Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded in part the order of the district court that awarded Kevin DeTienne $1,291,635 in lost profits, prejudgment interest accruing from September 11, 2015, $150,000 in punitive damages, and $42,009 in attorney fees and costs, holding that remand was necessary on a portion of the judgment and reversal was required on another portion. DeTienne filed suit against Bryan Sandrock seeking a declaratory judgment that Sandrock’s transfer of certain property was unlawful. A default judgment was entered awarding damages. The Supreme Court remanded to the district court for an order setting forth evidence supporting its determination of damages. After the district court entered its judgment, Sandrock appealed. The Supreme Court held (1) remand was necessary to clarify the compensatory damages award; (2) the district court did not err in awarding punitive damages; (3) remand was necessary to recalculate the prejudgment interest on a portion of the damages award, and reversal was required on a portion of the prejudgment interest award; and (4) the district court properly awarded attorney fees to DeTienne, and DeTienne was entitled to an award of reasonable costs and attorney fees incurrent during the litigation on remand, as well as attorney fees on appeal. View "DeTienne v. Sandrock" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order regarding Defendant’s second claim for litigation expenses in this condemnation litigation, holding that the district court erred in awarding Defendant litigation fees it incurred after the sale of its property had been completed and it lacked any interest in the property. The City of Missoula initiated this proceeding to condemn via eminent domain the water system serving the company, previously owned by a water company and Defendant, the upstream holding company. The district court ultimately issued an order awarding fees and expenses to Defendant. Thereafter, Defendant sold all of its interest in the property. Defendant then filed a second claim for litigation expenses incurred after the sale. The district court awarded Defendant a portion of its claimed expenses. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendant was not entitled to recover its litigation expenses because it was not an owner or condemnee upon sale of its interest in the water system. View "Missoula v. Mountain Water Co." on Justia Law

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The Montana Supreme Court affirmed the district court's ruling on summary judgment that plaintiffs have both an express private road easement and a prescriptive easement to travel across defendant's land. The court held that the district court did not err in finding an express easement as depicted on the Correction Certificate, giving plaintiffs an easement to travel on the shared driveway. The court also held that plaintiffs acquired a prescriptive easement to cross defendant's property where plaintiffs showed open, notorious, continuous, uninterrupted, exclusive, and adverse use of an easement for five years. View "Walker v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Water Court granting the United States Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) motion for summary judgment, holding that the Water Court correctly determined that the BLM was the owner of certain stock claims and correctly affirmed other claims for wildlife use. Specifically, the Court held that the Water Court (1) properly determined that Ron and Maxine Korman forfeited interests claimed for stockwater use in the Chevy and Poker Reservoirs; and (2) did not err when it determined that the wildlife claims at issue were valid and did not expand the original appropriation. View "United States Bureau of Land Management v. Korman" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s denial of Appellant’s petition for a writ of mandate requesting that the court compel the Flathead County Treasurer to issue him a tax deed or appear and show cause why it should not do so, holding that a writ of mandate was inappropriate because Appellant had an adequate remedy at law. Flathead County purchased a tax lien on certain property after the property taxes became delinquent. When the owner and occupant did not redeem the property within the redemption period the County assigned the tax lien to a limited liability company (LLC), of which Appellant was a member. The Flathead County Treasurer subsequently allowed the owner to redeem the property. When the County Treasurer declined to issue a tax deed to the LLC, Appellant filed his petition for a writ of mandate arguing that the County Treasurer had a statutory duty to issue the tax deed. The district court denied the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly determined that Appellant was not entitled to a writ of mandate because a quiet title action provided Appellant with an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law. View "O'Brien v. Krantz" on Justia Law

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In this property dispute, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Ravalli County’s motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim, holding that Landowners did not satisfy all factors for claim preclusion and failed to follow the proper procedure for seeking review of a Board of County Commissioners’ (BOCC) denial of a petition to abandon a county road. This dispute centered around where a Ravalli County road (Road) ended and private property began. Specifically at issue was a gate placed on the Road, preventing public access beyond the gate. Landowners, who owned property accessed by the Road, filed a petition with the BOCC to abandon the Road. The BOCC denied the petition and directed Landowners to remove the gate. Landowners filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging claim preclusion regarding removal of the gate and declaratory judgment regarding the end of the Road. The district court dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) there was no final judgment or order precluding the County from asserting that the gate should be removed from the Road; and (2) Landowners’ action was properly dismissed because they failed to follow proper procedure for county road abandonment cases. View "Bugli v. Ravalli County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Hiland Crude, LLC in this declaratory action challenging the tax classification of Hiland Crude’s crude oil gathering pipelines in Montana. Hiland Crude owns and operates crude oil gathering and transmission systems in Montana. The Department of Revenue began centrally assessing Hiland Crude’s property in 2013 and classified all of its pipeline systems within the State as class nine property. Hiland Crude filed this suit asserting that gathering pipeline systems should be taxed as class eight property, regardless of whether the property is centrally assessed, because they are “flow lines and gathering lines” under the class eight statute. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment for Hiland Crude. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Hiland Crude. View "Hiland Crude, LLC v. State, Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In this condemnation proceeding initiated by the City of Missoula to condemn the water system serving the City, previously owned by Property Owners, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the district court’s orders resolving Property Owners’ claims for attorney and expert fees. After a trial, Property Owners moved for reimbursement of their litigation expenses, arguing that they were prevailing parties. Property Owners argued that Mont. Code Ann. 70-30-306(2) and (3), which cap reimbursement for attorney and expert fees to the customary rate in the county where the case is tried, is unconstitutional both facially and as-applied. The district court concluded that Property Owners were prevailing parties with a right to be reimbursed for their necessary litigation expenses but denied the constitutional challenges to the statute. On appeal, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) did not err in denying Property Owners’ facial constitutional challenge to Mont. Code Ann. 70-30-306, but as to Property Owners’ as-applied constitutional challenge to the statute, this matter must be remanded for further proceedings; (2) did not err by determining that Property Owners were prevailing parties and entitled to recover litigation expenses; and (3) did not err in awarding attorneys’ fees for out-of-state attorneys. View "City of Missoula v. Mountain Water Co." on Justia Law

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In this complaint alleging breach of a lease, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying the motions to set aside default and default judgment filed by Anthony Raelund, Candice Raelund, and Raelund Family Trust (collectively, the Raelunds) and the motion for leave to intervene filed by Brooke Anthony Weeks. The Court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in (1) denying the motions to set aside default and default judgment for lack of standing to pursue the motions; and (2) denying Weeks’ motion to intervene, where Weeks was not entitled to intervene as a matter of right under Mont. R. Civ. P. 24(a). View "Enz v. Raelund" on Justia Law

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In this condemnation proceeding, the district court did not err in concluding that Mountain Water Company was not entitled to statutory interest pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 70-30-302(2), when read in conjunction with Mont. Code Ann. 70-30-311. Mountain Water and the City of Missoula entered into a settlement agreement providing that the City would take possession of Mountain Water’s condemned property upon the City paying Mountain Water for all assets and claims asserted in the previous condemnation action. The district court entered a final judgment in condemnation that included the agreed payment method and transfer of possession as set forth in the settlement agreement. After the district court signed the final order of condemnation, Mountain Water sought post-summons interest. The district court denied Mountain Water’s motion for statutory interest pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 70-30-302(2) and refused to grant discretionary interest. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Mountain Water was not entitled to statutory interest where the City did not take interlocutory possession of the condemned property prior to final conclusion of the condemnation proceedings; and (2) Mountain Water was not entitled to discretionary interest. View "Missoula v. Mountain Water Co." on Justia Law