Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence discovered in the course of a probationary search of the vehicle in which Defendant was a passenger, holding that, under the facts of this case, Defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the vehicle or its contents. Therefore, there was no search. Defendant’s counsel moved to suppress the evidence seized as a result of the vehicle search on the grounds that there was no inquiry to determine if Defendant was the owner of or if he had control over the vehicle. The district court denied the motion, concluding that a probationer need not be a driver or owner of a vehicle in order for officers to initiate a probationary search of the vehicle, so long as the probationer was a passenger immediately prior to the search. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant failed to show he had an actual expectation of privacy as a passenger in the vehicle; and (2) even though the vehicle was not Defendant’s, the probation officer had the authority to search it. View "State v. Conley" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court dismissing with prejudice this action filed by Plaintiffs against Defendant seeking damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained in an automobile collision. The district court dismissed the action under Mont. R. Civ. P. 37(d) due to each plaintiff’s failure to answer fully interrogatories or to produce relevant documents during discovery. In affirming, the Supreme Court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by granting Defendant’s motion for sanctions, denying one plaintiff’s motion to strike, and denying the other plaintiff’s motion to reconsider because the trial court’s discovery sanction related to the extent of the prejudice that resulted from the discovery abuse. View "Cox. v. Magers" on Justia Law

by
Christita Moreau appealed a Workers’ Compensation Court (WCC) order denying her motion for summary judgment and granting summary judgment to Transportation Insurance Company. Moreau’s husband Edwin worked at the W.R. Grace mine near Libby. In 2009, he died from asbestos-related lung cancer. In 2010 Moreau, as personal representative of Edwin’s estate, filed a workers’ compensation claim for occupational disease benefits. Transportation Insurance Company (Transportation) was W.R. Grace’s workers’ compensation insurer, and it denied liability for the claim. Edwin’s employer, W.R. Grace, established and funded the Libby Medical Plan (LMP) to pay the medical expenses of its employees who were injured by exposure to asbestos. LMP paid approximately $95,000 of Edwin’s medical expenses. In 2012, as part of Grace’s bankruptcy, “certain rights and duties of the LMP” were transferred to the Libby Medical Plan Trust. Grace remained responsible for LMP’s “ongoing payment obligations” incurred before that time. In 2013, Transportation accepted liability for the workers’ compensation claim and entered a settlement with Moreau. Transportation agreed to reimburse Medicaid, other providers, and Moreau personally for medical expenses each had paid for Edwin’s care. The parties stipulated that Transportation paid all of Edwin’s medical bills or reimbursed the other persons or entities that had paid them. Transportation did not reimburse the LMP for the $95,846 of Edwin’s medical bills it had previously paid because the LMP refused to accept it. After the LMP refused to accept reimbursement from Transportation, Moreau demanded that Transportation pay the $95,000 either to Edwin’s Estate, to the LMP or its successor, or to a charity selected by the Estate. Transportation refused and Moreau filed a second petition with the WCC to resolve the issue. The WCC determined that all of Edwin’s medical care costs had been paid; that Edwin had no liability to any health care provider; and that he had no right to claim any further payment from Transportation. The WCC determined that if the Estate were to receive the $95,000 from Transportation it would represent a double recovery because Edwin had already received the medical benefits themselves. The Court concluded that Moreau therefore lacked standing to proceed Moreau’s petition. The WCC also found that Moreau’s attorneys also represented the LMP Trust “for purposes of recovering the disputed $95,846” for the LMP Trust. At the time of the WCC order, the LMP Trust was not a party to this action and had not advanced a claim in the WCC for reimbursement of the amount paid by its predecessor LMP. The WCC therefore granted summary judgment to Transportation. Finding no reversible error in that WCC decision, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed. View "Moreau v. Transportation Ins." on Justia Law

by
Petitioner Atlantic Richfield Company (“ARCO”) petitioned the Montana Supreme Court seeking reversal of five district court orders. Relevant here, the underlying action concerned a claim for restoration damages brought by property owners in and around the town of Opportunity, Montana. As part of ARCO’s cleanup responsibility relating to the Anaconda Smelter, EPA required ARCO to remediate residential yards within the Smelter Site harboring levels of arsenic exceeding 250 parts per million in soil, and to remediate all wells used for drinking water with levels of arsenic in excess of ten parts per billion. The Property Owners, a group of ninety-eight landowners located within the bounds of the Smelter Site, sought the opinion of outside experts to determine what actions would be necessary to fully restore their properties to pre-contamination levels. The experts recommended the Property Owners remove the top two feet of soil from affected properties and install permeable walls to remove arsenic from the groundwater. Both remedies required restoration work in excess of what the EPA required of ARCO in its selected remedy. The Property Owners sued, seeking restoration damages. ARCO conceded that the Property Owners could move forward on their first four claims, but contended that the claim for restoration damages was preempted by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (“CERCLA”). The Supreme Court agreed with the district court that the Property Owners’ claims for restoration damages was barred by CERCLA. View "Atlantic Richfield v. 2nd Jud. Dist" on Justia Law

by
This case arose from a 2013 vehicle-pedestrian collision in Missoula, Montana. Kerry Maier sued Erin Wilson for injuries she sustained following the accident. As she approached the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Helen Avenue, Wilson was blinded by the sun’s glare on her windshield. Maier had parked on Helen Avenue and was walking towards her job at Curry Health Center. Maier usually crossed Sixth Avenue at the unmarked crosswalk adjacent to Helen Avenue. Maier testified that she looked for oncoming traffic but only saw a car a fair distance away and believed she could cross safely. Maier testified that she walked more than halfway across Sixth Street before she struck by Wilson’s vehicle. Maier’s body was hurled a considerable distance into the bike lane. Maier suffered serious injuries from the collision, including ten fractures, an ACL tear, a concussion, and internal injuries to her bladder. Maier filed a motion for partial summary judgment arguing, based on an accident reconstructionist and the deposition of Wilson, she was entitled to summary judgment on her negligence per se claim because she was within the unmarked crosswalk. Wilson opposed the motion, arguing Maier failed to meet her burden of showing no dispute of fact existed. The District Court concluded a genuine dispute of material fact existed concerning whether Maier was in the unmarked crosswalk, which precluded summary judgment. A jury would return a defense verdict finding Wilson not negligent in the collision. The Montana Supreme Court affirmed in part, and reversed in part, the district court's judgment. The Court held the District Court properly denied Maier’s motion for summary judgement because a clear dispute of fact existed concerning whether Maier was within the unmarked crosswalk. The Court concluded the District Court did not err when it expanded upon the jury’s question by including section 61-8-503, MCA, in its response. Furthermore, Maier failed to show how giving a proper jury instruction to the jury prejudiced her. Lastly, the Court held the District Court abused its discretion in denying Maier an opportunity to cross-examine Smith about her inconsistent statements. Denying Maier the opportunity to cross-examine affected a substantial right. Accordingly, the Court determined the verdict should be set aside and a new trial granted. View "Maier v. Wilson" on Justia Law

by
The district court did not err in dismissing, for lack of jurisdiction, Tenants’ appeal pursuant to Rule 14 of the Uniform Municipal Court Rules of Appeal to District Court (U. M. C. R. App.) prior to ruling on Tenants’ previously filed motion to proceed in forma pauperis. However, the justice court err in awarding a money judgment in excess of the court’s jurisdiction limit. Tenants appealed an underlying judgment of the justice court. The justice court dismissed the appeal for failure to timely file an appellate brief pursuant to U. M. C. R. App. 14. Tenants filed the notice of appeal together with a motion and application to proceed in forma pauperis. The district court summarily dismissed Tenants’ appeal pursuant to Rule 14(c). The Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the appeal for Tenants’ failure to timely file an appellate brief but reversed and remanded for entry of a corrected judgment against Tenants in the amount of $13,426, holding that the justice court erred by awarding a money judgment $8,527 in excess of the court’s $12,000 jurisdictional limit. View "Alto Jake Holdings LLC v. Donham" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of Plaintiffs’ motion to substitute Judge Edward P. McLean in this legal malpractice case. Plaintiffs sued Defendants for legal malpractice. After the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for an order of summary judgment, Judge McLean assumed jurisdiction in this case. After the trial, Judge McLean retired, and Chief Justice McGrath issued an order calling Judge McLean back into active service to preside over the case. Judge McLean then entered a final judgment in the case. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a new trial to determine the amount of Plaintiffs’ damages. Thereafter, Plaintiffs filed a motion for substitution of Judge McLean. Judge McLean denied the motion as untimely. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly denied Plaintiffs’ motion where Plaintiffs had actual notice of Judge McLean’s assumption of jurisdiction, and Judge McLean retained jurisdiction after the Supreme Court reversed and remanded in Labair II and the Labairs filed their motion for substitution after the twenty-day deadline under Mont. Code Ann. 3-1-804(12). View "Labair v. Carey" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s denial of the portion of Plaintiffs’ motion motion for partial summary judgment seeking an order compelling Defendants to immediately remove trespassing encroachments on Plaintiffs’ property an to restore the property to its prior condition subject to Plaintiffs’ right to do so at Defendants’ expense if they failed to timely act. The court further affirmed the district court’s underlying grant of summary judgment declaring Defendants’ shop building and underground septic system to be trespassing encroachments on Plaintiffs’ property. Specifically, the court held that, at this stage in the proceedings, the district court’s interlocutory denial of preliminary or final mandatory injunctive relief was neither irreconcilable with its summary judgment declaring a trespass nor a manifest abuse of discretion. View "Davis v. Westphal" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court ordered that Appellees’ joint motion to declare John Stokes a vexatious litigant is granted in part and ordered that, before Stokes could file any pleading pro se in a Montana district court or the Montana Supreme Court, he was required to obtain pre-filing approval from the court in which he sought to file. The court ordered that any such filing may be prohibited upon a determination that the claims asserted are harassing, frivolous, or legally not cognizable. The pre-filing requirement applies to pro se filings by Stokes in cases where his counsel has withdrawn from representation. View "Stokes v. First American Title Co. of Montana, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court granted summary judgment for New West Health Services (New West) in this action brought by Plaintiff and the class she represented alleging breach of contract, violation of made-whole rights, and unfair claims settlement practices. At issue in this appeal was the district court’s grant to New West leave to amend its answer to include the affirmative defense of ERISA preemption. The district court subsequently allowed Plaintiff to amended her complaint to include ERISA claims. Ultimately, the district court concluded that ERISA preemption required dismissal of Plaintiff’s state law and ERISA claims and entered summary judgment for New West. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, under the extraordinary circumstances of this case, the district court abused its discretion by granting New West leave to amend its answer to assert ERISA preemption. View "Rolan v. New West Health Services" on Justia Law