrence as a Plaintiff.

         ¶4 On November 21, 2016, Defendants filed an alias pre-trial disclosure, wherein they moved for a summary judgment dismissing the fraud claims. Defendants argued:

DEFENDANTS are not asking this Court to dismiss the fraud claim and supersede [sic] the province of a jury but to make a LEGAL FINDING that the claim has been assigned and it cannot be pursued by the ASSIGNEES [Shirley and Barbara].

(Captalization in the original). The trial court dismissed Shirley's and Barbara's fraud claims for lack of standing. It also dismissed Lawrence's fraud claims because he never filed a petition alleging fraud within the court-imposed deadline for filing pleadings. The trial court denied Lawrence's unopposed motion to file an amended petition. Plaintiffs now appeal.

         ¶5 Shirley and Barbara have claims remaining against Defendants. Thus, the trial court certified this interlocutory order for immediate appeal under 12 O.S. 2011 §994. This appeal stands submitted for accelerated appellate review on the trial court record under Rules 4 and 13, Rules for District Courts of Oklahoma, 12 O.S.Supp. 2013, Ch. 2, App., and Rule 1.36, Oklahoma Supreme Court Rules, 12 O.S.Supp. 2013, Ch. 15, App. 1. An order granting summary disposition disposes solely of questions of law and therefore it is reviewable by a de novo standard. Andrew v. Depani-Sparkes, 2017 OK 42, ¶27, 396 P.3d 210.

         ¶6 For reversal, Plaintiffs alleged several propositions of error. We find one to be dispositive. In the proceeding below, the trial court held Lawrence is the proper plaintiff for the fraud claims and the court allowed his joinder as a necessary party-plaintiff. Nevertheless, Plaintiffs did not move to substitute Lawrence in his daughters' place with respect to the existing fraud-related claims. On the eve of trial, the trial court decided Lawrence should have filed his own petition alleging the fraud claims. Because Lawrence did not file a pleading and the deadline for filing pleadings passed, the trial court dismissed Lawrence's fraud-related claims.

         ¶7 On appeal, Plaintiffs contend the trial court erred when it dismissed Lawrence's fraud-related claims. They point out Lawrence was added as a necessary party-plaintiff; thus, the trial court should have automatically substituted Lawrence in his daughters' place for the fraud-related claims. Oklahoma law supports Plaintiffs' contention. As a joined party-plaintiff, Oklahoma law treats Lawrence, the real party in interest for the ...

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