Justia Oregon Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Petitioner Julie Parrish challenged the Attorney General’s certified ballot title for Initiative Petition 13 (2020) (IP 13). Intervenor Uherbelau intervened generally in support of the Attorney General’s certified ballot title. If adopted, IP 13 would amend Article IX of the Oregon Constitution to add a new section, section 16. Subsection 16(1) would require the State Treasurer to “calculate the unfunded actuarial liability of any public employee retirement program or system as of December 31, 2022.” The Oregon Supreme Court reviewed the ballot title for substantial compliance with ORS 250.035(2). After review, the Supreme Court concluded the ballot title for IP 13 did not substantially comply with ORS 250.035(2) in several respects, and therefore referred it to the Attorney General for modification. View "Parrish v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

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Police Officer Hopkins initiated a traffic stop of defendant Khalistan Harrison. As Hopkins approached defendant’s stopped vehicle, defendant stepped out of the car, left the driver’s side door open, and began walking away. Hopkins followed her on foot. Meanwhile, Officer Barrett arrived at the scene. In observing the open driver’s side door, Barrett saw the upper handle and cylinder of a handgun tucked barrel-down in the door’s interior pocket, which was located below the window and armrest and lower than the level of the driver’s seat. According to testimony from Hopkins, the handgun would have been readily accessible to the driver and not visible “when the door was closed when there was a driver in the driver’s seat and the vehicle was traveling down the road.” Defendant was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. At trial, defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal (MJOA), arguing that the handgun was not “concealed” within the meaning of the statute. The trial court denied that motion. Defendant also requested that the trial court give a special jury instruction concerning the definition of “concealed.” The trial court declined to issue defendant’s requested instruction and gave a different instruction, which will be discussed below. Defendant was convicted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Oregon Supreme Court determined a handgun is “concealed” in a vehicle if the placement of the gun would fail to give reasonable notice of the gun’s presence, through ordinary observation, to a person actually coming into contact with the occupants of the vehicle, and communicating in a manner typical of such contact, such as through an open window. The Court determined the gun in this case was sufficiently “concealed” to support defendant’s conviction. View "Oregon v. Harrison" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified a question of law to the Oregon Supreme Court on whether a constructive trust arises at the moment of purchase of a property using fraudulently- obtained funds, or if it arises when a court orders that a constructive trust be imposed as a remedy. Ronald Talmage ran a Ponzi scheme. Plaintiffs were victims of that scheme. Much of the money Plaintiffs invested with Talmage went to pay for a property he and his wife acquired, “RiverCliff.” When the Talmages divorced, a portion of moneys Plaintiffs invested with Ronald. Talmage failed to pay his taxes one year, and the IRS recorded tax liens on the property, leading to the underlying suit involving the constructive trust. The Oregon Supreme Court answered the first part of the Ninth Circuit’s question by clarifying that a constructive trust arises when a court imposes it as a remedy, but that the party for whose benefit the constructive trust is imposed has an equitable ownership interest in specific property that predates the imposition of the constructive trust. The Court answered the second part of the question by explaining that, in the circumstances of this case, plaintiffs had a viable subrogation theory that allowed them to seek a constructive trust based on equitable interests that predate all tax liens on the property. View "Wadsworth v. Talmage" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Oregon Supreme Court was asked to decide the scope of the state civil rights laws and antiretaliation provision in ORS 659A.030(1)(f). The question before the Court was whether the retaliation prohibited by the statute included includes disparaging statements made by defendant, plaintiff’s former supervisor, to an admissions officer at plaintiff’s MBA program. Defendant offered two reasons why it would not be: (1) he was not a “person;” and (2) his statements to the admissions officer did not “otherwise discriminate against” plaintiff, within the meaning of those terms as used in the statute. The Supreme Court disagree with both. “Person,” the Court determined, included all “individuals,” and “otherwise discriminate against” was a broad term that encompasses defendant’s conduct. The Court therefore affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, which ruled in plaintiff’s favor and remanded this case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "McLaughlin v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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Before the Oregon Supreme Court in this case was a child custody dispute arising out of father’s motion to modify a custody determination made at the time of the dissolution of the parties’ marriage, which awarded mother sole legal custody of child. At the conclusion of the modification proceeding, the trial court found that there had been a material change in circumstances concerning mother’s ability to parent child and that a change of custody from mother to father was in child’s best interest, and it awarded sole legal custody of child to father. On mother’s appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court on the ground that, as a matter of law, there was insufficient evidence in the record to support the court’s finding of a change in circumstances and, thus, that custody modification was not warranted. The Supreme Court found sufficient evidence in the record supported the trial court’s ruling that father had proved a change of circumstances. The Court also addressed an issue that the Court of Appeals did not reach: whether the trial court erred in concluding that a change in custody was in child’s best interest. The Court held the trial court did not err in so concluding. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. View "Botofan-Miller and Miller" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Defendant Shannon Carpenter was charged with hindering prosecution through concealment under ORS 162.325(1)(a). The State contended defendant had concealed a person for whom police had an arrest warrant. The State alleged defendant concealed that wanted person through allegedly deceptive statements about knowing the party or his whereabouts. The State also charged defendant with possession of a Schedule II controlled substance. Defendant appealed when the Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction for hindering prosecution. The issue presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's consideration centered on whether defendant “concealed” a person for whom a felony arrest warrant had been issued when, upon questioning by a police detective, defendant falsely denied knowing or associating with the wanted person. In response to defendant’s motion for a judgment of acquittal on the charge of hindering prosecution, the trial court concluded that defendant’s denials amounted to concealing the wanted person’s whereabouts, and it therefore denied defendant’s motion. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court concluded that, in requiring proof of “conceal[ing]” another person, ORS 162.325(1)(a) required the State to prove that defendant had hidden the wanted person from ordinary observation. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the state’s evidence - defendant’s false denials of knowledge - did not satisfy that requirement. Conviction was reversed and the matter remanded to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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The dispute in this workers’ compensation case arises out of a question relating to overlapping statutory provisions that control the determination of permanent partial disability. ORS 656.214 obligated employers to provide compensation for a worker’s permanent impairment, meaning “loss of use or function” that is “due to the compensable industrial injury.” But ORS 656.005(7)(a)(B) limited the employer’s liability when the compensable injury combines with a qualifying “preexisting condition” to “cause or prolong” the injured worker’s’ disability or need for medical treatment, unless the compensable injury is the “major contributing cause” of the “combined condition.” The question presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review centered on whether the legislature intended an employer would obtain the same limited liability when the employer did not follow the process that the legislature created for estimating a reduced amount of permanent impairment following the denial of a “combined condition.” The Supreme Court concluded the legislature intended that injured workers would be fully compensated for new impairment if it was due in material part to the compensable injury, except where an employer has made use of the statutory process for reducing liability after issuing a combined condition denial. View "Caren v. Providence Health System Oregon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought a declaration that the City of Lake Oswego had allow them recreational access to Oswego Lake, either from the shoreline of the city’s waterfront parks (from which the city prohibits all water access) or through the city’s residents-only swim park. According to plaintiffs, the common-law doctrines of public trust and public use protected the public’s right to enter the lake, and the city’s restrictions on access to the lake were contrary to those common-law doctrines. Plaintiffs also contended the city’s restrictions violated the Equal Privileges and Immunities guarantee of the Oregon Constitution. Defendants were the City of Lake Oswego the State of Oregon, and the Lake Oswego Corporation (which held title to riparian rights to the lake). The case reached the Oregon Supreme Court following a summary judgment in which the trial court assumed that the lake was among public waterways to which the doctrine of public trust or public use applied, but held that neither those doctrines nor Article I, section 20, entitled plaintiffs to the declarations they sought. The Court of Appeals affirmed, also without deciding whether the lake was a public waterway. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court correctly granted summary judgment on plaintiffs’ Article I, section 20, challenges. The Court also concluded that neither the public trust nor the public use doctrine granted plaintiffs a right to enter the swim park property and that the public use doctrine did not grant plaintiffs a right to access the water from the waterfront parks. But the Court concluded that, if Oswego Lake was among the navigable waterways that the state held in trust for the public, then neither the state nor the city could unreasonably interfere with the public’s right to enter the water from the abutting waterfront parks. Accordingly, the case was remanded for resolution of the preliminary question of whether the lake was subject to the public trust doctrine and, if the lake was subject to that trust, then for resolution of the factual dispute regarding whether the city’s restriction on entering the lake from the waterfront parks unreasonably interfered with the public’s right to enter the lake from the abutting waterfront parks. View "Kramer v. City of Lake Oswego" on Justia Law

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Sierra Development, LLC (Sierra), a real estate development company in which both Eddie Wilcher and his son were involved, borrowed approximately $5 million from The Mortgage Exchange (MEX), the predecessor in interest of plaintiff Troubled Asset Solutions, LLC (TAS). Wilcher and his son signed a promissory note for the loan as members of Sierra; Wilcher, his son, and his son’s wife also signed the promissory note as “individual guaran- tor(s).” The promissory note stated that it was secured by a trust deed on Sierra Heights, the property owned by Sierra that was to be developed with the loan proceeds, and also by “[a]dditional security” that was “required on this loan.” The promissory note identified as that “additional security” three other properties owned personally by Wilcher, one of which was described as “15 (+/-) acres including residence, Tax Lot 700, Klamath County, Oregon valued at $450,000.” The same three individuals that signed the promissory note also executed the critical document in this case: a deed of trust identifying more than a dozen separate parcels of land as collateral for the loan. The dispute in this case arose because, although the trust deed identified the collateral as including the properties owned personally by Wilcher and contained legal descriptions of those properties, the only name that appeared in the space labeled “GRANTOR” on the first page of the trust deed was Sierra. Wilcher, individually, was not identified as a “grantor” in the trust deed. After the loan went into default, TAS initiated foreclosure proceedings against one of the properties owned personally by Wilcher. The issue presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review centered on the proper legal standard for the reformation of the contract to include a term that all parties had intended, but that one of the parties, by mistake, had failed to include in the written agreement. The trial court reformed the contract to include the term, finding that the mistake “was easily missed,” and that the “evidence is clear that all parties intended” the term to be included. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that reformation was permissible only if the party seeking the remedy demonstrates that it was not “grossly negligent,” and holding that the facts in this case did not meet that standard. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in reforming the contract to express the parties’ agreement. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed in part the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded for further proceedings. View "Troubled Asset Solutions v. Wilcher" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts
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The Energy Facility Siting Council modified its rules that govern amending site certificates. Petitioners challenged the validity of the new rules, arguing that the council failed to comply with required rulemaking procedures and that the rules exceeded the council’s statutory authority. FAfter review of petitioners' challenges, the Oregon Supreme Court agreed with some, but not all, of those grounds and concluded that the rules were invalid. View "Friends of Columbia Gorge v. Energy Fac. Siting Coun." on Justia Law