FARMERS INSURANCE COMPANY and CAROL LYNCH, Plaintiffs/Appellees,
CHARMIN VANWINKLE and EAGLEMED LLC, Defendants/Appellees, and CHOCTAW EMS, Defendant, and PARKLAND HEALTH & HOSPITAL SYSTEM, Defendant/Appellant.
Mandate Issued: 05/09/2018
FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF PUSHMATAHA COUNTY, OKLAHOMA
HONORABLE JANA WALLACE, TRIAL JUDGE.
E. Burgess, SMILING, SMILING & BURGESS, Tulsa, Oklahoma,
C. Dennis, Antlers, Oklahoma, for Defendant/Appellee Charmin
Douglas Turek, THE TUREK LAW FIRM, PC, The Woodlands, Texas,
THOMAS THORNBRUGH, CHIEF JUDGE
Parkland Health & Hospital System (Parkland) appeals a
decision of the district court apportioning pro rata the
proceeds of an insurance settlement between injured party
Charmin VanWinkle  and lienholder Parkland. On review, we
reverse the decision of the district court and remand with
This appeal has its roots in an automobile accident between
VanWinkle and Carol Lynch in Hugo, Oklahoma. VanWinkle
sustained injuries, and was transported to Parkland Hospital
in Dallas. Parkland filed a Texas hospital lien (the Parkland
lien) of $191, 922 for treatment. VanWinkle alleged some
$200, 000 in damages. Lynch carried $25, 000 in liability
insurance with Farmers Insurance Company (Farmers). Farmers
and Lynch filed an interpleader action in district court,
seeking to interplead the $25, 000 and have the court
distribute it. Parkland argued that, as a medical lien
claimant, it has a statutory priority of payment over
VanWinkle. The court split the $25, 000 over the objection of
Parkland as follows: $11, 666 to VanWinkle; $11, 194 to
Parkland; and $2, 139 to the ambulance provider, EagleMed
LLC. The claim and award of funds to the ambulance provider
is not disputed.
An interpleader proceeding is essentially equitable in
nature. "[W]here the request for interpleader is
approved, the questions to be considered are equitable in
nature." Welch v. Montgomery, 1949 OK 80,
¶ 11, 205 P.2d 288. Equitable decisions are reviewed for
abuse of discretion. "An abuse of discretion occurs when
a decision is based on an erroneous conclusion of law or
where there is no rational basis in evidence for the
ruling." Spencer v. Oklahoma Gas & Elec.
Co., 2007 OK 76, ¶ 13, 171 P.3d 890 (emphasis
omitted). Here, our review may encompass both claims of legal
error and claims of the lack of an evidentiary basis for the
court's decision. We review the district court's
conclusions of law de novo. Nat'l Diversified
Bus. Servs., Inc. v. Corporate Fin. Opportunities, Inc., 1997
OK 36, n. 18, 946 P.2d 662.
An initial oddity that presents itself is that Farmers'
motion appears to be some form of "conditional
interpleader" made on behalf of more than one party. In
a traditional interpleader action, the plaintiff is a mere
disinterested stakeholder, and the contest is strictly
between the claimants to the fund. Magnolia Petroleum Co.
v. Ouart, 1947 OK 117, 192 P.2d 698. The plaintiff has
no interest in the relative merits of the parties or the
disposition, and merely seeks to avoid liability for
distributing the funds to the wrong party or the expense of
participating in the litigation of such claims.
In this petition, however, the same counsel was apparently
representing both Farmers Insurance and tortfeasor Carol
Lynch, and both were listed as plaintiffs. Because of this,
the petition sought not to simply implead the funds, but
stated that Farmers was only prepared to implead
provided that both the injured party and the medical
lienholders would release tortfeasor Lynch from any further
liability resulting from the collision.
The petition appears to meet none of the traditional
requirements of interpleader because the interpleader was not
disinterested, there had been no settlement, and there had
been no adjudication of liability. Although the record
indicates that VanWinkle did settle with Lynch more than
three months after the interpleader was filed, we
think it quite clear that the proper procedure is to
first obtain a settlement, and then ...