Justia Oregon Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The question presented was whether Oregon law permitted a plaintiff, who suffered an adverse medical outcome resulting in physical harm, to state a common-law medical negligence claim by alleging that the defendant negligently caused a loss of his chance at recovery. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded, as a matter of first impression, that a medical negligence claim based on a loss-of-chance theory of injury in the circumstances presented was cognizable under Oregon common law. View "Smith v. Providence Health & Services" on Justia Law

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This case involved ad valorem property taxes: the land at issue had been exempted from some property taxes because it was specially assessed as nonexclusive farm use zone farmland. When that special assessment ends, the property ordinarily has an additional tax levied against it. The question here was whether an exception created by ORS 308A.709(5) applied to excuse the payment of that additional tax. The Tax Court agreed with the Department of Revenue and concluded that the exception was not available. The Port of Morrow appealed. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that the statutory text on which this case turned, “the date the disqualification [from special assessment] is taken into account on the assessment and tax roll,” meant the date the disqualification became effective on the assessment and tax roll. As a result of that holding, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Boardman Acquisition LLC v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

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In 2012, the Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division (DMV) of the Department of Transportation suspended defendant Dorothy Rafeh’s driver’s license for three years for refusing to submit voluntarily to a blood alcohol test. Approximately two and one-half years later, defendant was stopped while driving without a license, and the state charged her with driving while suspended (DWS). The question that this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review was whether the federal Confrontation Clause prohibited the admission, in defendant’s DWS trial, of an earlier certification that defendant had been given notice that the state intended to suspend her driver’s license. The trial court admitted the certification over defendant’s objection, and the jury found her guilty of DWS. The Court of Appeals summarily affirmed the resulting judgment. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Oregon v. Rafeh" on Justia Law

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The issue in this case was the scope of a criminal defendant’s right to self-representation when that right is invoked in the middle of trial. In this case, the trial court concluded that defendant had no right to seek self-representation mid-trial. The Court of Appeals affirmed on the ground that the trial court’s decision reflected an “apparent” concern about potential disruption of the trial and, because of that concern, did not amount to an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court held that, although Article I, section 11, of the Oregon Constitution established a criminal defendant’s right to represent himself or herself in a criminal proceeding, the right was not unqualified. In particular, when the right is asserted well after trial commences, the trial court retains discretion to weigh its exercise against the constitutional obligation to preserve the integrity and fairness of the proceeding, as well as the court’s interest in ensuring an orderly and expeditious trial. If a trial court exercises that discretion to deny a defendant’s motion for self-representation, it should make a record that reflects how it exercised that discretion. View "Oregon v. Hightower" on Justia Law

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The Oregon Supreme Court explained that, in a criminal action, when the state proffers evidence of uncharged acts, either to prove a defendant’s propensity to commit charged crimes under OEC 404(4), or for a nonpropensity purpose under OEC 404(3), and a defendant objects to the admission of that evidence, the trial court must conduct balancing under OEC 403, according to its terms, to determine whether the probative value of the challenged evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Defendant was charged with 12 counts of child sexual abuse. Before trial, the state filed a motion to permit it to introduce evidence that defendant also had sexually abused a different child. The state argued that that evidence was relevant for a number of nonpropensity purposes under OEC 404(3). Defendant countered that, because his defense was not mistaken identity or lack of intent, but, instead, that the charged acts of abuse had not occurred, the proffered evidence was not relevant for a nonpropensity purpose. Further, defendant argued, even if the evidence was minimally relevant, its probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice and it was therefore inadmissible under OEC 403. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, reversed the trial court’s judgment of conviction, and remanded this case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Baughman" on Justia Law

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The trial court admitted other acts evidence over defendant’s objection and without conducting OEC 403 balancing. Defendant was charged with three counts of first degree sexual abuse of K and T, the daughters of defendant’s ex-girlfriend. The Court of Appeals concluded that that failure to balance was error apparent on the record under ORAP 5.45(1), in light of the Oregon Supreme Court’s decision in “Oregon v. Williams,” (346 P3d 455 (2015)), and exercised its discretion to correct the error. The Court of Appeals vacated defendant’s convictions and remanded to the trial court for an OEC 403 balancing, and for a determination of whether defendant was prejudiced by the admission of the challenged evidence. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed the trial court’s judgment of conviction. View "Oregon v. Zavala" on Justia Law

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In this prosecution for failure to perform the duties of a driver, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving, the trial court admitted other acts evidence over defendant’s objection and, the State conceded, without conducting OEC 403 balancing. Defendant argued the trial court erred in admitting that other acts evidence. Because the Court of Appeals could not conclude that the trial court’s error was harmless, it reversed defendant’s convictions and remanded the case for a new trial. The State argued that the Oregon Supreme Court should reverse the Court of Appeals and affirm the judgment of the trial court because the trial court was not required to conduct “traditional” OEC 403 balancing and admission of the challenged evidence did not violate due process. The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and remanded this case back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Mazziotti" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Supreme Court’s review was whether provisions of Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act (UTPA) that prohibited using “unconscionable tactic[s]” to collect certain debts, and causing likely “confusion” or “misunderstanding” regarding loans and credit, applied to the debt collection activities of plaintiffs, Daniel N. Gordon, P.C. and Daniel Gordon. The trial court held that those provisions applied only to certain consumer relationships and that plaintiffs’ roles as a lawyer and law firm engaged in debt collection activities, and not as a lender or debt owner, removed their activities from the scope of the UTPA. The court granted plaintiffs’ request for an injunction preventing the Oregon Department of Justice from enforcing the UTPA against plaintiffs. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the UTPA did apply to plaintiffs’ debt collection activities. The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Daniel N. Gordon, PC v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

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After defendant Sean McNally refused to comply with a police officer’s order to leave a bus station, the officer arrested him and charged him with, among other things, the misdemeanor offense of interfering with a peace officer. At defendant’s subsequent trial, defendant asked the trial court to instruct the jury that it should acquit him of the charge of interfering with a peace officer if it found that he had engaged in passive resistance. The trial court refused, and the jury found defendant guilty on all charged counts. The Court of Appeals affirmed defendant’s conviction for interfering with a peace officer, holding that defendant had not been entitled to a passive resistance instruction, because only someone who is performing specific acts or techniques commonly associated with governmental protest or civil disobedience can be said to be engaged in “passive resistance.” After its review, the Oregon Supreme Court held the phrase “passive resistance” referred to noncooperation with a peace officer that does not involve violence or other active conduct by the defendant. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision affirming defendant’s conviction for interfering with a peace officer and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings; the Court otherwise affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. View "Oregon v. McNally" on Justia Law

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The issue in this workers’ compensation case was whether claimant was entitled to benefits for his “combined condition” claim. Claimant filed- and his employer’s insurer, SAIF Corporation, initially accepted-a claim for a lumbar strain combined with preexisting lumbar disc disease and related conditions. SAIF later denied the combined condition claim on the ground that the lumbar strain had ceased to be the major contributing cause of the combined condition. Claimant objected. He did not contest that his lumbar strain had ceased to be the major contributing cause of his combined condition. Instead, he argued that the otherwise compensable injury was not limited to the lumbar strain that SAIF had accepted as part of his combined condition claim. In claimant’s view, an “otherwise compensable injury” within the meaning of ORS 656.005(7)(a)(B) referred not just to the condition that SAIF accepted, but also includes any other conditions not accepted that might have resulted from the same work-related accident that caused the lumbar strain, and that larger group of work-related conditions continued to be the major contributing cause of his combined condition. As a result, claimant contended that an employer could not close a combined condition claim if any of those non accepted conditions remained the major cause of the combined condition claim. The Workers’ Compensation Board rejected claimant’s argument and upheld SAIF’s denial of claimant’s combined condition claim, concluding that existing precedent defined the “otherwise compensable injury” component of combined conditions to consist of the condition or conditions that the employer has accepted as compensable. The Court of Appeals reversed, acknowledging that its holding was “potentially at odds” with existing precedents from both that court and the Oregon Supreme Court. It nevertheless concluded that those precedents were either distinguishable or should be reconsidered. The Supreme Court concluded that the Court of Appeals erred and that the Workers’ Compensation Board was correct. View "Brown v. SAIF Corp." on Justia Law