Tort reform group critical of Okla. SC ruling striking down lawsuit reform law

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jun 12, 2013

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- The American Tort Reform Association last week called out the Oklahoma Supreme Court for deeming the state's lawsuit reform law unconstitutional.

In its June 4 opinion, a majority of the state's high court said the Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform Act, adopted nearly four years ago, violates the single subject rule in the state constitution and is unconstitutional "logrolling." "Logrolling" is the passing of legislation containing multiple subjects.

The reform package, which went into effect Nov. 1, 2009, included class action reforms, a cap on appeals bonds, adoption of summary judgment similar to that allowed in federal lawsuits, joint and several liability reforms, product liability reforms, junk science testimony rules, certificates of merit and a cap on non-economic damages.

The law aimed to curb frivolous lawsuits and reduce court costs.

"This bill is unconstitutional and void in its entirety," the Supreme Court's order stated.

Justice Noma Gurich explained that the law's 90 sections do not reflect a common theme.

In a statement Thursday, ATRA criticized the majority for disrespecting state lawmakers' "hard-won" compromises and the will of voters.

"Unfortunately for taxpayers, consumers, and those in need of accessible and affordable health care in Oklahoma, the Sooner State's high court has taken it upon itself to usurp the prerogatives of the proper policy-making branches of government," ATRA President Tiger Joyce said.

Joyce said lawmakers already are planning to reenact the various elements of the law as separate statutes -- "if that's the 'single subject' game the court majority incredibly wants to play," he added.

ATRA argues that by "selectively reading" one precedent and ignoring others, the majority opinion contends that various elements of the state's civil justice system -- particularly those elements that had been most routinely manipulated and exploited by the personal injury bar -- do not constitute a "single subject" around which a section of the state's constitution requires legislation to be centered.

"The high court majority seemingly or perhaps willfully ignored the statute's severability language, which invited justices to strike down particular elements of the bill, if they saw fit, without throwing out the whole thing," Joyce said.

This makes the majority's "legislating from the bench" that much more troubling, he said.

"Every Oklahoman who is tired of costly lawsuit abuse should feel insulted by the high court majority and its apparent willingness, on such specious constitutional grounds, to obstruct the will of the people," Joyce said.

"Lawmakers should act quickly next session to reverse this injustice, and the public should recall this decision and the activist inclinations of the majority justices when their names next appear on the retention ballot."

Tort reform groups, including ATRA, and pro-business groups touted the act when it was first adopted.

In 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called the act "one of the single-most significant legislative packages signed into law this year and a blueprint for all states still in need of tort reform."

The Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform owns Legal Newsline.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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