Finding that the bill adopting tort reforms in the state violated the constitution’s single-subject rule, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has determined that H.B. 1603, the Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform Act (CLRA) of 2009, is “void in its entirety.” Douglas v. Cox Retirement Props., Inc., No. 110270 (Okla., decided June 4, 2013). The defendant in a wrongful death action sought to dismiss the case due to the plaintiff’s purported failure to comply with section 19 of the CLRA. In response, the plaintiff contended that the CLRA “was unconstitutional logrolling in violation of the single-subject rule of Article 5, § 57 of the Oklahoma Constitution.” While the trial court granted the motion to dismiss, it certified its order for immediate review.
Agreeing with the plaintiff and reversing the lower court’s dismissal order, the state high court noted, “H.B. 1603 contains 90 sections, encompassing a variety of subjects that do not reflect a common, closely akin theme or purpose. The first 24 sections of H.B. 1603 amend and create new laws within our civil procedure code found in Title 12. Many of these provisions have nothing in common. For example, Section 3 purports to give a trial court the authority to transfer a case to another state. Section 10 creates a law that assists the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority in collecting refunds for the Medicaid program. In Section 13, the Legislature adopts a portion of the federal civil procedure code to control a state court action.”
The court further observed, “Of the remaining 66 sections of H.B. 1603, 45 sections create entirely new Acts, which have nothing in common with each other, including The Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act, The Common Sense Consumption Act, The Asbestos and Silica Claims Priorities Act, The Innocent Successor Asbestos-Related Liability Fairness Act, and The School Protection Act.… Other dissimilar sections of H.B. 1603 amend the Mandatory Seat Belt Use Act and the Oklahoma Livestock Activities Liability Limitation Act, limit the liability of firearm manufacturers, and amend existing laws regarding school discipline.” Finding that severance was not an option because the law “encompasses so many different subjects,” the court determined that it was compelled to invalidate the entire bill.
Two dissenting justices opined, “the legislature and the public understood the common themes and purposes embodied in the legislation; it was tort reform.” They would have found the single-subject rule not violated and upheld the law.