Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court assumed original jurisdiction over the issue presented in this case and held that the plain and ordinary meaning of “land acquisition” per Mont. Code Ann. 87-1-209(1) does not encompass conservation easement acquisition and that the statute does not require the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) to finalize its conservation easement transactions with the Board of Land Commissioners (Land Board). Steve Bullock, in his official capacity as Governor of Montana, and Martha Williams, in her official capacity as Director of the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, invoked the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction to declare whether section 87-1-209(1) requires FWP to bring conservation easement transactions of more than 100 acres or $100,000 in value before the Board of Land Commissioners for final approval. The Supreme Court held (1) the issue presented is justiciable; (2) the Governor and FWP Director have standing to petition the Court; (3) the Court is within the sphere of its constitutional authority to interpret the statutory meaning of section 87-1-209(1); and (4) acquisitions of interests in land do not require Land Board approval, and therefore, FWP is not statutorily required to take its conservation easement transactions before the Land Board. View "Bullock v. Fox" on Justia Law

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In this workers’ compensation case, the Supreme Court held that the Workers’ Compensation Court (WCC) erred in holding that Mont. Code Ann. 39-71-407(14) did not apply for purposes of determining liability for the exacerbation of Kim Wiard’s occupational disease (OD). Wiard was an employee at Tricon Timber, LLC. Liberty Northwest Insurance Corporation accepted liability for Wiard’s bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) as an OD. Liberty later ceased providing workers’ compensation insurance for Tricon, and State Fund became Triton’s workers’ compensation insurance provider. When Wiard filed an OD claim for left CTS with State Fund, State Fund denied the claim on the basis that Wiard’s OD diagnosis preceded State Fund’s coverage. Liberty also denied liability. The insurers filed cross-motions for summary judgment in the WCC on the issue of liability. The WCC granted summary judgment in favor of Liberty, concluding that Wiard had reached maximum medical improvement for her earlier CTS diagnosis and that her later job duties materially aggravated her OD. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the WCC erred when it held that section 39-71-407(14) did not apply in this case; and (2) under the statute, liability for the OD diagnosis remained with the insurer providing coverage at the time the OD was first diagnosed. View "Montana State Fund v. Liberty Northwest Insurance Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision quashing Appellant’s petition for writ of mandate seeking an order directing that Park County rescind its order instructing him to cease construction of his septic system. Appellant was issued a permit to construct and install a permitted septic system on his property. Thereafter, the Park County Sanitarian found several deficiencies in Appellant’s application that would, in the Sanitarian’s determination, allow the proposed septic system to be operated in violation of the Park County Water Onsite Treatment Regulations and potentially create a threat to public health. The Sanitarian informed Appellant that the permit issued to him was voided and instructed him to cease construction of the septic system. Appellant filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint for libel. The district court quashed the petition, concluding that a writ of mandate was inapplicable. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) mandate was not available in this case because the petition sought an order to direct Park County to undo an action already taken and because the Sanitarian’s voiding of the permit was a discretionary action; and (2) Appellant was not denied due process of law. View "Boehm v. Park County" 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 judgment of the district court reversing the decision of the Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices (the Commissioner) that the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) was responsible for ethics violations. Trap Free Montana Public Lands (Trap Free) filed an ethics complaint alleging that FWP allowed the Montana Trappers Association (MTA) to use an FWP-owned trailer and equipment in MTA’s efforts to oppose a ballot initiative, in violation of Mont. Code Ann. 2-2-101 and -121. A hearing examiner found that FWP staff were responsible for three statutory violations for the occasions when MTA members used the trailer and equipment in conjunction with its political advocacy efforts. The Commissioner adopted the hearing examiner’s recommendation that the Commissioner impose an administrative penalty on FWP. The district court reversed, concluding that FWP employees did not violate state ethics laws. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that where section 2-2-121(3)(a) prohibits public employees from using public resources for political purposes, and where MTA members are not public employees, there was no violation of the ethics code. View "Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks v. Trap Free Montana Public Lands" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed three orders of the district court that directed Southwest Montana Building Industry Association (SWMBIA) to transfer funds from the impact fee payer class refund account (refund account) to the City of Bozeman, to submit an accounting of the refund account, and for contempt of court. The Court held (1) the district court did not exceed its authority when it ordered SWMBIA to transfer the funds remaining in the refund account to Bozeman; (2) the district court’s order regarding the transfer of the remaining refund account funds was enforceable; (3) the district court did not err when it did not dispose of the remaining refund account funds in accordance with Mont. R. Civ. P. 23(i)(3); (4) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it ordered SWMBIA to provide an accounting of the refund account; and (5) SWMBIA cannot obtain relief from the district court’s contempt order. View "Southwest Montana Building Industry Ass’n v. City of Bozeman" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court order granting in part and denying in part judicial review of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) fair hearing proposed decision that DPHHS overpaid IMS under the Medicaid program and was entitled to reimbursement in the amount of $670,152 from Independence Medical Supply, Inc. (IMS). IMS appealed, and DPHHS cross appealed the district court’s order. The Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion by affirming the hearing officer’s determination that physician affidavits introduced by IMS did not cure technical violations of the supply orders submitted to DPHHS; and (2) the district court erred in holding that a letter sent by DPHHS on January 8, 2014 commenced an action for recovery of the overpayment because DPHHS did not commence an action within the meaning of Mont. Code Ann. 27-2-102(1)(b) and Mont. R. Civ. P. 3. View "Independence Medical Supply, Inc. v. Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the City of Billings (City) and the Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority (MMIA) (collectively, Defendants) in this “Petition for Release of Documents” seeking documents related to a civil judgment MMIA paid on behalf of the City. Defendants released to Plaintiff all non-privileged documents and provided privilege logs describing those documents withheld on the ground of attorney-client or attorney-work-product privilege. In his petition, Plaintiff asked for the release of “everything related to” the civil judgment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants and dismissed the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the privileged documents were not subject to disclosure under the Montana Constitution. View "Nelson v. City of Billings" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the City of Billings (City) and the Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority (MMIA) (collectively, Defendants) in this “Petition for Release of Documents” seeking documents related to a civil judgment MMIA paid on behalf of the City. Defendants released to Plaintiff all non-privileged documents and provided privilege logs describing those documents withheld on the ground of attorney-client or attorney-work-product privilege. In his petition, Plaintiff asked for the release of “everything related to” the civil judgment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants and dismissed the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the privileged documents were not subject to disclosure under the Montana Constitution. View "Nelson v. City of Billings" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Petitioner Rimrock Chrysler Inc.’s petition for judicial review of its request to establish Rimrock as an additional Chrysler-Jeep franchise in the Billings community. Rimrock was awarded a letter of intent by Chrysler Group, LLC to establish a Chrysler-Jeep franchise in Billings that was less than a mile from Lithia of Billings, Inc.’s existing Chrysler-Jeep dealership. Lithia protested Rimrock’s proposed new dealership. The Department of Justice Motor Vehicle Division entered a notice of adoption of final decision finding that good cause did not exist to establish Rimrock as a Chrysler-Jeep franchise in Billings. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by denying Rimrock’s petition for judicial review. View "Rimrock Chrysler, Inc. v. State Department of Justice, Motor Vehicle Division" on Justia Law