Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The case revolves around a dispute between Lori Lundeen, a property developer, and Lake County, Montana. Lundeen planned to develop a 60-lot subdivision, Wild Horse RV Resort, on her property in Lake County. She intended to use roads through the Big Arm townsite for access to her development. The Board of Lake County Commissioners granted conditional approval for the development. However, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes contested the County’s ownership, regulatory authority, and right to use the access routes. Lundeen alleges that she relied on Lake County and the Lake County Attorney to research her access issue. After an eight-month moratorium on Lundeen’s development application, the Board conditionally approved an amended road layout for the development. Lundeen claims the Lake County Attorney represented to her that the Tribes’ claim was baseless and that she could proceed with the development.The District Court of the Twentieth Judicial District, Lake County, granted Lake County’s motion to dismiss Lundeen's lawsuit for failure to state a claim. The court reasoned that Lundeen was on inquiry notice of the negligent misrepresentation when she became aware the Tribes had blocked off her property. The court also determined the discovery and accrual rules for the statute of limitations were satisfied no later than when the Tribes blocked Lundeen’s access. Based on the applicable three-year statute of limitations, the court found Lundeen’s claims filed were time-barred.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana reversed the lower court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Supreme Court found that Lundeen had sufficiently asserted facts that, if accepted as true and viewed in the light most favorable to her, establish a basis for the claims asserted in her complaint. Therefore, the court concluded that the District Court erred by granting Lake County’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. View "Lundeen v. Lake County" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a child, R.N., who was removed from his mother's care and placed in foster care with Ben and Charissa Wagner. The Wagners had previously adopted two of the mother's other children. The Department of Public Health and Human Services was granted temporary legal custody of R.N. and ordered the mother to complete a treatment plan. The Department later filed a petition to terminate the mother's parental rights due to her failure to complete the treatment plan and alleged abandonment of R.N. However, the mother began to engage with the Department and made positive changes, leading to the Department's shift from termination to reunification.The Wagners, unhappy with the Department's change of stance, filed a motion to intervene, asserting that it was appropriate under M. R. Civ. P. 24 and § 41-3-422(9)(b), MCA. The District Court granted the Wagners' intervention motion, despite objections from the mother, the Department, and the guardian ad litem. The Wagners then filed a motion seeking an order for R.N. to be immediately placed in their care and for the Department to pursue termination of the mother's parental rights. The District Court did not set a hearing or issue a determination on the Wagners' motion. The Department filed a motion to dismiss the case, which the District Court granted.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed the District Court's decision to dismiss the case. The Supreme Court found that the District Court had misinterpreted the law when it allowed the Wagners to intervene. The court also ruled that the Wagners did not have a fundamental liberty interest in the care and custody of R.N. because the mother's rights had not been terminated. Furthermore, the court held that neither the District Court nor the Supreme Court had the authority to order or compel the Department to refile and prosecute its petition for termination. View "In re R.N." on Justia Law

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The case involves Creative Games Studio LLC and Ricardo Bach Cater, who sued Daniel Alves for alleged breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, constructive fraud, and deceit. The plaintiffs, who are co-founders of Creative Games Studio, a company that develops board games for online sale, accused Alves of collaborating with a competitor and using the company's funds and intellectual property for the competitor's benefit. Alves, a Brazilian citizen, was also a co-founder of the company. The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in Montana, where the company is based.The District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, Yellowstone County, dismissed the case due to lack of personal jurisdiction over Alves. The court determined that exercising jurisdiction over Alves would not comply with constitutional requirements. Alves had moved to dismiss the complaint under M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction or under the doctrine of forum non-conveniens.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that Alves did not consent to jurisdiction and that subjecting him to the jurisdiction of Montana courts would not comply with due process. The court noted that Alves' only connection to Montana was the fact that one of the plaintiffs resided there and established the company in the state. The court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to show that Alves either availed himself of the privileges of Montana law or that their claims arose out of Alves's actions in Montana. View "Creative Games v Alves" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between Missoula County and the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) over the reimbursement rate for housing DOC inmates in county detention centers. The County and the DOC had entered into a contract in 2015, setting a reimbursement rate of $88.73 per day for each inmate. However, in 2015, the Montana Legislature capped the reimbursement rate at $69 per day. The County filed a lawsuit in 2020, alleging breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and unjust enrichment.The District Court granted summary judgment to the DOC, concluding that the County's contract claims were time-barred by a one-year statute of limitations. It also found that the County's tort claim for breach of the covenant of good faith was not supported by a special relationship and that the County could not recover under a theory of unjust enrichment.The Supreme Court of Montana affirmed the District Court's decision. It held that the one-year statute of limitations applied to the County's contract claims, rejecting the County's argument that an eight-year limitation period should apply. The court also agreed with the lower court that the County's tort claim for breach of the covenant of good faith was not supported by a special relationship. Finally, the court concluded that the County could not recover under a theory of unjust enrichment, as the County had not demonstrated that the DOC had reaped an inequitable gain. View "Missoula County v. Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between neighbors Matthew Olds and Mark Huelskamp, which escalated into an altercation on July 18, 2018. The details of the incident are contested, with Olds alleging that Huelskamp pointed a gun at him and punched him in the nose, while Huelskamp claims that Olds spat in his face and threatened him, leading Huelskamp to defensively strike Olds. Olds filed a civil suit against Huelskamp for negligence, assault, battery, actual malice, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.The case was initially scheduled for trial in May 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the trial was postponed multiple times. During this period, Huelskamp decided to present an expert witness, Shawn Paul, and disclosed this in September 2020. Olds objected to this, arguing that the disclosure was untimely and that Paul lacked the requisite training and experience to testify. The District Court initially allowed Paul to testify, but reversed this decision on the second day of trial, ruling that the disclosure was untimely.The jury found Huelskamp guilty of assault and battery, awarding Olds $13,700 in compensatory damages and $75,000 in punitive damages. The District Court later reduced these amounts to $13,700 and $10,500 respectively, and also reduced Olds' claimed attorney fees from $105,869 to $91,300. Huelskamp was thus ordered to pay Olds a total of $115,500.In the Supreme Court of the State of Montana, the court found that the District Court had abused its discretion by excluding Huelskamp's expert witness from testifying. The court noted that Huelskamp had disclosed the expert witness over 13 months prior to trial, giving Olds sufficient time to prepare for cross-examination. The court therefore reversed the District Court's decision and remanded the case for a new trial. View "Olds v. Huelskamp" on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of plaintiffs, including Forward Montana, Leo Gallagher, Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Gary Zadick, who challenged the constitutionality of two amendments to Senate Bill 319 (SB 319) passed by the Montana Legislature during the 2021 legislative session. The amendments, added during a closed-door committee meeting, were unrelated to the original subject of the bill, which was campaign finance. The plaintiffs argued that the amendments violated two sections of the Montana Constitution: Article V, Section 11(1), which requires that a law not be so altered or amended on its passage through the legislature as to change its original purpose, and Article V, Section 11(3), which requires that each bill contain only one subject, clearly expressed in its title.The District Court of the First Judicial District ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that the amendments violated the aforementioned sections of the Montana Constitution. The court permanently enjoined the enforcement of the contested sections of SB 319. The State of Montana, the defendant in the case, did not appeal the decision, effectively acknowledging the unconstitutionality of the bill.The plaintiffs then sought attorney fees under the private attorney general doctrine and the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (UDJA). The District Court denied the request, finding that the case was a "garden-variety" constitutional challenge undeserving of attorney fees under the doctrine. The court also denied fees under the UDJA, finding that the circumstances did not make fees equitable.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana reversed the District Court's decision, ruling that the plaintiffs were entitled to attorney fees under the private attorney general doctrine. The court found that the plaintiffs had vindicated important constitutional rights and that private enforcement was necessary due to the State's defense of the unconstitutional law. The court remanded the case to the District Court for calculation of attorney fees. View "Forward Montana v. State" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of Montana reversed and remanded a decision of the Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone County. The case involved Saddlebrook Investments (Saddlebrook), assignee of Stuart Simonsen, and Krohne Fund, L.P. (Krohne Fund). Saddlebrook appealed against the district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of Krohne Fund on Saddlebrook’s claims of malicious prosecution and abuse of process.The Supreme Court found that the district court had erred in applying the doctrine of judicial estoppel to bar Saddlebrook from pursuing its claims. The court noted that a party is not judicially estopped from asserting a cause of action not raised in a reorganization plan or otherwise mentioned in the debtor’s schedules or disclosure statements. However, this does not apply when the bankruptcy trustee is pursuing the action for the benefit of creditors. Once substituted, a bankruptcy trustee is free to pursue the debtor’s nondisclosed claim.In this case, the Trustee had knowledge of Simonsen’s claims and authorized the state court suit. The Supreme Court concluded that because the Trustee had control of Simonsen’s abuse of process claim through the bankruptcy estate, the District Court erred when it estopped Saddlebrook from pursuing that claim. Therefore, Saddlebrook is not judicially estopped from pursuing its malicious prosecution and abuse of process claims against Krohne Fund. View "Saddlebrook Investments v. Krohne Fund" on Justia Law

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The case involves Michael Goguen, an engineer and businessman, who was the subject of two civil suits alleging sexual and criminal misconduct. The New York Post published an article detailing these lawsuits, which Goguen claimed was defamatory. Goguen filed a defamation lawsuit against New York Post's parent company, NYP Holdings, and others. In response, NYP Holdings argued that their article was protected by New York’s fair report privilege, a law that protects media from defamation suits if they are reporting on official proceedings.However, the District Court in Montana, where Goguen resides, applied Montana law and denied NYP Holdings' motion to dismiss, finding that whether the article was privileged was a question of fact for the jury. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Montana determined that under Montana's choice of law rules, New York law should be applied to determine the fair report privilege. The Court found that all the contested statements in the article fairly and accurately reported the lawsuits against Goguen and were thus protected by New York's fair report privilege. Therefore, the Court held that NYP Holdings was entitled to dismissal of Goguen’s complaint.The Court also upheld the District Court's decision to dismiss Goguen's defamation claim against former police chief Bill Dial, ruling that Dial's statements in the article were protected opinions and not actionable. View "Goguen v. NYP Holdings" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Montana was presiding over a dispute regarding the reimbursement claim of Angela Mastrovito from the Estate of Rebekah Barsotti. Mastrovito, the mother of the deceased Rebekah Barsotti, had served as her court-appointed guardian after Rebekah went missing and was presumed dead following a reported drowning accident. Mastrovito filed a claim for $140,688.45 in expenses she allegedly incurred during her guardianship, including costs for rent, legal fees, meals, travel, and others. The claim was opposed by Rebekah's husband, David Barsotti, who was appointed as the personal representative of Rebekah's estate.The District Court denied Mastrovito's claim for three reasons: her appointment as a guardian was retroactively improper due to Rebekah's death, the claimed expenditures were unreasonable, and the claim lacked sufficient substantiation. Mastrovito appealed this decision, arguing that her appointment was not improper and that she was denied a fair hearing to present evidence in support of her claim.Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the District Court's denial of the claim. The court reasoned that even if Mastrovito's appointment was proper, she still failed to provide sufficient support for her claim. The court concluded that a hearing could not change the fact that Mastrovito's claim was facially insufficient. The court underscored the need for providing supporting evidence to determine the validity and reasonableness of claimed costs. View "In re Estate of Barsotti" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed a lower court decision that granted Dr. Gregory S. Tierney's motion to dismiss a medical malpractice lawsuit filed by Janice M. Dodds for insufficient service of process. Dodds initially filed the suit against Dr. Tierney and Benefis Health System in 2013, alleging medical malpractice related to a knee replacement surgery. She failed to serve the defendants in time. Dr. Tierney later filed for bankruptcy, which invoked an automatic stay, halting the lawsuit. After his bankruptcy discharge, Dodds attempted to serve Dr. Tierney but failed to do so within the required 30-day timeframe following the discharge.Dodds further sought to join Dr. Tierney's malpractice insurance company as the real party in interest, but the court denied the motion. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that Dodds had not proven Dr. Tierney's liability, thus the insurer had no duty to indemnify him. The court also rejected Dodds' argument that Dr. Tierney lacked standing after his Chapter 7 discharge. The court held that Dr. Tierney maintained a personal stake in demonstrating he was not liable for medical malpractice and that his insurer would only have a duty to indemnify him once Dodds proved her malpractice claims. View "Dodds v. Tierney" on Justia Law