Civil rights group drops lawsuit against Oklahoma gun range

By SEAN MURPHY Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A lawsuit filed on behalf of a Muslim U.S. Army reservist asked to leave a gun range in eastern Oklahoma was dropped on Tuesday, with both sides declaring victory in the case.

Court records show both sides agreed to the dismissal order filed in federal court in Muskogee.

The lawsuit was filed in 2016 on behalf of Raja'ee Fatihah, a Muslim man from Tulsa, against the owners of Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gun Range in the town of Oktaha. The owners, Chad and Nicole Neal, had posted a sign on the business declaring the range a "Muslim-free" establishment.

"We are pleased that the defendants in this case decided to take down their anti-Muslim sign, and that they affirmed their commitment to complying with the law," said Heather Weaver, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Fatihah in the case, along with attorneys for the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

An attorney for the store's owners, Robert Muise of the American Freedom Law Center, said he and his clients were prepared to take the case to trial when they were notified of the ACLU's plan to drop the case. Muise has maintained the sign is political free speech and that Muslims were never banned from the business.

"They've made it clear that it was a political-protest sign," Muise said. "The only reason they even kept the sign up as long as they did is because (the Council on American Islamic Relations) sued them, and they refused to be gagged by CAIR."

Fatihah is a member of CAIR Oklahoma's board of directors.

Muise said his clients removed the sign in December. They have since replaced it with a new sign declaring the business is a "terrorist free establishment" and includes a ban on anyone with ties to CAIR and several other organizations.

Weaver, the ACLU attorney, said if the Neals put up a sign indicating Muslims are banned, she expects another lawsuit would be filed.

"If they put the sign back up and refuse to serve Muslims because of their Islamic faith, we will be there, ready to take whatever action necessary to defend the rights of many Muslims in Oklahoma," she said.

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Oklahoma Supreme Court invalidates civil justice damages cap

By TIM TALLEY Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a state law that caps monetary damages for pain and suffering in personal injury lawsuits, the latest civil justice measure backed by the Republican-controlled Legislature to be invalidated by the state's highest court.

In a sharply divided opinion, the court ruled that a civil justice statute adopted in 2011 that limited non-economic damages in personal injury lawsuits to $350,000 is an unconstitutional special law that treats people who survive injuries differently than those who do not. The state constitution prohibits caps on damages for injuries that cause death, the ruling stated.

"By forbidding limits on recovery for injuries resulting in death, the people have left it to juries to determine the amount of compensation for pain and suffering in such cases, and no good reason exists for the Legislature to provide a different rule for the same detriment simply because the victim survives the harm-causing event," according to the opinion in which five of the court's nine justices concurred.

The decision involves a lawsuit filed by a worker whose left arm was amputated following an accident at an oil well site near Wheeler, Texas, according to his attorney, Ed Abel of Oklahoma City. James Todd Beason was struck by a boom from a crane operated by an employee of Louisiana-based I.E. Miller Services, Inc. in March 2012.

An Oklahoma County jury in 2015 awarded Beason and his wife a total of $15 million, including $6 million for pain and suffering. A judge then reduced the jury award on non-economic damages to $700,000 — $350,000 for each of the Beasons — in order to comply with the law.

"The court just cut the non-economic damages value," Abel said. "Some of the jurors were tremendously mad. The jury didn't know there was any cap on it."

In invalidating the law, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the trial judge with instructions to enter judgment in the full amount of the jury's verdict.

An attorney for I.E. Miller Services, Robert Todd Goolsby, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment. Attorney General Mike Hunter's office, which defended the statute, declined comment on the ruling.

Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the State Chamber of Oklahoma, had urged the court to uphold the cap, arguing that non-economic damages are unpredictable and often excessive.

Fred Morgan, president and CEO of the State Chamber, said capping non-economic damages is the Legislature's prerogative. Morgan said the decision reflects judicial activism in an attempt to "usurp power from the Legislature."

The cap is among several civil justice reform measures supported by the GOP-controlled Legislature that have been invalidated by the Supreme Court in recent years.

In 2009, the court struck down a sweeping civil justice bill, ruling that it contained more than one subject in violation of the constitution. Lawmakers convened a special session in 2013 to re-enact elements of the legislation.

Last year, the court struck down a state workers' compensation law that exempted oil and gas well operators and owners from lawsuits when a worker is killed or injured on the job.

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