Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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In this case arising from House Bill 102 (HB 102), the Supreme Court held that the Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education (Board) has the sole authority under the Montana Constitution to set policy regarding the possession of firearms on the Montana University System property.In 2021, the legislature enacted HB 102, which generally revised gun laws with respect to open and concealed carry of firearms. HB 102 also nullified a Board policy that limited the use of and access to firearms on campuses of the Montana University System (MUS). The district court concluded that HB 102 was unconstitutional as applied to the Board because it violated the Board's constitutional authority to regulate MUS campuses. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) campus safety and security is an integral responsibility of the Board's constitutional authority; (2) the regulation of firearms on MUS campuses falls squarely within this authority; and (3) as applied to the Board, certain sections of HB 102 unconstitutionally infringe upon the Board's constitutionally-derived authority. View "Board of Regents of Higher Education v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing North Star Development, LLC's petition for judicial review of the Montana Public Service Commission's (PSC) August 2020 rate determination regarding North Star's 2019 application for water and sewer utility rate increase authorizations, holding there was no error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court correctly concluded that North Star failed to exhaust all available administrative remedies, as required by Mont. Code Ann. 2-4-702(1)(a); (2) the correct jurisdictional basis for dismissal of a petition for judicial review due to failure to exhaust administrative remedies is a lack of procedural justiciability rather than lack of subject matter jurisdiction; and (3) the district court did not commit reversible error by failing to consider North Star's asserted waiver and equitable estoppel defenses. View "North Star Development, LLC v. Montana Public Service Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court which partially affirmed and partially reversed two earlier orders on reconsideration issued by the Montana Public Service Commission, holding that the district court erred in affirming the Commission's orders as related to interconnection costs associated with a certain transmission line.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) erred in upholding the Commission's determination assigning $267 million in network upgrade costs to Appellants; (2) correctly upheld the Commission's decision to calculate avoided energy costs using a proxy model; (3) properly upheld the Commission's decision to calculate ancillary service deductions based on NorthWestern Energy Corporation's proposed rates; and (4) properly upheld the Commission's determination that fifteen-year contract lengths were appropriate for all three of Appellant's projects. View "CED Wheatland Wind, LLC v. Montana Department of Public Service Regulation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order entered by the district court granting Big Foot Dumpsters & Containers, LLC's motion to dismiss this action as moot following Big Foot's withdrawal of its application for a garbage hauling certificate from the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC), holding that there was no error.Big Foot filed an application for a Class D carrier certificate of public convenience or necessity to haul garbage in Flathead County. Ultimately, Big Foot requested an order allowing the withdrawal of its application and sought dismissal of the action. The district court granted dismissal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err by concluding that the case was mooted; and (2) the district court did not err by failing to apply any exception to the mootness doctrine. View "In re Class D Application of Big Foot" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the district court denying the motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by the Associated Press and other news reporting outlets (collectively, the AP) and granting a motion to dismiss filed by Barry Usher, holding that the district court did not err.During the state's biennial legislative session in 2021, Usher, who was the Chair of the Judiciary Committee of the Montana House of Representatives, and other Republican members of the Committee met privately to discuss pending legislation. Because Usher denied the AP access to the gathering, the AP brought this lawsuit, seeking a declaratory judgment that this denial of access was a constitutional violation. The district court granted Usher's motion to dismiss, concluding that the gathering was controlled by the open meeting statute, Mont. Code Ann. 2-3-202, and that applying the statute in this case did not violate the AP's Mont. Const. art. II, 9 right to access a gathering of Judiciary Committee members. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in applying the statutory definition of a "meeting" to the AP's constitutional right to access a gathering of Judiciary Committee members. View "Associated Press v. Usher" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Yellowstone Disposal, LLC's petition for writ of mandamus, holding that the district court did not err.Yellowstone Disposal filed a petition for writ of mandamus to compel the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to issue a license or, in the alternative, issue a final decision approving or denying its application for a class II solid waste management systems (SWMS) license to operate a SWMS in Richland County. The district court granted DEQ's motion to dismiss the petition for failure to state a claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Yellowstone Disposal did not satisfy the requirements for issuance of a writ of mandamus. View "Yellowstone Disposal, LLC v. State, Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court finding two officials with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (hereinafter, MDPHHS) in indirect contempt of referenced orders in the underlying matter and imposing a sanction pending subsequent compliance with the subject orders, holding that the district court erred.The referenced orders at issue directed the Montana State Hospital to accept custody and care of the underlying criminal defendant for fitness rehabilitation pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 46-14-221(2)-(3) and thus imposing a $500 per-day coercive civil sanction pending future compliance with the orders. The district court adjudicated MDPHHS in indirect contempt for failing to transport the defendant as required and imposed a $500 per-day coercive civil sanction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the district court's threshold contempt finding and resulting imposition of a coercive civil sanction were both erroneously based on a clearly erroneous finding of material fact; and (2) the court's imposition of a continuing or cascading per-day fine was further erroneous in excess of the limiting language of Mont. Code Ann. 3-1-501(3). View "Fouts v. Eighth Judicial District Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying the Ekalaka Volunteer Fire Department, Inc.'s (Department) motion for summary judgment, holding that the district court did not err in finding that the Town of Ekalaka's fire department was municipally owned as a matter of law.The Department claimed it had always been a private fire company that existed as an unincorporated association until 2016, when it filed its incorporation paperwork following the town attorney's advice. The Town, in response, filed for a declaratory judgment that the Department was municipally owned. The district court granted summary judgment for the Town. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the evidence overwhelmingly weighed toward declaratory judgment affirming the duly established municipal department. View "Ekalaka v. Ekalaka Volunteer Fire Department, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment to the Montana Department of Revenue and dismissing Appellants' claims that the Department tortiously, unconstitutionally, and in breach of contract interfered with B.Y.O.B., Inc.'s (BYOB) attempts to transfer its ownership of an agency franchise agreement (AFA) for liquor sales, holding that the district court did not err.After the Department took action to terminate the AFA at issue for alleged violations of the Montana liquor laws, BYOB attempted to sell its interest and transfer ownership of the AFA it held with the Department. When the effort was unsuccessful, Appellants brought this suit. The district court granted summary judgment to the Department, finding that Appellants' AFA transfer-related claims were barred by quasi-judicial immunity or, alternatively, by the parties' settlement agreement. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in its rulings related to BYOB's attempts to assign the AFA to third parties. View "B.Y.O.B., Inc. v. Montana Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In this original proceeding, the Supreme Court held that a subpoena issued by the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee to Director Misty Ann Giles and the subpoena issued by the Senate president and Speaker of the House to Court Administrator Beth McLaughlin did not serve a valid legislative purpose, were permissibly overbroad and were therefore invalid.McLaughlin brought this proceeding seeking to quash and permanently enjoin the enforcement of successive subpoenas the Legislature issued first to the Director of the State Department of Administration and later to McLaughlin for the production of McLaughlin's emails between certain dates. The second subpoena also ordered production of McLaughlin's stated-owned telephones and computers used to facilitate polling of state judges. The Supreme Court granted the request, holding (1) the subpoenas in question were impermissibly overboard and exceeded the scope of legislative authority; and (2) if the Legislature subpoenas records from a state officer like the Court Administrator auxiliary to its legislative function, whether those records be in electronic or other form, a Montana court and not the Legislature must conduct any needed in camera review and balance competing security and privacy interests to determine whether records should be redacted prior to disclosure. View "McLaughlin v. Montana State Legislature" on Justia Law