Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court upholding the declaratory ruling of the Flathead Conservation District asserting jurisdiction over David and Jacqueline Stalowy's dredging project, holding that the district court did not err. The Stalowys applied for permits with the District to conduct dredging activities on their Flathead County property. For the District to have jurisdiction under the Natural Streambed and Land Preservation Act of 1975 (Act), Title 75, chapter 7, Mont. Code Ann., the proposed dredging work must result in a "change in the state" of a "natural, perennial-flowing stream." At issue was whether North Bear Creek and other waterbodies on the Stalowys' property met the definition of a “stream." The District issued a declaratory ruling asserting jurisdiction over the Stalowys' property and projects. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the District had jurisdiction over the project. View "Stalowy v. Flathead Conservation District" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court voiding a permit issued by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) allowing the Montana Artesian Water Company (MAWC) to appropriate water, holding that while the DNRC issued its preliminary determination granting MAWC the water use permit based on incomplete data, because the statutory deadline had passed, the application was deemed correct and complete as a matter of law, and DNRC could not require the missing information. DNRC failed to identify defects in the application before the statutory deadline. The district court concluded that DNRC failed to comply with its own rules to determine whether the application was correct and complete and voided the permit without addressing other issues raised on judicial review. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding (1) with or without the missing information, MAWC's application became correct and complete as a matter of law after the statutory deadline had passed; and (2) Mont. Code Ann. 85-2-302(5) forecloses an argument regarding compliance with application requirements the agency imposed by rule. View "Flathead Lakers v. Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court accepted a question certified to it by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and answered that, under Montana law, dinosaur fossils do not constitute "minerals" for the purpose of a mineral reservation. Mary Ann and Lige Murray owned the surface estate of sizable property in Garfield County. The mineral estate was held by BEJ Minerals, LLC and RTWF LLC (collectively, BEJ). The Murrays found and excavated several valuable dinosaur fossils on their property. When BEJ claimed an ownership interest in the fossils the Murrays sought a declaratory judgment affirming that the fossils were owned solely by the Murrays. BEJ filed a counterclaim requesting a declaratory judgment that, under Montana law, the fossils were "minerals" and thus part of the mineral estate. The federal district court granted summary judgment to the Murrays. On appeal, a Ninth Circuit panel reversed. The Murrays then filed a petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc. The Ninth Circuit certified the question to the Supreme Court for resolution under Montana law. The Supreme Court "decline[d] to stretch the term 'mineral' so far outside its ordinary meaning as to include dinosaur fossils," concluding that, under Montana law, dinosaur fossils do not constitute "minerals" for the purpose of a mineral reservation. View "Murray v. BEJ Minerals, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this property dispute, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court granting Defendant's motion to stay proceedings without holding a hearing on Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction, holding that the district court abused its discretion by staying proceedings and denying Plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction without a hearing. Plaintiff filed suit against Title Insurer seeking damages for breach of contract and bad faith. In a separate suit, Plaintiff sued Defendant seeking a declaration that Moss Agate Road was either a county road, public highway, or that the public enjoys a prescriptive easement across Moss Agate. Plaintiff filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction seeking to enjoin Defendant from interfering with Plaintiff's access to its property over Moss Agate. Defendant then filed a motion to stay proceedings. Without holding a hearing, the district court stayed proceedings in Plaintiff's case against Defendant pending the resolution of Plaintiff's case against Title Insurer. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the bad faith case did not cover all the issues in the instant matter, the district court manifestly abused its discretion by denying Plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction without holding a hearing. View "Flying T Ranch, LLC v. Catlin Ranch, LP" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the findings of the Water Court in adjudicating two of Twin Creeks's water rights claims, holding that the Water court did not err in finding that Twin Creeks abandoned one claim by nonuse but misapprehended the effect of testimony regarding the second claim's historical use. Five Twin Creeks claims were at issue before the Water Court. After a hearing, the Water Court issued a closing order ordering changes to four of the claims and removing the issue remarks. At issue on appeal were the statements of claim 40B109102-00 (the 102 claim) and 40B109104-00 (the 104 claim). The Supreme Court held (1) the Water Court did not err in finding that the 102 claim was abandoned by nonuse because the intent to abandon occurred concurrently with the nonuse; and (2) the Water Court erred finding that Petrolia Irrigation District did not overcome the presumption that the 104 claim was correct as filed. View "Twin Creeks Farm & Ranch v. Petrolia Irrigation District" on Justia Law

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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