Opinion:Morris v. Behrens, 2021 OK CIV APP 35
Subject matter:Landlord and Tenant
Date Decided:June 25, 2021; Mandate Issued: September 16, 2021
Trial Court:District Court of Oklahoma County; Special Judge Ludi-Lietch
Route to this Court:Appeal of small claims court judgment following trial on the merits. 
Facts:Landlord Morris sued tenants Behrens in small claims court for damages that landlord claims that tenants caused to the rented premises. After a trial held remotely (and for which no record was made), the court awarded the landlord $6,366.04 in damages. The tenants moved for and were granted a new trial. The trial court again awarded the landlord damages, but this time in the amount of $1,117.96. In the second judgment, the trial court awarded the landlord only those damages that the landlord actually repaired and not those for which the landlord only had estimates of the cost to repair. The landlord appealed. 
Standard of Review:De novo review of the trial court’s interpretation of a statute. However, with respect to review of determinations of fact in a small claims proceeding, the appellate court will not disturb the findings and judgment if there is any evidence tending to support the findings and judgment of the trial court, even if the record might support a conclusion different from that reached at nisi prius (meaning “unless first” and used to refer to the court of original jurisdiction i.e., the trial court). 
Analysis:Section 41 O.S.  § 132(A) of the Oklahoma Residential Landlord and Tenant Act is determinative of the issues on appeal. This statute sets forth a prerequisite to a landlord’s recovery of damages from a residential tenant: the landlord must cause work to be done in a workmanlike manner prior to reimbursement. While the landlord raises legitimate policy concerns regarding this interpretation and application of the statute, OCOCA does not decide cases based on desired outcomes. Rather, OCOCA interprets and applies the law as written.  
In addition, the landlord’s claims of error by the trial court regarding evidentiary issues are not persuasive. Although the trial court may have (incorrectly) indicated that the landlord’s exhibits of estimates, quotes and invoices were hearsay, the trial court nevertheless used them to reach the correct result–to award damages based on invoices for the work the landlord had actually caused to be done. Under the Small Claims Procedure Act, the rules of evidence are relaxed and estimates, quotes, invoices, etc. are not always treated as hearsay. To treat estimates, quotes, and invoices as hearsay would unnecessarily complicate small claims court process, which exists for the sole purpose of dispensing speedy justice between the parties. 
Vote:Prince, J. (author), Goree, P.J. and Mitchell, J, concur.
Other: Certiorari not sought. In FN1, OCOCA explains its use of the (cleaned up) parenthetical, which it states signifies that it has removed extraneous, non-substantive material, may have changed capitalization, and affirmatively represents that the alterations were made solely to enhance readability and that the quotation otherwise faithfully reproduces the quoted text.