United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
BELENDA LEE AKINS, Individually, and as Surviving Spouse, and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Brian Dwayne Akins, Deceased, Plaintiff,
C&J ENERGY SERVICES, INC.; and C&J SPEC-RENT SERVICES INC., Defendants, GREAT MIDWEST INSURANCE COMPANY, a Texas corporation, Intervenor.
L. RUSSELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
this Court is Plaintiff Belenda Lee Akins' Motion for
Summary Judgment on Intervenor Great Midwest Insurance
Company's (“GMIC”) claims. See Doc.
52. The issue presented is straightforward and purely legal:
is 85A O.S. § 43 unconstitutional under Article 23,
Section 7 of the Oklahoma Constitution? Having considered the
parties' filings, see Docs. 52, 56-57, the Court
finds as follows.
material facts are uncontested. See Doc. 56, at 5.
On November 21, 2017, Brian Dwayne Akins was involved in a
fatal motor vehicle accident while in the course of his
employment with Two Guns Trucking Inc. See Doc. 52,
at 9. Plaintiff, Mr. Akins' surviving spouse, filed a
workers' compensation claim on behalf of herself and her
dependent child, Cody Dale Akins, against Two Guns Trucking
and its workers' compensation insurance carrier, GMIC.
See Doc. 49, at 2; Doc. 51, at 1; see also
Doc. 52, at 10; Doc. 56, at 5. On May 23, 2018, the Oklahoma
Workers' Compensation Commission entered an order
awarding death benefits to Plaintiff and her son.
Id. The Commission awarded to Plaintiff (1) a $100,
000 lump sum; (2) weekly benefits of $590.63, starting
November 21, 2017, and continuing for so long as Plaintiff
meets the statutory eligibility requirements; and (3) funeral
expenses. See Doc. 52, at 10. The Commission also
awarded Cody Akins a $25, 000 lump sum and weekly benefits of
$126.56, which ran from November 21, 2017, until December 13,
2018, when they were terminated by the Commission.
Id. GMIC, as Two Guns Trucking's insurance
carrier, paid these benefits to Plaintiff and her son, and it
continues to pay them to Plaintiff. See Doc. 49, at
2; Doc. 51, at 2; Doc. 56, at 5.
also filed a wrongful death action in the District Court of
Oklahoma County on May 1, 2018, against Defendants C&J
Energy Services, Inc., and C&J Spec-Rent Services, Inc.,
alleging negligence and gross negligence and seeking wrongful
death and punitive damages. See Doc. 52, at 10-11.
Defendants removed the action to this Court on May 16, 2018.
See Doc. 1. On March 28, 2019, Plaintiff and
Defendants reached a confidential settlement in this suit.
See Doc. 52, at 10-11; see also Order, Doc.
48. Upon hearing of this settlement, GMIC moved to intervene
in this case on April 10, 2019, asserting a statutory right
of recovery against Defendants, a right of reimbursement
against Plaintiff, and/or equitable subrogation and indemnity
rights. See Doc. 42; see also Doc. 52, at
11; Doc. 56, at 6. The Court granted the motion to intervene,
GMIC filed its complaint in intervention, and Plaintiff and
Defendants answered. See Docs. 48-51. Plaintiff now
moves for summary judgment, arguing that the statute
grounding Intervenor's claims is unconstitutional.
See generally Doc. 52.
Motion for Summary Judgment Standard
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court must inquire “whether the
evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one
party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). In
doing so, the Court construes all facts and reasonable
inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. Macon v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 743 F.3d
708, 712- 13 (10th Cir. 2014).
sole contention on summary judgment is that 85A O.S. §
43 is unconstitutional under Article 23, Section 7 of the
Oklahoma Constitution. Under this constitutional section,
[t]he right of action to recover damages for injuries
resulting in death shall never be abrogated, and the amount
recoverable shall not be subject to any statutory limitation,
provided however, that the Legislature may provide an amount
of compensation under the Workers' Compensation Law for
death resulting from injuries suffered in employment covered
by such law, in which case the compensation so provided shall
be exclusive, and the Legislature may enact statutory limits
on the amount recoverable in civil actions or claims against
the state or any of its political subdivisions.
Const. art. XXIII, § 7. The state statutory provision at
issue, part of Oklahoma's Administrative Workers'
Compensation Act, 85A O.S. § 1 et seq.,
preserves the right of an employee's dependents to
“make a claim or maintain an action in court against
any third party for [the employee's] injury, ” even
where a “claim for compensation against an employer
or carrier” for that employee's death has been
made. 85A O.S. § 43(A)(1)(a). However, where such an
action is brought against a third-party tortfeasor, the
employer or its compensation insurance carrier “shall
be entitled to reasonable notice and opportunity to join in
the action.” Id. § 43(A)(1)(b). “If
the employer or employer's carrier join in the action
against a third party for injury or death, they shall be
entitled to a first lien on two-thirds (2/3) of the net
proceeds recovered in the action that remain after the
payment of the reasonable costs of collection, for the
payment to them of the amount paid and to be paid by them as
compensation to the injured employee or his or her
dependents.” Id. § 43(A)(1)(c); see
also Id. at § 43(A)(2) (“The commencement of
an action by an employee['s] . . . dependents against a
third party for damages . . . shall not affect the rights of
the . . . dependents to recover compensation, but any amount
recovered by the . . . dependents from a third party shall be
applied as follows: . . . (b) the employer or carrier, as
applicable, shall receive two-thirds (2/3) of the remainder
of the recovery or the amount of the workers'
compensation lien, whichever is less . . .
seeking a declaration that a state statute is
unconstitutional, Plaintiff faces formidable hurdles:
In considering the constitutionality of a statute, courts are
guided by well-established principles and a heavy burden is
cast on those challenging a legislative enactment to show its
unconstitutionality. Every presumption is to be indulged in
favor of a statute's constitutionality. A
legislative act is presumed to be constitutional and will be
upheld unless it is clearly, palpably and plainly
inconsistent with the Constitution. If two . . .
interpretations of a statute are possible, only one of which
would render it unconstitutional, a court is bound to give
the statute an interpretation which will render it
constitutional, unless constitutional infirmity is shown
beyond a reasonable doubt. The nature of [a] Court's
inquiry is limited to constitutional validity, not policy. It
is not the place of . . . any court to concern itself with
a statute's propriety, desirability, wisdom, or its
practicality as a working proposition. A court's
function, when the constitutionality of a statute is put at
issue, is limited to a determination of the validity or
invalidity of the legislative provision and a court's
function extends no farther in our system of government.
Lee v. Bueno, 2016 OK 97, ¶¶ 7-8, 381 P.3d
736, 740 (emphasis added) (citations and paragraph breaks
omitted); see also Lafalier v. Lead-Impacted Communities
RelocationAssistance Tr., 2010 OK 48, ¶
15, 237 P.3d 181, 188-89 (“Even though the moving party
must show that there is no dispute of fact and that they are
entitled to judgment as a matter of law, there is a
presumption that every statute is constitutional. . . . We