Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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In this action brought against BNSF Railway Company due to its alleged involvement with the asbestos contamination in Libby, Montana the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the Montana Asbestos Claims Court granting partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs on the issues of preemption, strict liability, and non-party affirmative defenses, holding that BNSF was protected from strict liability under Restatement (Second) of Torts, 521, for some of its actions. After it was discovered that asbestos contaminated materials were shipped through the BNSF railyard and spilled into the soil in Libby for decades Plaintiffs sued BNSF. The Asbestos Court concluded that BNSF was strictly liable because its actions were abnormally dangerous and BNSF could not present evidence of non-party conduct to negate causation. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the court properly found that Plaintiffs' claims were not preempted by federal law; (2) while BNSF was subject to strict liability, it was protected from strict liability for its actions determined to be taken pursuant to its statutory public duty, and for those actions, it is subject only to claims for ordinary negligence; and (3) the court did not err in finding that BNSF could not use evidence of non-party conduct to refute causation. View "BNSF Railway Co. v. Asbestos Claims Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Water Court closing certification case, holding that the Water Court did not err in its rulings. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the Water Court did not err (1) in its determination of the water rights claims that had historically used the Gibson-Reinig Ditch and the characteristics of those rights; (2) by creating a junior implied claim to account for the parties' historic use of the capacity of the Gibson-Reinig Ditch; (3) in its determination of the priority date for claim 97014-00; (4) by finding that the unauthorized water use by David and Teri Hoon and Betty and Gary Murphy was irrelevant to the proceedings; and (5) by separately decreeing the interest of Michael and Lisa Bay. View "Hoon v. Murphy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Roger Hall and dismissing John Payne's claims for, among other things, fraud, negligence, and negligent/intentional misrepresentation and granting Hall's counterclaim for breach of contract and breach of good faith and fair dealing, holding that the district court did not err. After the sale of certain property to Payne and Hall, a project engineer encountered an old oil reserve pit that required mitigation. Later, Hall and Payne entered into a sale and purchase agreement whereunder Payne purchased Hall's interests in a partnership. Payne refused to pay Hall one-third of the purchase price on the basis that the agreement was voidable. Payne brought this lawsuit alleging that Hall failed to disclose the existence of the reserve pit prior to the sale of the property. Hall counterclaimed, alleging that Payne failed to make the final payment under the partnership purchase agreement. The district court granted summary judgment for Hall. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by concluding that Payne's claims were time barred and by concluding that Payne should not be excused from the partnership purchase agreement. View "Payne v. Hall" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment for the City of Billings and Jon Does 1-10, thus dismissing Plaintiff's claims for negligence and nuisance, holding that Plaintiff's claims were barred by judicial estoppel. Plaintiff presented a claim to the City for damages to his home from a City water line break. The City denied Plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff then filed a petition for relief under Chapter 13 of the United States Bankruptcy Code. Plaintiff, however, failed under penalty of perjury to disclose potential claims against the City on his bankruptcy petition. After the City denied his claim, Plaintiff filed his complaint against the City for negligence, nuisance, and inverse condemnation seeking compensatory damages caused by the water leak. The City filed a motion for summary judgment for all three claims. Plaintiff conceded judgment on the inverse condemnation claim but contested judgment on his nuisance and negligence claims. The district court granted summary judgment for the City, determining that Plaintiff's claims were barred by judicial estoppel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Plaintiff did not disclose his potential claims against the City on his bankruptcy petition or anytime during the duration of the bankruptcy, Plaintiff's negligence and nuisance claims were barred by judicial estoppel. View "Kucera v. Billings" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the summary judgment in favor of Collaborative Design Architects, Inc. (CDA) declaring that a prescriptive easement had been acquired over Barrett, Inc.'s property for the Red Lodge High School's secondary access route, holding that the district court did not err in concluding that the City of Red Lodge and the Red Lodge School District established a prescriptive easement. After a survey of its property revealed that an access road to the high school encroached upon its property, Barrett initiated this action against the city and the school district, alleging inverse condemnation, negligence, and state constitutional violations. CDA moved for summary judgment, contending that the city and school district acquired a prescriptive easement across the property. The district court granted the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that CDA was entitled to judgment as a matter of law upon establishing all of the elements of a prescriptive easement. View "Barrett, Inc. v. City of Red Lodge" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court concluding that each party in this case held an express easement over the other's property based on their predecessor's easement agreement and that agreement's subsequent incorporation into later conveyances, holding that the court's conclusions were without error. Stephen and Sharon Wiegele and West Dry Creek Ranch, LLC owned adjacent properties in Park County, Montana. Each party asserted an express easement over the other's property and denied that their properties were burdened by the other's claimed easements. The district court held that West Dry Creek had an express easement over the Wiegeles' property and that the Wiegeles had an express easement over West Dry Creek's property. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court's findings of fact were not clearly erroneous. View "Wiegele v. West Dry Creek Ranch, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's denial of Rose Everett-Martin's motion to set aside the jury's verdict of trespassing, holding that the district court did not err in entering a judgment granting equitable relief in the form of possession of real property. Shirley Renz filed a complaint for possession or trespass against her daughter, Rose, alleging that Rose had occupied Shirley's twenty-acre property with Shirley's express permission and had begun interfering with Shirley's use and enjoyment of the property. Rose counterclaimed for, among other things, unjust enrichment. The jury determined (1) Rose was trespassing on Shirley's property, but the trespass did not cause Shirley money damages; and (2) Shirley was unjustly enriched at the expense of Rose. The district court awarded $35,000 in favor of Rose and ordered possession of the real property to Shirley. On appeal, Rose argued that the court's judgment granting equitable relief did not comport with the jury's trespass finding. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in entering a judgment granting possession of real property. View "Renz v. Everett-Martin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting the motion to dismiss filed by the City of Bozeman, holding that Mont. Code Ann. 85-2-114 does not provide an implied private right of action for judicial enforcement of the Montana Water Use Act. Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that the City was in violation of the Act due to unpermitted water use and seeking injunctive relief and attorney fees. The City filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing that the Act does not create a private right of action for enforcement through injunctive relief, nor does it create a private right of action. The district court granted the City's motion to dismiss, concluding that section 85-2-114, which allows for judicial enforcement of the Act, doesn't support an implied private right of action for enforcement. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the provisions of section 85-2-114 preclude the possibility that the Act provides an implied private right of enforcement of the Act. View "Lyman Creek, LLC v. City of Bozeman" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court concluding that Whitefish Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, Inc. (the Congregation) had a valid, enforceable easement across the property owned by Giuseppe and Jamie Caltabiano and granting a permanent injunction prohibiting the Caltabianos from interfering with the Congregation's use of the easement, holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err when it considered extrinsic evidence and found an easement in favor of the Congregation; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it entered a permanent injunction prohibiting the Caltabianos from interfering with the Congregation's access to its property from Lion Mountain Road; and (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to award the Congregation attorney fees. View "Whitefish Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, Inc. v. Caltabiano" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Vision Net, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment and granting summary judgment to the Montana Department of Revenue (DOR), holding that the district court did not err by holding that the DOR properly centrally assessed Vision Net's property. Vision Net filed a petition for declaratory judgment challenging the DOR's decision to reclassify its property. The district court held that the DOR could properly centrally assess Vision Net's property, resulting in a significant increase in Vision Net's state tax liability. On appeal, Vision Net argued that DOR's central assessment violated its statutory rights and its constitutional rights of equal protection and equalization under Mont. Const. art. II, 4 and art. VII, 3. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly held that Vision Net was subject to central assessment and that Vision Net's constitutional challenge was without merit. View "Vision Net, Inc. v. State, Department of Revenue" on Justia Law