Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the orders entered by the district court on review of the Human Rights Commission's (HRC) final agency decision regarding Plaintiff's sexual discrimination claims against Defendant, her former employer, holding that the district court erred in part.The hearing officer found discrimination and awarded Plaintiff $415,786. The HRC affirmed the finding of discrimination and slightly altered the hearing officer's damages calculations, resulting in an increase in the overall award. The district court upheld the finding of discrimination but concluded that the HRC's use of a four-year cap for front pay damages was arbitrary and capricious, thus increasing Plaintiff's front-pay damage award. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the district court (1) did not err in affirming the determination that Plaintiff was exposed to a hostile and abusive work environment and was subjected to sexual harassment and retaliation; (2) erred in reversing the HRC's front-pay damage award; and (3) did not abuse its discretion in its determination of Plaintiff's attorney fee award. View "Norval Electric Cooperative, Inc. v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court to affirm the Montana Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) issuance of a solid waste management system (SWMS) license to the City of Billings for future expansion of its Class II facility, the Billings Regional Landfill, holding that the DEQ did not violate the law.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) in approving the City's license application, the district court did not err when it concluded that DEQ made a "reasoned determination" that the City satisfied the requirements of Admin. R. M. 17.50.1005; (2) the district court did not err when it concluded that DEQ did not need to prepare an environmental impact statement pursuant to Admin. R. M. 17.4.608(1)(g); and (3) the district court did not err by not addressing whether the proposed expansion area violates Mont. Code Ann. 75-10-212(2)(c). View "Hillcrest Natural Area Foundation, Inc. v. Dep't of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court affirming the decision of the Montana Department of Revenue (MDOR) denying Appellant's petition to adopt a proposed administrative rule construing Mont. Code Ann. 15-30-2605(3), holding that the MDOR correctly construed sections 15-30-2605(1) and (3) and did not capriciously, arbitrarily, or unlawfully preliminarily deny Appellant's petition for adoption of a proposed rule interpreting the section 15-30-2605(3).At issue were internal MDOR reviews initiated by clients of Appellant, a certified public accountant, regarding 2021 MDOR adjustment notices regarding their 2017 income tax returns. Appellant argued that the noticed MDOR adjustments were untimely beyond the three-year deadline set forth in section 15-30-2605(3) and petitioned MDOR to adopt a rule to clarify section 15-30-2605 based on his contrary interpretation of section 15-30-2605(3). MDOR denied the petition, and the district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in determining that MDOR's construction of section 15-30-2605(3) was correct and that Appellant failed to demonstrate that the denial of his rulemaking petition was arbitrary, capricious, or based on an erroneous conclusion of law. View "Wangerin v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint making a claim for statutory damages against the Board of County Commissioners pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 76-3-625(1) and equal protection, takings, and due process claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983, holding that the district court erred.In granting the Board's motion to dismiss, the district court determined that Plaintiff's section 76-3-625(1) claims were barred by a thirty-day statute of limitations and its section 1983 claims failed to state a claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court erred in (1) determining that the section 76-3-625(1) claim was subject to a thirty-day statute of limitations and was therefore time-barred; and (2) erred in concluding that Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims lacked a sufficient protected property interest and were insufficiently pled to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. View "Tai Tam, LLC v. Missoula County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order entered by the district court granting summary judgment to the Public Service Commission (PSC) and dismissing Appellants' claim that Mont. Code Ann. 69-2-102 was unconstitutional, holding that this matter lacked a justiciable controversy.Appellants filed a petition seeking a judgment declaring that the PSC's contested case procedures were unconstitutional. Specifically, Appellants alleged that the PSC's application of section 69-2-102 was unconstitutional as applied. The district court granted summary judgment to the PSC, dismissing Appellants' challenges against the statute on justiciability grounds. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in concluding that Appellants lacked standing to challenge, on due process grounds, the constitutionality of section 69-2-102. View "Broad Reach Power, LLC v. Mont. Dep't of Service Regulation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Cascade County's request for attorney fees and costs, interest, and unjust enrichment damages, holding that the district court did not err in determining that the provisions of Mont. Code Ann. 75-11-307(2) precluded the County's request for attorney fees, costs, interests, and unjust enrichment damages.This appeal involved a long-running dispute between the County and the Montana Petroleum Tank Release Compensation Board for remediation costs associated with petroleum contamination. The County held that four petroleum releases did not qualify for reimbursement from the Montana Petroleum Tank Release Compensation Fund. The district court reversed. The Supreme Court reversed in part. In district court on remand, the County filed a motion to the Board to pay "eligible costs." The district court denied the request. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the County's claims for attorney fees, costs, interest, and unjust enrichment damages were statutorily prohibited. View "Cascade Co. v. Petroleum Tank Release Compensation Bd." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating K.H.'s parental rights to her two children, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the conduct or condition rendering Mother unfit to parent was unlikely to change within a reasonable time.After a hearing, the district court granted the petitions filed by the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division to terminate K.H.'s parental rights to her children, finding that K.H. had failed the treatment plan and was unlikely to change in a reasonable amount of time. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by terminating Mother's parental right on the basis of its finding that K.H.'s conduct or condition rendering her unfit was unlikely to change within a reasonable time. View "In re A.M.G." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and dismissing a complaint alleging that DEQ violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), holding that DEQ was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.Montana Rivers, the Gallatin Wildlife Association, and Cottonwood Environmental Law Center (collectively, Plaintiffs) brought this lawsuit alleging that DEQ violated MEPA by failing to supplement a 2007 environmental impact statement (EIS) that DEQ had prepared for a proposed rulemaking by the Board of Environmental Review (Board). In 2013, the Board declined to proceed with that rulemaking by ending its notice and comment period and letting the process expire. The district court ruled that Plaintiffs had no viable MEPA cause of action because there was no longer any contemplated state action for which to supplement the EIS. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in concluding that there was no proposed state action pending that would obligate DEQ to prepare or supplement a MEPA analysis. View "Montana Rivers v. Montana Dep't of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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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