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Court to interpret provisions of gaming compact

This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 20, 2020.


Attorney Ashley Schovanec Web

Ashley M. Schovanec is a litigation attorney who represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of civil litigation matters.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Ashley M. Schovanec

On Dec. 31, the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations filed suit against the governor, asking a federal judge to determine whether Oklahoma tribes have the right to continue gaming activities under the tribal-state gaming compact offered by the state of Oklahoma to the tribes in 2004.

What is the tribal-state gaming compact?

In 1988, Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to create a framework for states and Indian tribes to cooperate in regulating on-reservation tribal gaming. The IGRA provides a tribal-state compact as the mechanism for facilitating the unusual relationship in which a tribe might affirmatively seek the extension of state jurisdiction and the application of state laws to activities conducted on Indian land. The tribal-state compact provides the state with the only lawful means for directly asserting any governmental interests related to tribal gaming activities.

Absent a negotiated compact between the tribes and the state, Class III gaming (casino games, slot machines and horse racing) is forbidden by the IGRA. While tribes are incentivized to negotiate compacts to gain permission to conduct Class III gaming, the state is incentivized to negotiate compacts to gain a share of the gaming revenue.

In 2004, Oklahoma and the tribes entered into a compact that would allow the tribes to conduct Class III gaming activity on Indian lands in exchange for the tribes’ disbursement of periodic revenue-share payments to the State. Part 15.A. of the compact sets forth the requirements that must be met for the compact to go into effect. Part 15.B. provides that the compact’s initial term will expire on Jan. 1, 2020, and “shall automatically renew” for successive 15-year terms on that same date, if at that time “organizational licensees” (e.g. horse race tracks and others) are authorized to conduct certain electronic gaming pursuant to any governmental action of the state or court order following the effective date of the compact. Part 15.C. states that the compact will remain in effect until either its term expires without renewal or it is terminated by mutual consent of the parties.

What is the central issue of the dispute?

The tribes are seeking a declaratory judgment on the single question of whether the compact was renewed on Jan. 1 for another 15-year term. The tribes argue the state has taken actions that satisfy Part 15.B.’s conditions for automatic renewal – through the actions of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission’s issuance of licenses for electronic gaming and the state’s enactment of changes in state-regulated electronic gaming. On the opposite side, Gov. Stitt believes that the requirements that allow for automatic renewal have not been met. Since the summer of 2019, Stitt has maintained the compact would expire Dec. 31, 2019, and gambling at tribal casinos would become illegal as of Jan. 1, 2020.

Why is this a high-stakes lawsuit?

The dispute between the state and the tribes is significant. In Fiscal 2018, 31 tribes operated 131 facilities offering Class III games and collected $2.3 billion in revenue, with approximately $139 million paid to the state. If Chief Federal Judge Timothy DeGiusti determines the compact was not renewed, the future of Class III gaming is unclear. While the tribes would absorb the brunt of a non-renewal declaration, those that conduct business with the tribes and gaming facility patrons would likely see substantial changes to the gaming landscape they once knew – whether it be an elimination of Class III gaming in Oklahoma or an alteration of the terms of the 2004 compact. Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, the court’s declaration will likely have a lasting effect upon the tribal-state relationship.

Ashley M. Schovanec is an attorney at the law firm of Phillips Murrah.

Firm selects Employee of the Month for December 2019

Kat Mach

Kat Mach, Legal Assistant, is Phillips Murrah’s Employee of the Month for December 2019.

“I find that a little bit of kindness and respect will get you so much further in the world,” Kat said. “It is really nice to have that noticed. Hopefully, we can start a movement in the world starting with just our Firm.”

The Employee of the Month is selected anonymously by Phillips Murrah staff on merits of teamwork and overall contributions to the Firm.

“Kat is smart, willing to help and has a great attitude,” Director Dawn M. Rahme said. “She keeps things running smoothly, and we are lucky to have her as part of our team!”

The Firm recently began making a donation to the winner’s charity of choice, and Kat chose METAvivor.

To learn more about METAvivor, click here.


Phillips Murrah has been recognized as an Oklahoma Top Work Place by The Oklahoman/Energage five years in a row. Our Firm strives to recognize and reward our employees for excellence.

 

Mindfulness in the legal profession

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 9, 2020.


Kendra Norman Web

Kendra M. Norman represents individuals and businesses in a broad range of transactional matters.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Kendra M. Norman

Every morning, my Apple Watch vibrates on my wrist and tells me to start the Breathe app. My instinct is to ignore it, feeling like taking a few moments to just breathe is a waste of precious time that could be spent more productively – such as on contributing to my billable-hour requirement.

Despite this instinct, spending time on our mental health is far from wasted time. The legal industry is fact-focused, but when it comes to our own well-being, we’re very good at ignoring facts. We zealously represent our clients, but we often don’t advocate on our own behalf.

Generally, attorneys are driven pessimists and perfectionists in a difficult profession that puts us almost always on-call. We tend to romanticize stress and brag about how late we stay at the office and how often we work on weekends. Too often, we sacrifice our well-being as we scramble to meet unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others.

A recent American Bar Association/Hazelden Betty Ford study concluded that licensed, employed attorneys have alcohol issues and problems with anxiety and depression at a rate high above most other professions. There has also been a historical stigma in legal culture that discourages help-seeking behaviors, which tends to exacerbate feelings of isolation and increase emotional suffering.

The good news is that there is a recent-but-slow shift in attorney culture toward a greater focus on mental health and self-care, including mindfulness. In late 2018, the ABA launched a campaign to improve mental health, and over 90 law firms and corporate law departments agreed to follow a framework to improve our industry in this regard. Some law firms have even hired staff specifically devoted to addressing their employees’ mental health.

I’ve been trying to actively meditate for about a year now, and I don’t always find time to fit it in. However, if I’ve had a particularly challenging day or can’t get work off my mind, I reach for the meditation app on my phone to bring myself some peace of mind. Meditation helps me live in the present rather than ruminating about the past or the future.

In a profession that is mentally and emotionally challenging, healthy coping mechanisms like meditation, yoga, exercise, and even journaling can make a great difference. Remember – it’s not wasted time to take a few moments, close your eyes and just breathe.

Kendra M. Norman is an attorney at the law firm of Phillips Murrah.

OKC Thunder Phillips Murrah Blocks for Bucks campaign chalks up 100th block

OKC Thunder Phillips Murrah Blocks for Bucks hits 100 mark in season blocks

Phillips Murrah is proud to announce that we have reached the “Centennial” mark for this 2019-2020 season with our #BlocksforBucks campaign! Yesterday (Jan 8), The Oklahoma City Thunder posted to their social media accounts this statement:

100 blocks and counting… that equals a $10,000 donation thus far to the Thunder Cares Foundation!

For the third consecutive season, the law firm of Phillips Murrah is donating $100 to the Thunder Cares Foundation for every block the Thunder notches at home. Visit the #BlocksforBucks webpage to see some of the best blocks of the season and track their donations!
🎬 ➡️ https://www.nba.com/thunder/blocksforbucks

“The performance of OKC Thunder players and organization proves that, even with the loss of last season’s ‘celebrity’ players, this team is emblematic of our community as a whole – talented and resilient,” said Phillips Murrah Marketing Director Dave Rhea.

All funds raised by Phillips Murrah’s OKC Thunder Blocks for Bucks campaign benefit the Thunder Cares Foundation. For more details and background on Blocks for Bucks, click on the link below:

Phillips Murrah law firm names newest Director, Shareholder

Cody J. Cooper

OKLAHOMA CITY (January 2, 2020) – Phillips Murrah proudly announces the promotion of Cody J. Cooper to a Director and Shareholder for the Firm. Cooper’s selection brings the Firm’s total number of Directors to 38.

Cody is a member of the Firm’s Intellectual Property and Commercial Litigation Practice Groups. His practice primarily concentrates on intellectual property, including patent prosecution and litigation, trademark and copyright matters, and commercial litigation in state and federal courts.

“I am honored and excited to transition from associate to director. I have spent my entire legal career at the Firm and I cannot imagine a better, more supporting place to develop as a person and attorney,” Cody said. “I am so proud to be associated with all of the individuals at the firm and look forward to continuing to help move the Firm forward and continue the sustained success it has had since its founding.

Cody graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Law with Honors. While in law school, he served as the managing editor of the American Indian Law Review, Magister (President) of the legal honors fraternity Phi Delta Phi and was on the Dean’s Honor Roll. He was also a mentor on the Dean’s Leadership Council for incoming law students and earned the American Jurisprudence Award for Civil Procedure II. He was a semi-finalist at the University of West Virginia Energy Law Moot Court Competition.

Cody received his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Oklahoma, majoring in Finance and Management Information Systems. He has a general science and engineering background, which qualified him to become registered before the United States Patent and Trademark Office as a practicing patent attorney. As an undergraduate student, he worked for a Fortune 100 company as a systems analyst intern in the business and technology group, working with a number of complex software suites that provided critical services to the business.

“Cody has proven himself to be a proactive and diligent attorney since joining the Firm straight from law school,” said Thomas G. Wolfe, President and Managing Partner. “His hard work and commitment to his legal practice are signs that he will make the Firm proud as our newest Director and Shareholder.”

Cody is actively involved in community and charitable organizations and has volunteered with a number of organizations including Camp Cavett, NewView Oklahoma, Salvation Army, various public schools throughout the Oklahoma City Metro and others.

Born and raised in Norman, Oklahoma, Cody now lives in Oklahoma City with his wife, daughter and two dogs. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with friends and family, playing sports and attending Oklahoma City Thunder and Sooner sporting events.

Firm selects Employees of the Month for November

Sherree Williams and Rae White

Sherree Williams and Rae White, Legal Assistants, are Phillips Murrah’s Employees of the Month for November 2019.

“I am very excited and proud that my peers voted for me for Employee of the Month,” Sherree said. “This firm is like family and they make me feel appreciated. It is truly an honor.”

The Employee of the Month is selected anonymously by Phillips Murrah staff on merits of teamwork and overall contributions to the Firm.

“WOW!  It is a privilege to be voted the Employee of the Month,” Rae said. “My Phillips Murrah family is the best, and I love working with such wonderful people.”

The Firm recently began making a donation to the winner’s charity of choice. Sherree chose Doberman Rescue Group of Oklahoma, and Rae chose Compassionate Hands.

To learn more about Doberman Rescue Group, click here.

For more information about Compassionate hands, visit their website here.


Phillips Murrah has been recognized as an Oklahoma Top Work Place by The Oklahoman/Energage five years in a row. Our Firm strives to recognize and reward our employees for excellence.

 

Phillips Murrah honored as Top Workplace for fifth consecutive year

2019 Phillips Murrah Top WorkplacesThe law firm of Phillips Murrah is proud to announce its inclusion as one of Oklahoma City’s Top Workplaces for five straight years.

“This is an exciting time for us, each year, to be recognized for our workplace culture,” said Phillips Murrah Marketing Director Dave Rhea. “Our attorneys and staff work hard to help our Firm excel in the legal realm, so it is nice to be recognized for our positive work environment.”

The Firm has previously been recognized as one of Oklahoma’s Top Workplaces in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

In determining the defining criteria of Top Workplaces, The Oklahoman partners with the Philadelphia-based company, Energage, which evaluates companies across the country, pertaining to internal components of healthy workplace dynamics.

“Top Workplaces put the employee at the center of things and focus on creating the right environment to unleash potential and inspire performance,” said Doug Claffey, founder of Energage, The Oklahoman’s research partner for Top Workplaces.

Every year, the newspaper encourages Oklahoma companies and organizations to participate in a survey that employees complete anonomously, detailing employee satisfaction, company values, internal communication, leadership and other various determinates.

To learn more about the workplace culture and opportunities at Phillips Murrah, visit our Careers page: https://phillipsmurrah.com/careers.

Davis to explore Oklahoma Public Utility Division’s procedures, rules of practice

Eric Davis

Eric Davis is an attorney in the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group and the Government Relations and Compliance Practice Group. He represents clients in a range of regulatory and energy matters.

C. Eric Davis, an attorney in the Firm’s Government Relations and Compliance Practice Group, will give a presentation on Dec. 6 for Continuing Legal Education individuals.

Davis will present at 8:30 a.m. at HalfMoon Education Inc.’s seminar titled “Issues in Oklahoma Energy and Electric Utility Regulation,” discussing Oklahoma Public Utility Division rules of practice and procedure.

“The Corporation Commission determines what many of us pay for electricity and natural gas, and it influences utility companies’ multimillion dollar investment decisions ranging from building new power plants to deploying advanced meters,” Davis said. “Because of its impact, it’s useful to understand how the Commission makes decisions and how its hearings work.”

The seminar will run from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Friday in Oklahoma City. Those interested in registering can find more information here. Attendees receive CLE credit for participating.

Federal Medicaid match matters to state’s healthcare providers

Introducing Becky-Pasternik-Ikard

Rebecca “Becky” Pasternik-Ikard is a lawyer, a nurse and a Medicaid program director who brings decades of experience to assist Phillips Murrah healthcare clients in copy with reimbursement, including negotiating payments, audits and appeals, and other regulatory issues related to governmental payments of providers.

In this article, Oklahoma City Attorney Rebecca Pasternik-Ikard answers questions about state and federal government’s role in funding Oklahoma’s Medicaid program.

What is the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP)?

The Federal Medical Assistance Percentage is the federal government’s share of the expenditures for medical services and administrative costs for a state Medicaid program and is often called the “federal match.”

Why does it matter to Oklahoma’s healthcare providers?

FMAP matters because each state’s Medicaid program is funded jointly by state and federal dollars. Generally, states receiving a higher FMAP for medical services need fewer state dollars. But a state must have state dollars to leverage federal matching dollars. On a quarterly basis, a state submits to the federal government its Medicaid expenditures paid by state dollars seeking to “draw down” the federal matching dollars.

How often does the FMAP change?

The FMAP for medical services for all states is calculated annually by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), based on a formula in the Social Security Act, and is effective from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 of each year. The FMAP varies from state to state; it can be no lower than 50% and no higher than 83%. So, for every $1 states spend on Medicaid, states can “draw down” at least $1 from the federal government. However, the FMAP for a state’s Medicaid administrative costs is fixed, generally at 50% FMAP. States do receive enhanced FMAP for certain populations, services and a variety of administrative functions.

How does the FMAP specifically impact physicians, hospitals and other healthcare providers?

Fluctuations in the FMAP for medical services can have significant impact on all healthcare providers. Significant increases often allow a state to restore, increase or add benefits compensable under the Medicaid program, as well as adjust upward the rates paid to providers. Conversely, depending on a state’s ability to offset the loss of federal funds, a decrease in the FMAP can trigger the elimination or reduction in certain benefits provided to Medicaid enrollees, as well as a decrease in provider rates.

How is the FMAP for medical services calculated?

The FMAP is based on a rolling three-year average of the per capita income of each state as compared to the national average per capita income. However, there is a lag in the data used. For instance, for FY 2019 (effective Oct 1, 2018-Sept. 30, 2019) the FMAP calculation for states was based on state per capita personal income data for 2014, 2015 and 2016. Generally, what this means is that for states with lower per capita incomes relative to the national average, the federal government contributes more to the Medicaid program. Conversely, the federal government contributes less to the Medicaid program in those states with higher per capita incomes. However, the formula is not responsive quickly when a state experiences an economic downturn.

How does the FMAP work in Oklahoma?

With the exception of the FY 2014 FMAP of 64.02%, Oklahoma’s FMAP declined overall from 64.00% in FY 2013 to 58.57% in FY 2018. Oklahoma experienced the largest cumulative FMAP decrease in the nation over this period. This significant loss of federal dollars prompted the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) to implement administrative and operational strategies to continue to operate the Medicaid program, resulting in physician and other provider rate reductions of 7.75% in July 2015 and 3% in January 2016. From FY 2018 to FY 2019, Oklahoma had the greatest FMAP increase of any state of 3.81%, from 58.57% ($1.43 in federal dollars for every state dollar spent in medical services) to 62.38% ($1.66 in federal dollars for every state dollar spent in medical services). This influx of federal matching dollars and OHCA’s management of its administrative and program budgets allowed OHCA to restore the last provider rate reduction of 3%. From FY 2019 to FY 2020, Oklahoma experienced another significant FMAP increase of 3.64% from 62.38% ($1.66 in federal dollars for every state dollar spent in medical services) to 66.02% ($1.94 in federal dollars for every state dollar spent in medical services). Once again, provider rates were increased. The good news is that, due to Oklahoma’s experience with shifting FMAPs, a Rate Preservation Fund of $29.4 million was created this year, to help offset future FMAP decreases and mitigate potential provider rate reductions.

Rebecca Pasternik-Ikard is an attorney at Phillips Murrah.

Medicaid, work and community engagement

This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 27, 2019.


Introducing Becky-Pasternik-Ikard

Rebecca “Becky” Pasternik-Ikard is a lawyer, a nurse and a Medicaid program director who brings decades of experience to assist Phillips Murrah healthcare clients in copy with reimbursement, including negotiating payments, audits and appeals, and other regulatory issues related to governmental payments of providers.

By Phillips Murrah Of Counsel Attorney Becky Pasternik-Ikard

Physicians, hospitals and other health care providers continue to experience not only shrinking reimbursement rates, but also an increasingly formidable regulatory presence. A recent controversial Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services policy reform permits states to require certain Medicaid beneficiaries to engage in meaningful work or in volunteer activities as a condition for continued eligibility.

This policy is a fundamental shift in Medicaid eligibility, eliciting criticism from the health care community that employment should not be a condition for coverage and access to medical treatment.

Although overall Medicaid enrollment has declined over the past two years, Medicaid enrollment has increased since the Affordable Care Act, driven primarily by newly eligible adults gaining coverage under Medicaid expansion, with the highest enrollment increases seen in Medicaid expansion states. This increase includes not only the Medicaid expansion population, but also those individuals who were currently eligible, but not enrolled. These people learned of coverage due to extensive outreach efforts by expansion states.

In its Jan. 11, 2018 State Medicaid Director letter entitled Opportunities to Promote Work and Community Engagement among Medicaid Beneficiaries, CMS announced the new policy and clarified that states could predicate continued Medicaid eligibility on participation in work requirements, including community service, caregiving, education, job training, and substance use disorder treatment. The basis for this policy is Section 1901 of the Social Security Act. Divisive reactions have opponents characterizing it as inconsistent with Medicaid’s objective of health coverage and an impermissible Medicaid enrollment reduction strategy.

Eighteen states have sought approval to implement work requirements. Although CMS has approved all requests submitted by Medicaid expansion states, the implementation of three, Arkansas, Kentucky and New Hampshire, has been interrupted or stopped due to legal challenge.

Kentucky, a Medicaid expansion state, received CMS approval the day after the new policy was announced. Kentucky had submitted a Section 1115 waiver authority request in 2017 incorporating work requirements. Shortly after Kentucky’s January 2018 approval, a legal challenge was filed. Kentucky’s implementation has been blocked twice by a federal district court judge and is under appeal. Kentucky Gov.-elect Andy Beshear has declared plans to rescind Medicaid work requirements.

In July 2017, Indiana submitted its request to CMS proposing work requirements for its Medicaid expansion enrollees. Although Indiana received CMS approval in February 2018, implementation did not begin until January 2019. In September 2019, a lawsuit was filed challenging Indiana’s program. Indiana has suspended its work requirements pending the outcome of the litigation.

In March 2018, CMS approved Arkansas’ June 2017 request to amend its Section 1115 waiver to implement work requirements. Implementation began in June 2018. In August 2018, a lawsuit was filed challenging Arkansas’ approval. A year after approval, the federal district court set it aside. The matter is under appeal.

In May 2018, New Hampshire became the fourth state to win approval for work requirements, with implementation scheduled in March, but it was postponed due to a lawsuit filed the same month. Consistent with the rulings for Kentucky and Arkansas, in July 2019, the same federal district court judge set aside the approval for New Hampshire.

State leadership and Medicaid programs nationwide await the outcome following the Oct. 11 oral arguments related to the appeals for Arkansas and Kentucky. Oklahoma, a non-expansion state, has a pending waiver request to impose work requirements on certain Medicaid beneficiaries. If approved, this would add barriers to access and continuity of care, which are likely to place additional administrative and financial burdens on hospitals, physicians and other health care providers.

Becky Pasternik-Ikard is the former CEO of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and former state Medicaid director. She currently practices Of Counsel for Phillips Murrah law firm in Oklahoma City.

Your Racehorse Tested Positive for a Regulated Substance, Time Is of the Essence

Mary Westman is an Oklahoma attorney, Morgan horse breeder and registered nurse with an MBA. Mary provides legal representation in all aspects of equine-related businesses and activities including legal advising, business formations, preparing or reviewing contracts, litigating equine disputes and equine welfare advocacy.

This article will briefly discuss the regulation of drugs in Oklahoma horse racing and the critical steps to be followed should a test come back positive for a regulated substance.

The Oklahoma Horse Racing Act (OHRA), Okla. Stat. tit 3A, §200 et seq., provides the framework by which horse racing is conducted in Oklahoma. Among other things, the OHRA establishes the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission (the Commission), which is charged with regulating horse racing within the state by creating and enforcing rules and regulations. The OHRA’s stated purpose and intent is set forth as follows:

In the interest of the public health, safety, and welfare, it is hereby declared to be the purpose and intent of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Act to vest in the Commission plenary power to promulgate rules and regulations for the forceful control of race meetings held in this state. The rules and regulations shall:

  1. encourage agriculture and the breeding of horses in this state; and
  2. maintain race meetings held in this state of the highest quality and free of any horse racing practices which are corrupt, incompetent, dishonest, or unprincipled; and
  3. dissipate any cloud of association with the undesirable and maintain the appearance as well as the fact of complete honesty and integrity of horse racing in this state; and
  4. generate public revenues. Okla. Stat. tit. 3A, § 203.7.

Under the authority granted to it by the Oklahoma legislature, the Commission creates and periodically changes the rules of racing. The rules, revised in both August and September of this year, are comprehensive and can be found on the Commission’s website. Rules and regulations related to prohibited practices and equine testing are outlined in chapter 45. According to the Commission’s rules, the purpose of chapter 45 is “to protect the integrity of horse racing, safeguard the health of horses, and defend the interests of the public and racing participants through the prohibition or control of all substances. …” OAC 325:45-1-1.

It is beyond the scope of this article to list each prohibited or controlled substance outlined in chapter 45, but anyone licensed to race horses in Oklahoma should be well acquainted with all that chapter 45 regulates. When a horse tests positive for a regulated substance, the burden to prove no violation occurred shifts to the trainer or owner. OAC 325:45-1-4(g).

As mentioned above, the Commission not only creates the rules of racing, it also enforces them through a quasi-judicial process. Just as chapter 45 outlines the rules for regulating substances, the Commission rules also outline the process for investigating and appealing a positive drug test. Failure to follow the rules, to include the time frames for requesting a split test, will result in a waiver of the right to appeal any action that is taken because of the positive test.

In addition to preserving the right to appeal, timely investigation of a positive drug test is also important from the standpoint of evaluating whether or not the horse’s environment contributed to the positive drug test. To introduce mitigating evidence of environmental contamination, you must be able to test the stall, bedding, feed, supplements and even the horse’s handlers in order to show the horse was not intentionally given a prohibited or regulated substance. The more time that passes between the date of collection and the date of investigation, the more difficult it will be for a credible argument of environmental contamination to be made.

In case an investigation is necessary, good records should be kept of stall management, feed and supplement lot numbers, medication administration, and when grooms and other handlers worked with the horse, etc. Moreover, trainers should ensure that measures are taken to restrict access to the horses in their charge to protect against the nefarious actions of third parties.

Timeliness is the theme of this article on defending against a positive drug test. It all starts with keeping timely and accurate records on the management of the horse. In the event of a positive drug test, it then moves to the timely, written request for a split sample testing. And then, of course, it moves on to the timely appeal process. A well-researched and drafted appeal can go nowhere if the time frames outlined in the Commission’s rules are not strictly observed.

This article is intended for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. This article originally appeared in Oklahoma Horses magazine as a part of Mary’s regular legal column.

The ABCs of the FLSA’s new overtime rules

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 21, 2019.


attorney Martin J Lopez III

Martin J. Lopez III is a litigation attorney who represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of civil litigation matters.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Martin J. Lopez III

The Fair Labor Standards Act is the federal law regulating employee pay. Among other things, the FLSA covers minimum wages, maximum hours, overtime compensation and child labor.

The current federal minimum wage for most employees is $7.25 per hour. The FLSA requires employers to pay overtime, one-and-a-half times an employee’s regular hourly rate, when employees work more than 40 hours in a workweek. The FLSA also establishes categories of employees who are exempt from its overtime pay requirements, one of which is known as the white collar exemption. This includes executives, administrative employees, educational establishments, professional employees, computer employees and highly compensated employees.

Currently, exempt employees must be paid a salary of at least $455 per week. Being paid on a salary basis means that an employee must receive a full salary for any week in which work is performed, and they are not eligible for overtime. An exempt employee’s salary may not be reduced due to absences from work except in specific limited situations.

On Sept. 24, the U.S. Department of Labor announced its final rules for the revisions to the overtime regulations for the white collar exemptions. This change, effective Jan. 1, prospectively makes roughly 1.3 million American workers newly eligible for overtime pay. The rule updates the earnings thresholds necessary to exempt employees from the FLSA’s overtime pay requirements and allows employers to count a portion of certain bonuses and commissions toward meeting the salary level. These thresholds were last updated in 2004.

In the final rule, the Department of Labor is:

• Raising the standard salary level from the currently enforced weekly level of $455 to $684 (equivalent to $35,568 per year for a full-year worker).

• Raising the total annual compensation requirement for highly compensated employees from the currently enforced annual level of $100,000 to $107,432.

• Allowing employers to use nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) paid at least annually to satisfy up to 10% of the standard salary level, in recognition of evolving pay practices.

• Revising the special salary levels for workers in U.S. territories and the motion picture industry.

In light of this, employers should review their employee records for any of its exempt workers making less than the new salary threshold level and determine what changes should be made.

Martin J. Lopez III is an attorney at the law firm of Phillips Murrah.

Firm selects Employee of the Month for October 2019

Samantha Arnold

Samantha Arnold, Administrative Assistant, is Phillips Murrah’s Employee of the Month for October 2019.

“From day one, this firm has made me feel more appreciated as an employee than I’ve ever felt before, and winning Employee of the Month is just another example of how my peers have made me feel invaluable as a colleague,” Sam said. “I work with truly the most interesting people who motivate me on a daily basis to be the best version of myself… and I guess it’s working!”

The Employee of the Month is selected anonymously by Phillips Murrah staff on merits of teamwork and overall contributions to the Firm.

“Samantha came to us with no legal experience, and has shown really nice potential during her short time here,” said Michelle Munda, Executive Director at Phillips Murrah. “She’s smart, eager to learn and has a great attitude.

“We’re excited to watch her progress!”

The Firm recently began making a donation to the winner’s charity of choice, and Sam chose SameYou.

“I had a brain injury when I was 9 and was lucky enough to walk away from it, however, I do get severe headaches and have other issues that may have stemmed from my injury,” Sam said. “The thing is, the brain is still such a mystery to us as human beings, yet it’s what makes us who we are.

“Brain injuries have the capability of taking that away from us, so I want to donate to an organization that is helping people get back to who they once were.”

To learn more about SameYou, click here.


Phillips Murrah has been recognized as an Oklahoma Top Work Place by The Oklahoman/Energage four years in a row. Our Firm strives to recognize and reward our employees for excellence.

 

Phillips Murrah named among 2020 Best Law Firms in 45 practice areas

Phillips Murrah is proud to announce that our law firm has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 “Best Law Firms” for professional excellence for the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Area and, for the first time, the Dallas/Fort Worth area in the following practice areas:

Oklahoma City

Tier 1

  • Administrative / Regulatory Law
  • Banking and Finance Law
  • Bankruptcy and Creditor Debtor Rights / Insolvency and Reorganization Law
  • Business Organizations (including LLCs and Partnerships)
  • Commercial Litigation
  • Commercial Transactions / UCC Law
  • Corporate Law
  • Energy Law
  • Energy Regulatory Law
  • Government Relations Practice
  • Insurance Law
  • Litigation – Bankruptcy
  • Litigation – Real Estate
  • Litigation – Tax
  • Natural Resources Law
  • Oil & Gas Law
  • Product Liability Litigation – Defendants
  • Real Estate Law
  • Trusts & Estates Law

Tier 2

  • Construction Law
  • Employment Law – Management
  • Health Care Law
  • Land Use & Zoning Law
  • Litigation – Banking & Finance
  • Litigation – Labor & Employment
  • Litigation – Land Use & Zoning
  • Mergers & Acquisitions Law
  • Public Finance Law
  • Securities Regulation
  • Tax Law
  • Workers’ Compensation Law – Employers

Tier 3

  • Bet-the-Company Litigation
  • Environmental Law
  • Family Law
  • Labor Law – Management
  • Litigation – Antitrust
  • Litigation – ERISA
  • Litigation – Trusts & Estates
  • Mass Tort Litigation / Class Actions – Defendants
  • Medical Malpractice Law – Defendants
  • Personal Injury Litigation – Defendants
  • Securities / Capital Markets Law
  • Technology Law
  • Venture Capital Law

Dallas/Fort Worth

Tier 3

  • Bankruptcy and Creditor Debtor Rights / Insolvency and Reorganization Law

 

To be eligible for a ranking, a law firm must have a lawyer listed in The Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top four percent of practicing attorneys in the United States.

Earlier in the year, Phillips Murrah announced that 48 of our attorneys are recognized by Best Lawyers in America for 2020.

Firms included in the 2020 “Best Law Firms” list are recognized for professional excellence, quality law practice and breadth of legal expertise. The “Best Law Firms” rankings are based on a combination of client feedback, information provided on the Law Firm Survey and the Law Firm Leaders Survey and Best Lawyers peer-review.

Halloween party raises money for Oklahoma Regional Food Bank

PM Staff celebrates Halloween

Phillips Murrah staff members dress up for the Firm’s annual Halloween Party to raise money for Oklahoma Regional Food Bank.

Phillips Murrah staff members were given the chance to test their creativity and help raise money for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma on Oct. 31 at the Firm’s annual Halloween Party.

Contestants competed to win the annual costume contest, and Phillips Murrah raised $610 from those in attendance for Firm’s Annual Harvest Food Drive fundraising campaign, just higher than last year’s fundraising total.

Nathan Hatcher, Assistant Marketing Director, tied for First Place with Tyler Sullivan, Legal Secretary, and Tess Bromme, Billing Coordinator, who teamed up with inflatable T-Rex costumes to be “Dueling Dinosaurs.”

“Absolutely no one takes a dinosaur (or two) seriously, and it was great to hear the laughter from our coworkers at the luncheon,” Bromme said.

Employees dress up to compete for a popular vote in hopes of winning a cash prize.

“I enjoyed being able to make people laugh,” Sullivan said.

Phillips Murrah partners with the Oklahoma County Bar Association to support their annual Harvest Food Drive, which all proceeds are donated to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

If you would like to donate to the Young Lawyers Division’s Harvest Food Drive, please contact the Oklahoma County Bar Association at (405) 236-8421.


Phillips Murrah has been recognized as an Oklahoma Top Work Place by The Oklahoman/Energage four years in a row. Our Firm strives to recognize and reward our employees for excellence.

 

Phillips Murrah begins third season of Blocks for Bucks partnership with Thunder Cares Foundation

 

Phillips Murrah OKC Thunder Blocks for Bucks promotion

With the kick-off of the 2019-2020 NBA regular season, Phillips Murrah is entering our third year of partnering with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s philanthropic organization, the Thunder Cares Foundation via our Blocks for Bucks campaign.

What is Blocks for Bucks?

Adams of OKC Thunder with Phillips Murrah signage in background

Steven Adams sets up for a block during the 2018-2019 season.

Attorneys and staff at Phillips Murrah are huge Thunder fans, and to recognize our home team’s accomplishments in blocking shots, the Firm is donating $100 to Thunder Cares for each blocked shot that the Thunder forces at home games during the regular season.

“This partnership with the Oklahoma City Thunder accomplishes two goals,” explained Dave Rhea, Marketing Director at Phillips Murrah. “One, we love supporting the Thunder team, and it’s a delight to have our brand associated with such a capable and celebrated organization. Two, through this partnership we’re able to help fund the good works that Thunder Cares does, which fits perfectly with our commitment to the community.”

The Thunder Cares Foundation helps support the team’s community outreach projects, including Thunder-themed basketball courts in parks, schools and community centers across Oklahoma, as well as learning labs and activity rooms at organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Oklahoma County, City Rescue Mission and Positive Tomorrows.

“Phillips Murrah is proud to partner with the Thunder Cares Foundation,” said Phillips Murrah President and Managing Partner, Thomas G. Wolfe. “The Thunder has done so much in Oklahoma. We’re glad to join in their efforts.”

During the final home game of the regular 2018-2019 season,  Phillips Murrah Directors G. Calvin Sharpe, Marc Edwards and Nikki Edwards participated in a check presentation ceremony at center court in the Chesapeake Energy Arena prior to the game. The total amount presented to the Thunder Cares Foundation totaled $20,600.

Blocks for Bucks 2018-2019 check presentation

Christine Berney, Vice President of Community Relations for the Oklahoma City Thunder, accepts the 2018-2019 season donation from Phillips Murrah Directors G. Calvin Sharpe, Marc Edwards and Nikki Edwards.

 

Phillips Murrah began a our partnership with the Thunder Cares Foundation on Nov. 22, 2017, which was the the first match-up of the season against the Golden State Warriors. The video clip below of one of KD’s shots getting blocked is an example of the highlights featured on the Blocks for Bucks landing page, featured on the OKC Thunder website.

The Blocks for Bucks landing page also features updates throughout the season that include a Blocks Counter and a total amount of funds raised.

Wolfe reflects on Law Firm growth in Dallas market for Texas Lawyer article

Thomas G. Wolfe, Managing Partner at Phillips Murrah law firm, was interviewed by Brenda Sapino Jeffreys for an article for Texas Lawyer on Law.com, giving insights on the Firm’s venture into the Texas legal market and on business strategies the Firm has found successful in Dallas.

Tom Wolfe is a trial attorney and commercial litigator whose practice is focused on complex business cases including product liability, oil and gas, mass tort and class action defense. Tom is also the president and managing partner at Phillips Murrah.

Read more below:

What do you view as the two biggest opportunities for your firm, and what are the two biggest threats?

For Phillips Murrah, our biggest opportunity is easy: TEXAS.  We opened our Dallas law firm about a year-and-a-half ago, and as a new entrant to the Texas legal market, we see virtually unlimited opportunities to gain clients, expand existing relationships and add top talent. Over the past 18 months, we have grown our Texas office from one full-time lawyer to five while increasing the quantity of work being handled for Texas-based companies more than tenfold. While much of that work is for new clients, we are also providing an expanding range of service to existing clients based in Texas and elsewhere.

The second opportunity for the firm is the ability to provide existing Oklahoma-based clients with niche services from Texas-based lawyers. In some cases, there are only a handful of Oklahoma lawyers in a niche practice while the pool of practitioners in Texas is much larger.

While Texas presents a huge opportunity, the size of the legal market and the number of competitors also serve as a threat. As a roughly 75-lawyer firm, we cannot chase every opportunity. We must remain focused and chose carefully.

Growth also presents a challenge to our firm culture, which has been a cornerstone for our success. As Phillips Murrah added, and then added to, a second office, we have worked diligently to include Oklahoma lawyers on teams serving Texas-based clients and vice versa. Since opening in Dallas, half of our Oklahoma lawyers have worked on relationships managed by a Texas lawyer while everyone in our Dallas office has worked on a relationship managed from our Oklahoma City headquarters. Fortunately, Oklahoma City is as close to Dallas as Austin and much closer than Houston.

The full article is exclusive to Law.com subscribers. Click here to view the full article.

Firm selects Employee of the Month for September 2019

Rachel Schones

Rachel Schones, Receptionist, is Phillips Murrah’s Employee of the Month for September 2019.

“It is a great honor to be selected as Employee of the Month by my co-workers,” she said.

The Employee of the Month is selected anonymously by Phillips Murrah staff on merits of teamwork and overall contributions to the Firm.

“Rachel has blossomed into such a poised young woman since she began with our Firm,” said Michelle Munda, Executive Director at Phillips Murrah. “All our employees as well as our clients love her and she handles that front desk with grace and charm.

“At times, that can be quite challenging. Thank you Rachel!”

The Firm recently began making a donation to the winner’s charity of choice, and Rachel chose The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration.

To learn more about The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration, click here.


Phillips Murrah has been recognized as an Oklahoma Top Work Place by The Oklahoman/Energage four years in a row. Our Firm strives to recognize and reward our employees for excellence.

 

Davis to present on Oklahoma open records laws issues

Eric Davis

Eric Davis is an attorney in the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group and the Government Relations and Compliance Practice Group. He represents clients in a range of regulatory and energy matters.

C. Eric Davis, an attorney in the Firm’s Government Relations and Compliance Practice Group, will give a presentation on Oklahoma open records laws Oct. 18 for Continuing Legal Education individuals.

Davis will present at 10:15 a.m. at the National Business Institute’s seminar titled “Ensuring Local Governments Comply with the Law,” focusing on public records issues.

“Oklahoma’s open records laws help make government more transparent,” Davis said. “Most documents generated when conducting government business are subject to disclosure, even texts and emails.

“Whether you’re a public official needing to maintain records, or a member of the public seeking access, it’s important to understand the public’s right to see government documents.”

The seminar will run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday in Oklahoma City. Those interested in registering can find more information here. Attendees receive CLE credit for participating.

Three main methods of acquiring business

Acquiring a business is done through three main methods: merging with the selling company, referred to as the target company; purchasing the assets of the target company; or purchasing the stock or other equity interests of the target company. Each method has pros and cons depending on the legal, tax and business implications. Therefore, it is imperative the parties carefully consider these at the outset.

Travis Harrison

Travis E. Harrison is a transactional attorney who represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of transactional matters.

A business merger is simply a combination of two legal entities becoming one. The one that survives the merger, called the surviving entity, assumes all assets and liabilities of the other. The logistics of a merger are driven by state statute and case law, which informs the parties of the legal requirements and procedures. For example, an Oklahoma limited liability company that is the surviving entity must file articles of merger or consolidation with the Oklahoma Secretary of State containing details of the merger and entities involved. Additionally, the parties should review the organizational documents to ensure compliance with any contractual procedures.

Purchasing the assets of the target company means the buyer acquires the assets of the target company, including real property, IP, equipment, inventory, and licenses. The buyer also acquires contractual liabilities and tax obligations. This method affords the parties great flexibility for the buyer to choose specific assets and liabilities, and to carve out liabilities the target company should keep. However, this method can be more complicated because it may need preparation of ancillary agreements to transfer contracts, tangible property, and title to certain assets.

Purchasing the stock of the target company means the buyer acquires all of the target company’s assets and liabilities. In this method, the stock purchase buyer essentially acquires the target company rather than the components of the business. A stock sale can benefit sellers where it effectively transfers all liabilities without requiring all of the formalities in an asset purchase agreement, such as documents to retitle assets to the buyer. A stock acquisition generally will not have the same statutory constraints of a merger.

Each method has unique advantages and disadvantages depending on the specifics of the acquisition deal. The parties need to analyze and evaluate all the implications for each method. Careful consideration and planning lead to the best deal for both sides and prevents unnecessary complications down the line.


By Phillips Murrah Attorney Travis E. Harrison

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 10, 2019.

Travis E. Harrison is an attorney with the law firm of Phillips Murrah.

Gardner addresses current issues regarding Oklahoma Native American law

Melissa Gardner is a Director who practices in the Energy & Natural Resources Practice Group. She represents both privately-owned and public companies in a wide variety of oil and gas matters, with a strong emphasis on oil and gas title examination.

Director Melissa R. Gardner participated in a seminar in September for the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Continuing Legal Education individuals focusing on matters relevant to the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma.

“My presentation covered the statutory landscape for Native American law,” Gardner said. “I discussed all of the Congressional acts that control the United States’s legal position in regards to the tribes.”

On the topic of tribes, Gardner addressed the most recent Supreme Court case involving the tribes, Sharp v. Murphy, and emphasized possible, incredible implications on the state of Oklahoma and 19 million acres lying East of Oklahoma City.

The case is pending and raises the question of whether Congress disestablished the Muscogee Nation reservation. Click here for more information on issues surrounding the case.

Gardner is a Director and an attorney in the Energy & Natural Resources Practice Group. She represents energy companies in a variety of matters in both Oklahoma and Texas.

State Lawmaker considers damages caps on civil lawsuits

Ashley M. Schovanec, Phillips Murrah Litigation Attorney, was quoted in a Journal Record article by Steve Metzer regarding the decision by Chris Kannady, chairman of the Oklahoma House Judiciary Committee, to consider a legislative compromise to a ruling that made caps on certain damages in civil lawsuits unconstitutional.

Attorney Ashley Schovanec Web

Ashley M. Schovanec is a litigation attorney who represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of civil litigation matters.

Read Schovanec’s comments below:

Ashley M. Schovanec, a litigation attorney with the firm of Phillips Murrah, said another result of the Supreme Court’s decision might be that businesses will be more likely to settle lawsuits than contest them on legal grounds,

Because the risk of large verdicts just went up, cases may settle earlier because of the uncertainty associated with leaving a damages calculation up to a jury,” she said.

Read the full article from the Journal Record.

Law & Oarder to compete at 2019 Oklahoma Regatta Festival

Phillips Murrah’s rowing team, Law & Oarder, will put months of practice to the test as they compete in the annual Oklahoma Regatta Festival this Friday, Oct. 4.

Law & Oarder will compete in a 500-meter run at 6:20 PM, marking the fifth year the team has competed.

The festival runs from Oct. 4-6 and is open to the public. Teams will race at the Boathouse District (click here for more information).

Attendees are encouraged to carpool as parking will be limited.

Norman selected for LOYAL XV Class

Kendra Norman Web

Kendra M. Norman represents individuals and businesses in a broad range of transactional matters.

Leadership Oklahoma City recently selected members for Linking OKC’s Young Adult Leaders’ (LOYAL) 2019-20 class, and Phillips Murrah attorney Kendra M. Norman made the cut.

“I see my role in LOYAL as a community member and community leader who wants to experience personal growth with respect to leadership skills as well as further develop skills to improve the community,” Norman said. “I’m so excited to make new contacts and learn from others in different areas and professions as well.”

The LOYAL Program runs from September through April and focuses on enhancing personal leadership skills and cultivating community leadership skills by giving participants unique opportunities to learn leadership skills from Oklahoma’s most influential and accomplished business people, public servants, and non-profit managers.

“When you become an attorney, you join the legal profession and view yourself as an attorney, not just at work, but all the time,” Norman said. “No matter if you’re at work or at home, you are always an attorney and it’s a persona that you take on for life.

“But I’m so much more than just an attorney. I wanted to join the LOYAL program to help me make an impact on the community outside of this profession. I’m a leader in the Oklahoma City community and volunteer in several capacities, so I wanted to further develop those skills so that I can help improve the community and be a better leader and board member.”

Norman is a transactional attorney who represents clients in a broad range of matters in the areas of Mergers and Acquisitions, Real Estate Law, Tax Law, Clean Energy Law, and Private Wealth, Estate Planning and Business Succession.

Other Phillips Murrah graduates of Leadership Oklahoma City programs include Jim Roth, Signature Program Class XXII, and G. Calvin Sharpe, Signature Program Class XXIII.

Phillips Murrah welcomes three new attorneys to legal team

Phillips Murrah is proud to welcome Justin G. Bates, Kara K. Laster, and Phoebe B. Mitchell to our Firm.

Phillips Murrah welcomed Justin and Phoebe to the Firm’s Litigation Practice Group as associate attorneys. Each represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of civil litigation matters.

Justin attended the University of Oklahoma College of Law where he earned American Jurisprudence Awards for Civil Procedure II and Torts. He served as a member of the American Indian Law Review and was a member of the Phi Delta Phi Legal Honor Society. Justin also had the privilege of arguing in the final rounds of both the 2017 1L moot court competition and the 2018 Calvert Competition before an esteemed panel of Oklahoma justices.

Justin was born and raised in the metro area, where he currently lives. In his free time, he enjoys traveling, watching college football, discussing what could have been for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and spending time with friends and family.

Phoebe attended the University of Oklahoma College of Law where she earned the American Jurisprudence award for Civil Procedure II and was on the Dean’s Honor Roll. She served as the Research Editor and Candidate Mentor on the Oklahoma Law Review and was a member of the Phi Delta Phi Legal Honor Society. Phoebe also served as a mentor on the Dean’s Leadership Council, was selected as a Dean’s Leadership Fellow, and was selected to serve on the Academic Appeals Board.

While in law school, Phoebe had the opportunity to clerk as a judicial intern for the Honorable Judge Rob Hudson of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

Phoebe was born and raised in Oklahoma City and received a Bachelor’s Degree from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She enjoys Thunder basketball, OU football and cheering on her Vanderbilt Commodores in her spare time.

Kara has joined Phillips Murrah’s Transactional Practice Group as an associate attorney where she represents individuals and businesses in a broad range of transactional matters.

Kara was part of the dual degree program at the University of Oklahoma College of Law and Price College of Business, achieving both her J.D. and M.B.A. During her third and fourth years of school, Kara worked as a Graduate Assistant for the Editor-in-Chief of the Southern Law Journal and business law professor at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. She was a member of the Phi Delta Phi Legal Honor Society, received the Elkouri Scholarship, and graduated with honors.

Kara was born and raised in Shawnee, Oklahoma, and now lives in Oklahoma City. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, snow skiing, spending time at the lake with friends and family, and attending OSU sporting events.

Firm selects Employee of the Month for August 2019

Abigail Duran

Abigail Duran, Accounting Specialist, is Phillips Murrah’s Employee of the Month for August 2019.

“It is a great honor to be chosen by my peers as Employee of the Month,” she said.

The Employee of the Month is selected anonymously by Phillips Murrah staff on merits of teamwork and overall contributions to the Firm.

“Abbie is a valued member of the Accounting Department and her contributions help to make the Firm run efficiently,” Controller Stephanie Oseland said. “She is a hardworking and positive person, and it is a pleasure to work with her.”

The Firm recently began making a donation to the winner’s charity of choice, and Abigail chose Alzheimer’s Association.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s Association, click here.


Phillips Murrah has been recognized as an Oklahoma Top Work Place by The Oklahoman/Energage four years in a row. Our Firm strives to recognize and reward our employees for excellence.

 

Norman elected Chapter Adviser for University of Oklahoma sorority

Alpha Omicron Pi’s house at the University of Oklahoma campus

Alpha Omicron Pi’s Xi Chapter members recently elected Phillips Murrah Attorney Kendra M. Norman to serve as Chapter Adviser for the sorority’s University of Oklahoma house.

Chapter Adviser is elected annually and advises the Chapter President, the Leader’s Council—which consists of women elected as leaders of the chapter—as well as the chapter as a whole, which is made up of over 250 women.

“I serve as a resource, a role model, and a coach to the chapter and its members,” Norman said. “I have the privilege of working one-on-one with the amazing women of Xi Chapter and have gotten to watch them grow as leaders, achieve their goals, and become professionals, and I am so proud to call each one of them my sisters.”

The Chapter Adviser also serves as the chairman of the chapter’s Alumnae Advisory Committee, comprised of alumnae who mentor the women on the Leader’s Council individually. Norman has served on the committee for about five years in various leadership roles.

“Alpha Omicron Pi’s motto is ‘Inspire Ambition,’ and I truly take that to heart as I practice law at Phillips Murrah P.C. and volunteer with Xi Chapter of AOII,” she said. “I find that being a collegiate member and now an alumna member of AOII has been an empowering experience, and it is amazing to see what women can do when they work together and build each other up.

“I am thrilled to be able to take on this new challenge and to have this opportunity to work side by side with the women of Xi Chapter as well as Inspire Ambition through my service.”

Norman represents individuals and businesses in a broad range of transactional matters in the Firm’s downtown Oklahoma City office.

Phillips Murrah Directors Discuss Oil and Gas Lease Cancellation Lawsuits at Petroleum Alliance Lunch and Learn

Phillips Murrah presentation to Petroleum Alliance

Directors John M. Bunting and Zac K. Bradt discuss legal actions related to a lease cancellation lawsuit.

Defending Against and Preventing Lease Cancellation Lawsuits

As leasing and drilling activities have increased over the last few years, so have lawsuits by mineral owners seeking to cancel existing oil and gas leases. More often than not, those suits allege that existing wells have ceased producing in paying quantities, and therefore the leases are no longer held by production or “HBP”.

On August 13, Phillips Murrah P.C. hosted a lunch and learn presentation at The Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma headquarters. Phillips Murrah Directors Zac Bradt and John Bunting discussed the factors courts consider in determining whether a well is producing in quantities sufficient to hold the lease and provided some tips on how to minimize the risk of having the court rule that a lease has terminated for lack of production in paying quantities.

Phillips Murrah presentation to Petroleum Alliance“It is important for oil and gas producers to have an understanding of how courts are interpreting oil and gas lease terms,” said Phillips Murrah Director Liz Brown, who is also a member of the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma Board of Directors.

In her introduction statement to the well-attended program, Liz explained that a typical situation ripe for this type of litigation is when a producer has an old lease with a one-eighth royalty and marginal production that is holding acreage in hot areas for oil and gas development such as in the SCOOP or the STACK.

“There have been quite a few recent court decisions exploring what constitutes production in paying quantities,” Liz continued. “I’m glad Zac and John took the time to share their insights with us, so that our members can have a better understanding of what the courts are looking at in making these determinations.”

Some of the other information provided at the recent Lunch and Learn included an explanation of the habendum clause and other lease terms, suggestions as to how a producer can position itself to defend against a lease cancellation lawsuit, and a comparison of how the courts in Texas and Oklahoma interpret production in paying quantities for purposes of determining whether a lease is held by production.

About the presenters:

portrait of Elizabeth K BrownElizabeth K. Brown is a Director whose practice is focused on serving her privately-held business clients at a strategic level as outside general counsel where she assists in managing the many legal issues that arise in running a business, including structuring and negotiating business transactions, managing litigation, settling disputes, assisting with tax planning and designing the estate and succession plan for the family business owners.


Photo of Director Zac K. Bradt

Zac K. Bradt is a Director and an attorney in the Energy & Natural Resources Practice Group. He represents both privately-owned and public companies in a wide variety of oil and gas matters, with a strong emphasis on oil and gas title examination.


Photo of Director John M. Bunting

John M. Bunting is an attorney practicing all facets of commercial litigation and insurance coverage law. His experience includes representing clients in complex commercial disputes; representing energy producers, disposal well operators, and oilfield service companies; representing auto dealers in disputes with manufacturers and competitors; and helping business clients obtain insurance coverage.


Video courtesy of the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma

Q & A: Equifax data breach victims may file for restitution

Phillips Murrah attorney Cody J. Cooper was featured on Wednesday, Aug. 21, in a Q&A feature in the Oklahoman newspaper.

Photo of Oklahoma City Patent Attorney Cody Cooper

Cody Cooper is a Patent Attorney in the Intellectual Property Practice Group and represents individuals and companies in a wide range of intellectual property, patent, trademark and copyright matters. His practice also includes commercial litigation.

Equifax is a consumer credit reporting agency and, ironically, one of the products it publicly sells is individual credit monitoring. In 2017, Equifax disclosed one of the largest known data breaches in the United States affecting about 143 million people — close to half of the U.S. population. Equifax claimed that the breach was the result of their systems being hacked by thieves seeking to obtain information that is commonly referred to in the world of data privacy and cybersecurity as personally identifiable information (PII). The thieves were able to exploit a website application vulnerability to gain access to files that included customer names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. Lawsuits were initiated by a number of entities, including the Federal Trade Commission, and a $700 million dollar settlement was recently reached, which included a total of $425 million to compensate individuals, $100 million in civil money penalty, as well as other relief.

Who is entitled to recover, how do you submit a claim and is $125 the amount I can recover?

Anyone whose information was included within the documents that were stolen is eligible to receive benefits. In order to submit a claim, an affected individual needs to go to https://eligibility.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/en/eligibility and complete the requested information. While submitting your claim, there are two compensation options: (1) credit monitoring for 10 years or (2) a cash payment. The payment was estimated at $125, but that is likely to change because of the overwhelming number of people who have apparently opted in for the settlement payment. Apparently of the settlement amount, only a small portion — approximately $31 million — of the overall amount is earmarked for cash payments, which means that the more people who sign up for the cash payment could greatly decrease the amount paid to each person. In fact, the most recent stories suggest that the FTC is going to allow individuals who initially opted-in for cash payment to change their selection to credit monitoring because of the number of people who have already chosen the cash option and the small amount that would be paid to each.

What constitutes a data breach?

A data breach can be most easily described as the unauthorized access of information. The issues get nuanced from there. This is a particularly hot topic right now with the Equifax settlement and the most recent announcement that Capital One has suffered a data breach affecting about 106 million people or about a third of population.

How does the public find out about a data breach incident?

What we see in the news is for reportable breaches. Reportable breaches typically include PII. However, not all data breaches must be reported. In fact, most data breaches are likely never publicly disclosed. If PII is not involved, the organization that suffered the breach typically surveys the damage, addresses the breach, takes steps to mitigate the impact and moves along without ever telling anyone — except possibly industry regulators, if required, and their insurance company, if they are smart and have cybersecurity insurance.

What does the law say about organizations disclosing a data breach?

Importantly, there is no uniform “data breach” or “breach notification” federal law. Instead, these laws are formed by a hodgepodge of state laws (all 50 states have a breach notification law) and various other laws, including Gramm Leach Bliley Act, NAIC Insurance Data Security Model Law, New York Department of Financial Services Cybersecurity Requirements for Financial Services Companies, and the National Credit Union Administration’s Interagency Guidance on Response Programs for Unauthorized Access to Customer Information and Customer Notice. Because of this, the standards applied from state to state and industry to industry can vary. For example, the definition of PII can be slightly different for each law. Some states include biometric data (fingerprint, facial scan, etc.) within PII, while others do not. Additionally, the deadlines for reporting a discovered breach can also vary widely. Significantly, some states and regulatory bodies have taken steps to increase the standards applied to protecting PII. As an example, New York has enacted laws that have very specific requirements a company must meet in order to be compliant.

How does data breach disclosure work in Oklahoma?

Generally, any person or entity that collects and stores PII is subject to Oklahoma’s data breach notification laws. If a breach of PII is discovered, that person or entity must comply with the various breach notifications in the applicable laws. In Oklahoma, notice is to be made as soon as practicable following discovery of the breach. Once notice is made to the affected individuals, there are requirements for what the breached entity must do, including reporting to specific law enforcement entities and providing credit monitoring for the affected individuals for a specific length of time. Again, these requirements can vary from state to state. Typically, the large data breaches ultimately result in litigation being filed by the affected individuals and/or specific related regulatory authorities, which is what led to the Equifax settlement.

Hendrick partners with North Texas LGBT Chamber of Commerce

Janet Hendrick

Janet Hendrick is an experienced employment litigator who tackles each of her client’s problems with a tailored, results-oriented approach.

Director Janet A. Hendrick joins the North Texas LGBT Chamber of Commerce, supporting the organization for 2019-2020 as a Bronze Partner and taking on a hands-on role.

“I met the President of the Chamber, Tony Vedda, at the Dallas Business Equality Conference a few years ago, where I was asked to speak about evolving rights for LGBT employees in the U.S.,” she said. “We stayed in touch and he later asked me to be a member of the Chamber’s Governance Committee, the role of which is to assist in selection of the Chamber’s Board of Directors.

“I spoke again this year at the Business Equality Conference, which is sponsored by progressive Dallas-based companies like Toyota, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines.”

Janet is an experienced employment litigator who regularly appears in state and federal court to defend employers of all sizes against discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and related claims. She is a frequent speaker and author on topics including gender diversity in the legal profession, workplace accommodations and leave management, evolving workplace protections of LGBT employees, and the rapidly expanding gig economy.

The North Texas Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Chamber of Commerce has been the premier business organization for the LGBT community in north Texas since 2005, working to improve the region’s economic vitality and support the positive attributes of a diverse workplace, supply chain and community.

To learn more about the North Texas LGBT Chamber of Commerce and its mission, click here.