Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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After the Montana Department of Justice informed employees of the Deer Lodge office of the Department’s Title and Registration Bureau (TRB) that the office would be formally closed, Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging violations of the public’s rights to know and participate. Plaintiffs ultimately sought an order setting aside the Department’s decision to close the TRB office. The district court entered judgment in favor of the Department. Plaintiffs appealed but did not move to stay the district court’s judgment, and the Department relocated the TRB functions to its Helena offices. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, holding that Plaintiffs’ claims were moot because the circumstances of this case precluded effective relief that would meaningfully remedy the department’s alleged disregard of the public notice and participation requirements of Title 2, chapter 3, Mont. Code Ann. View "City of Deer Lodge v. Fox" on Justia Law

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The Montana Public Service Commission, which requires that certain regulated telecommunications companies publicly disclose the salary information of their executive or managerial employees earning more than $100,000 per year, denied the motions for protective orders filed by Southern Montana Telephone Company and Lincoln Telephone Company to keep the salary information confidential. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Commission’s “rubric,” by which the Commission judged companies’ motions for protective orders of employee compensation information, constituted a de facto rule within the meaning of the Montana Administrative Procedure Act (MAPA) and that the Commission was obligated to comply with MAPA’s rulemaking procedures before implementing the rubric. View "Southern Montana Lincoln Telephone Co. v. Montana Public Service Commission" on Justia Law

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Allen Longsoldier, Jr., an eighteen-year-old Native American, died as a result of alcohol withdrawal while in custody at the Hill County Detention Center after he was arrested by Blaine County authorities. Longsoldier’s estate filed a claim against Blaine and Hill Counties with the Montana Human Rights Bureau alleging that the Counties discriminated against Longsoldier because of his race and his disability - alcoholism. A hearing officer concluded that the Counties had not illegally discriminated against Longsoldier. The Human Rights Commission found clear error in the hearing officer’s findings of fact and concluded that the Counties had discriminated against Longsoldier. Presiding Judge Jeffrey Sherlock with the district court reversed the Commission’s decision and reinstated the hearing officer’s order as the final agency decision. On the Estate’s motion to alter or amend, Judge James Reynolds, who had assumed jurisdiction of the case, found that Judge Sherlock had committed a “manifest error of law” by fashioning an improper remedy. The Supreme Court affirmed Judge Sherlock’s order and reversed Judge Reynold’s order, holding (1) Judge Sherlock correctly concluded that the Commission improperly modified the Hearing Officer’s findings; and (2) Judge Reynolds incorrectly concluded that Judge Sherlock erred as a matter of law by reinstating the hearing officer’s decision as the final agency decision. View "Blaine County v. Stricker" on Justia Law

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In Montana’s ongoing water rights claims adjudication proceedings, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) filed six water right claims related to one natural pothole and five reservoirs. The water sources were located wholly or partially on federal land. The BLM claimed the right to use each source for stock watering by its grazing permittees and for wildlife. Certain objectors (Objectors) raised objections to each claim, arguing that the BLM did not perfect any water rights. The Water Master recommended summary judgment in favor of the BLM on each claim. The Water Court granted partial summary judgment to the BLM and remanded a portion of the pothole claim to the Master for further proceedings. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Water Court correctly found that the BLM properly perfected state law water rights in the reservoirs; and (2) The Water Court did not err in granting partial summary judgment on the pothole claim. View "Bureau of Land Management - Barthelmess" on Justia Law

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After she was demoted from her position with the Montana Department of Transportation, Sheila Cozzie filed a grievance. Following a contested case proceeding, the hearing examiner recommended that Cozzie’s grievance be denied. Cozzie appealed to the full Board of Personnel Appeals (BOPA). The BOPA voted to grant Cozzie’s grievance and issued a final decision reinstating Cozzie. On appeal, the district court ruled that BOPA acted outside the scope of review, concluding that the BOPA improperly struck findings of fact and incorrectly modified conclusions of law. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err by affirming the evidentiary ruling made by the hearing examiner; and (2) did not err by reversing the BOPA’s just cause decision. View "Department of Transportation v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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The Montana Department of Revenue (DOR) informed Alpine Aviation, Inc. that it would be centrally assessed pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 15-23-101 and 15-6-145. The DOR denied Alpine’s request for reclassification. After Alpine appealed to the State Tax Appeal Board, DOR brought an interlocutory appeal to the district court seeking an adjudication of the meaning of “scheduled airline” and “scheduled air commerce” for property tax purposes. Those terms are further informed by the statutory phrase “regularly scheduled flights.” After the district court interpreted the phrases as requested, Alpine appealed, arguing that the court incorrectly interpreted the phrase “regularly scheduled flights.” The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the district court’s definition of “regularly scheduled flight” was satisfactory with the exception of its use of the phrase “patterned but not necessarily uniform.” View "Department of Revenue v. Alpine Aviation, Inc" on Justia Law

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Appellee filed an action against Missoula Electric Cooperative (MEC), asserting age discrimination in the hiring process. A Human Rights Bureau Investigator granted summary judgment for MEC, concluding that, as a matter of law, Appellee could not prove a case against MEC. The Human Rights Commission overturned its Hearing Examiner’s decision. The district court affirmed, holding that the Commission properly reversed the Hearing examiner’s decision because genuine issue of material fact existed, thus precluding summary judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission did not err by determining that the Hearing Examiner improperly granted summary judgment to MEC. View "Missoula Electric Cooperative v. Jon Cruson Inc." on Justia Law

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Citizens for a Better Flathead brought this lawsuit challenging Flathead County’s 2012 Revised Growth Policy, asserting that the Flathead County Planning Board and the County Commission violated Montana statutes, the Montana Constitution, and Flathead County’s own procedures when they developed the revised policy without adequate public participation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not abuse its discretion in striking Citizens’ expert report; (2) did not err in determining that the Commission substantially complied with the growth policy’s mandatory procedures for adopting revisions; (3) did not err in determining that the Commission allowed for meaningful public participation in the revision process; (4) did not err in determining that the Commission adequately incorporated public comments into its decision-making process; and (5) properly concluded that Part 6 of the revised growth policy is not unconstitutional. View "Citizens for a Better Flathead v. Bd. of County Comm’rs of Flathead County" on Justia Law

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This matter involved a challenge to the final order of the Montana Public Service Commission disallowing $1,419,427 in claimed excess electric regulation costs and adjusted energy efficiency savings calculations. NorthWestern Corporation - doing business as NorthWestern Energy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Human Resources Council, District XI appealed the Commission’s decision. The district court affirmed the Commission’s final order. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commission used the correct legal standard in reviewing NorthWestern’s claim for excess outage costs; and (2) the “free ridership” and “spillover” calculations adopted by the Commission were supported by substantial evidence. View "Northwestern Corp. v. Dep’t of Pub. Serv. Regulation" on Justia Law

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Carbon County Resource Council and Northern Plains Resources Council (collectively, Resource Councils) challenged the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation’s (the Board) approval of well stimulation activities at an exploratory gas well in Carbon County. Specifically, Resource Councils claimed that the Board’s permitting process violated their constitutional right to meaningfully participate in government decisions. The district court concluded that Resource Councils’ constitutional challenge was not ripe for judgment and granted summary judgment in favor of the Board. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Resource Councils’ claims are ripe for judicial review; but (2) the Board did not violate Resource Councils’ right to participate in its consideration of the permit at issue in this case. View "Carbon County Res. Council v. Bd. of Oil & Gas Conservation" on Justia Law