Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s denial of Appellant’s petition for a writ of mandate requesting that the court compel the Flathead County Treasurer to issue him a tax deed or appear and show cause why it should not do so, holding that a writ of mandate was inappropriate because Appellant had an adequate remedy at law. Flathead County purchased a tax lien on certain property after the property taxes became delinquent. When the owner and occupant did not redeem the property within the redemption period the County assigned the tax lien to a limited liability company (LLC), of which Appellant was a member. The Flathead County Treasurer subsequently allowed the owner to redeem the property. When the County Treasurer declined to issue a tax deed to the LLC, Appellant filed his petition for a writ of mandate arguing that the County Treasurer had a statutory duty to issue the tax deed. The district court denied the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly determined that Appellant was not entitled to a writ of mandate because a quiet title action provided Appellant with an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law. View "O'Brien v. Krantz" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s orders dismissing ECI Credit, LLC’s case against Diamond S. Inc. under Mont. R. Civ. P. 41(b) and denying its motion for relief from that dismissal under Mont. R. Civ. P. 60(b), holding the district court did not abuse its discretion when it dismissed ECI’s complaint for failure to prosecute. In deciding whether the district court abused its discretion in dismissing the underlying action for failure to prosecute, the Supreme Court considered the four factors set forth in Becky v. Norwest Bank Dillon, N.A., 798 P.2d 1011, 1015 (Mont. 1990). Noting that ECI’s case was unusual because ECI initially invested considerable time and effort and received a favorable ruling before it allowed this case to languish, the Supreme Court held that the district court did not commit a clear error in weighing the Becky factors and dismissing ECI’s claims. Further, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying ECI’s motion for relief under Rule 60(b). View "ECI Credit, LLC v. Diamond S Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s deemed denial of Scottsdale Insurance Company’s motion to set aside the default judgment entered against it, holding that Scottsdale satisfied its burden of establishing that doubt existed concerning whether service was properly effectuated. National Parks Reservations (NPR) filed a complaint and demand for jury trial, naming Scottsdale. Because Scottsdale was a foreign insurer, NPR was statutorily required to serve Scottsdale through the Office of the Montana State Auditor, Commissioner of Securities and Insurance (the Commissioner). The Commissioner, in turn, was statutorily required to forward the complaint and summons to Scottsdale. After Scottsdale failed to appear the district court entered a partial default judgment against Scottsdale. Scottsdale moved to set aside the default judgment, arguing that both NPR and the Commissioner had failed strictly to comply with foreign insurer service requirements under Mont. Code Ann. 33-1-603(1), and, thus, the default judgment was void. Scottsdale’s motion was deemed denied. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Scottsdale established that doubt existed regarding whether service was properly completed by the Commissioner. View "Reservation Operations Center LLC v. Scottsdale Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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