Mandate Issued: 05/24/2018
FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF GARFIELD COUNTY, OKLAHOMA
HONORABLE PAUL K. WOODWARD, TRIAL JUDGE
C. Henneke, DAVID C. HENNEKE, ATTORNEY AT LAW, Enid,
Oklahoma, for Plaintiff/Appellant
Edwards, Catherine L. Campbell, PHILLIPS MURRAH P.C.,
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Defendant/Appellee
THOMAS THORNBRUGH, CHIEF JUDGE
Steven Ruther appeals a decision of the district court
dismissing his petition against the Oklahoma Firefighters
Pension and Retirement System for failure to state a claim.
On review, we vacate the finding of the district court
because it was without jurisdiction in this matter.
Ruther is a retired Garfield County firefighter. Early in
2016, Ruther began a correspondence with the Executive
Director of the Firefighters Pension and Retirement System
regarding the possibility of a "lump sum"
distribution of Ruther's accrued pension benefits. The
executive director (or an assistant acting on his behalf)
informed Ruther that he was not entitled to such a
distribution. The system's attorneys later sent Ruther a
letter confirming the Executive Director's position. In
May 2017, Ruther sued the pension system in Garfield County.
The pension system filed a motion to dismiss raising
jurisdictional and venue questions, as well as arguing its
legal position that a lump sum distribution was not allowed.
The district court ruled that, as a matter of law, Ruther was
not entitled to a lump sum distribution, without ruling on
the jurisdictional and venue questions. Ruther now appeals
The standard of review for a district court's decision
granting a motion to dismiss is de novo. The purpose
of such a review is to test the law that governs the claim,
not the underlying facts. As such, we take all factual
allegations in the petition as true and draw all reasonable
inferences therefrom. We do not require the plaintiff to
specify a theory of recovery, nor a particular remedy. If
relief is possible under any set of facts that can be gleaned
from the petition, the motion to dismiss should be denied.
Cates v. Integris Health, Inc., 2018 OK 9, ¶ 7,
__ P.3d __ (footnotes omitted).
An immediate problem that presents itself in this case is
that 11 O.S.2011 § 49-128, part of Article XLIX --
"Firefighters Pension and Retirement System, "
Any person possessing the qualifications required and
provided for under this article, who deems himself aggrieved
by a decision of the State Board on his or her claim for
pension, either in rejecting his or her claim or in the
amount allowed by the Board, or participating municipality,
may appeal from such decision by filing a petition in the
Oklahoma County District Court within thirty (30) days from
the date of such decision. (Emphasis added)
Two factual scenarios are possible under this statute, and
neither grants venue to the district court of Garfield
County. The first is that Ruther has not yet obtained a
decision of the State Board on his claim for benefits. If so,
it is clear that he does not have an appealable decision at
this time. The second is that Ruther has ...