Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court
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Plaintiff Thomas Lowell provided piano tuning services to defendant Medford School District and assisted in producing concerts performed in defendant’s facilities. While providing production assistance for a particular concert, plain- tiff noticed an echo near the stage. He complained to the school theater technician, Stephanie Malone, and, later, feeling that Malone had not adequately responded, he followed up with her. Malone reported to her supervisor that plaintiff appeared to be intoxicated, that he “smelled of alcohol,” and that “this was not the first time.” The supervisor repeated Malone’s statements to a district support services assistant. The assistant sent emails summarizing Malone’s statements to three other district employees, including the supervisor of purchasing. The assistant expressed concerns that appearing on district property under the influence of alcohol violated district policy and the terms of plaintiff’s piano tuning contract. Plaintiff brought this defamation action against Malone, the supervisor and assistant, later substituting the School district for the individual defendants. Defendant answered, asserting multiple affirmative defenses, including the one at issue here: that public employees are entitled to an absolute privilege for defamatory statements made in the course and scope of their employment. The trial court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment on that basis. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed, finding that defendant as a public employer, did not have an affirmative defense of absolute privilege that entitled it to summary judgment. View "Lowell v. Medford School Dist. 549C" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Bruce Querbach sought to overturn a final order of the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) which determined that reports to DHS that petitioner had abused two children were “founded.” The circuit court, reviewing the order as an order in other than a contested case, assumed that the “reasonable cause to believe” standard in that rule was a “probable cause” standard. After holding a trial to develop the record for review, as required by Norden v. Water Resources Dept., 996 P2d 958 (2000), the circuit court concluded that only two of DHS’s four “founded” determinations could be sustained under that standard. On petitioner’s appeal and DHS’s cross-appeal, the Court of Appeals rejected the circuit court’s application of a “probable cause” standard and, instead employing the “reasonable suspicion” standard that it had used in an earlier, similar case, concluded that not just two, but three of DHS’s “founded” determinations had to be sustained. Appealing to the Oregon Supreme Court, petitioner argued that “probable cause” was the correct standard for determining that a report of abuse is founded and that none of DHS’s “founded” determinations hold up when the record on review was considered under that standard. Petitioner also argued that, given that the circuit court found that the DHS investigation and analysis into the reported abuse was incomplete and flawed in various respects, the “founded” determinations had to be set aside. The Supreme Court rejected those arguments and affirmed the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that three of the four “founded” dispositions were supported by substantial evidence. View "Querbach v. Dept. of Human Services" on Justia Law

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This case centered on the loss of use or function of claimant’s right knee, specifically, reduced range of motion and decreased stability in that knee, that was determined to be entirely related to causes other than claimant’s compensable workplace injury. In addition, claimant had loss of use or function of that same knee, surgical value and chronic condition loss, that was related to the workplace injury. In claimant’s view, she was entitled to the full measure of impairment for all new findings of loss: the reduced range of motion, the decreased stability, the surgical value, and the chronic condition. On judicial review, the Court of Appeals agreed with claimant, holding that “claimant’s impairment ‘as a whole’ included her whole-person impairment, of which the work injury is a material contributing cause, as well as her impairment due to loss of range of motion and stability.” SAIF disagreed and sought review from the Oregon Supreme Court, arguing that findings of loss due entirely to causes other than the compensable injury did not satisfy the statutory definition of “impairment” and, accordingly, should be excluded from an injured worker’s permanent partial disability award. The Supreme Court agreed with SAIF: claimant was not entitled to compensation for the reduced range of motion and decreased stability findings of loss. Accordingly, the decision of the Court of Appeals was reversed and the order of the Workers’ Compensation Board affirmed. View "Robinette v. SAIF" on Justia Law

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Two groups of petitioners challenged the ballot title that the Oregon Attorney General certified for Initiative Petition 41 (2022) (IP 41). IP 41 would add a new section 16 to Article IX of the Oregon Constitution, which would specify that a “public body may not assess a toll” on any part of an Oregon “highway” unless approved by the voters of nearby counties. After review, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded that petitioners identified two ways in which the ballot title failed to substantially comply with the statutory requirements. Accordingly, the Court referred the ballot title to the Attorney General for modification. View "Salsgiver/Iannarone v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

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Two sets of electors who were dissatisfied with the Attorney General’s ballot title for Initiative Petition 34 (2022) (IP 34) petitioned the Oregon Supreme Court for review. IP 34 was directed at changing Oregon’s process for reapportioning legislative and congressional districts after each decennial census. Both petitions argued the ballot title did not substantially comply with the requirements of ORS 250.035. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed with some of the arguments raised in the petitions and, therefore, referred the ballot title to the Attorney General for modification. View "Mason/Turrill v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

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Defendant Mark Bartlett requested the City of Portland to release three city attorney opinions and one legal memorandum. The parties agreed that the documents were public records, were within the scope of the attorney-client privilege, and were more than 25 years old. The city declined to release the documents, arguing that they were exempt from the public records law because of the attorney-client privilege. The specific question presented for the Oregon Supreme Court’s consideration in this case was whether the four documents that were prepared more than 25 years ago by the Portland City Attorney for the mayor and two city commissioners and that were subject to the attorney-client privilege had to be disclosed under ORS 192.390. The Court concluded those documents had to be disclosed. View "City of Portland v. Bartlett" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review centered on whether a truck driver (claimant) who sustained injuries while driving a truck that he leased directly from a trucking company, with restrictions that prohibited him from driving the truck for the use of any other company, was a “subject worker” within the meaning of ORS 656.027 such that the trucking company was required to provide workers’ compensation insurance coverage for claimant’s injuries. SAIF and Robert Murray, the owner of Bob Murray Trucking (BMT), a for-hire carrier, sought review of the Court of Appeals’ opinion affirming the final order of the Workers’ Compensation Board: that claimant was a subject worker of BMT under the workers’ compensation laws and did not qualify for the exemption to “subject worker” status contained in ORS 656.027(15)(c). To this the Supreme Court agreed and affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals and the Workers’ Compensation Board’s final order. View "SAIF v. Ward" on Justia Law

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Relator was a prospective candidate for Oregon governor. After he filed his declaration of candidacy with the Secretary of State, the secretary asked relator for additional information to substantiate that he will “have been three years next preceding his election, a resident within this State,” as required to serve as governor by Article V, section 2, of the Oregon Constitution. Relator submitted additional materials in support of his claim that he met the constitutional eligibility requirement. Upon reviewing those materials, the secretary determined that, although relator had previously been a resident of Oregon, he had been a resident of New York since at least 2000 and he had not reestablished Oregon residency by November 2019. The secretary therefore concluded that relator did not meet the constitutional requirement, and informed him his name would not be placed on the ballot in the primary election. The next day, relator filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the Oregon Supreme Court, asking the Court to direct the secretary to reverse her determination and to instruct county officials to place relator’s name on the ballot. The issues this case presented for the Supreme Court's review were: (1) the meaning of “resident within this State,” as those words are used in Article V, section 2, of the Oregon Constitution; and (2) whether the secretary was required to conclude that relator met that legal standard. The Court concluded that “resident within,” when viewed against the legal context that surrounded the Oregon Constitution’s 1857 ratification, was best understood to refer to the legal concept of “domicile,” which required “the fact of a fixed habitation or abode in a particular place, and an intention to remain there permanently or indefinitely[.] Under that legal concept, a person can have only a single residence at a time." Further, the Court held the secretary was not required to conclude that relator was domiciled in Oregon between November 2019 and December 2020. Although relator challenged the constitutionality of the durational residency requirement in Article V, section 2, that question was not properly considered through a mandamus proceeding. The Court therefore dismissed the alternative writ and denied relator’s petition. View "Oregon ex rel Kristof v. Fagan" on Justia Law

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The question in this case was whether the Secretary of State was required to count the signatures on an initiative petition of voters whose registration was deemed “inactive.” Plaintiffs were supporters of Initiative Petition 50 (2016) (IP 50) who sought to qualify that initiative for the 2016 ballot. After the secretary subtracted the signatures of voters with inactive registration, the petition did not have enough signatures to be placed on the ballot. Plaintiffs brought this action challenging the secretary’s exclusion of those signatures. Plaintiffs argued that voters with inactive registration could sign initiative petitions because, even if their registration was inactive, they were still registered, and therefore remain “qualified voters” within the meaning of Article IV, section 1. The secretary responded that those voters could not sign initiative petitions because voters with inactive registration were not “registered * * * in the manner provided by law,” and they therefore were not “qualified voters” within the meaning of Article IV, section 1. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded, like the secretary, that because voters whose registrations were inactive were not eligible to vote, they were not “qualified voters” within the meaning of Article IV, section 1. Accordingly, the Court held that their signatures on initiative petitions could not be counted, and that the secretary properly excluded them when determining the number of signatures submitted in support of IP 50. View "Whitehead v. Fagan" on Justia Law

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The issue on appeal in this case was whether taxpayer, Ooma, Inc., a California company, had sufficient contacts or nexus with Oregon to make it subject to local tax. The Oregon Tax Court concluded that Ooma’s contacts and nexus with Oregon were sufficient to satisfy the Due Process and Commerce Clauses, and granted summary judgment to the Department of Revenue. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed the Tax Court. View "Ooma, Inc. v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law