Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the district court granting summary judgment to the State of Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Birk Engineering and Bret A. Birk (Birks) and Flathead County on Amber Norbeck and Andrew Norbeck's complaint asserting violations of the Montana Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, continuing nuisance, and constructive fraud, holding that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to Defendants. After the Norbecks built a home in a subdivision they experienced flooding and ongoing water quality issues. When the Norbecks could not sell their home using conventional financing due to DEQ violation notices the Norbecks brought this suit. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly determined that the Norbecks' claims were not commenced within the applicable statutes of limitation. View "Norbeck v. Flathead County" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning a boundary realignment agreement entered into between the parties in this case, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting specific performance of a contract to Plaintiff, holding that the district court correctly determined that the cause of action was timely prosecuted by Plaintiff and that Plaintiff was entitled to specific performance of a contract. The district court ruled that Plaintiff was entitled to specific performance and dismissed Defendants' trespass claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err by concluding that Plaintiff's breach of contract claim was not barred by the relevant statute of limitation; (2) did not err by determining that Plaintiff was entitled to specific performance of the contract; and (3) properly dismissed Defendants' trespass claim. View "Miller v. Kleppen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court, which concluded that Soup Creek Road was an extinguished prescriptive easement across the parcel of land owned by Plaintiffs - Soup Creek, LLC, Dewey Skelton, and Rosana Skelton - holding that the district court erred in concluding that Soup Creek Road was not a public highway. Soup Creek Road had been used as a public travel way for more than 150 years. In 2010, Defendants’ predecessor-in-interest successfully petitioned to abandon only that portion of Soup Creek Road that crosses over what is now Defendants’ parcel. In 2009, the Skeltons asked the district court to declare the portion of Soup Creek Road that traverses their land to be a private road over which Defendants had no easement to reach their parcel. Defendants counterclaimed that the road is a public highway established prior to 1895 through prescriptive use. The district court found no right-of-way or easement on Soup Creek Road and that any public prescriptive easement had been extinguished. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that only the part of Soup Creek Road that passed through Defendants’ parcel was abandoned and that the remainder of Soup Creek Road, including the portion crossing the Skeltons’ lot, continues to be a public highway. View "Soup Creek LLC v. Gibson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting a preliminary injunction in favor of Defendants in this dispute over certain property, holding that the district court did not err by granting the preliminary injunction in favor of Defendants even where they did not show they would suffer irreparable injury. Plaintiff brought a quiet action seeking to resolve the question of property ownership of disputed area between the parties. Defendants counterclaimed for a prescriptively acquired easement permitting them to use an access route to their property pending the outcome of the litigation. The district court determined that Defendants had made a prima facie showing of their claim for prescriptive easement and granted them a preliminary injunction pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 27-19-201(1). Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the district court erred by granting the preliminary injunction because Defendants did not show they would suffer irreparable injury. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendants established that they would suffer continuing harm by not being able to access their property while the litigation was pending and, therefore, the purpose of equitable injunctive relief was fulfilled. View "BAM Ventures, LLC v. Schifferman" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court assumed original jurisdiction over the issue presented in this case and held that the plain and ordinary meaning of “land acquisition” per Mont. Code Ann. 87-1-209(1) does not encompass conservation easement acquisition and that the statute does not require the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) to finalize its conservation easement transactions with the Board of Land Commissioners (Land Board). Steve Bullock, in his official capacity as Governor of Montana, and Martha Williams, in her official capacity as Director of the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, invoked the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction to declare whether section 87-1-209(1) requires FWP to bring conservation easement transactions of more than 100 acres or $100,000 in value before the Board of Land Commissioners for final approval. The Supreme Court held (1) the issue presented is justiciable; (2) the Governor and FWP Director have standing to petition the Court; (3) the Court is within the sphere of its constitutional authority to interpret the statutory meaning of section 87-1-209(1); and (4) acquisitions of interests in land do not require Land Board approval, and therefore, FWP is not statutorily required to take its conservation easement transactions before the Land Board. View "Bullock v. Fox" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Anaconda-Deer Lodge County in this dispute over the status of a road, holding that the district court did not err in concluding that the County’s use of the upper branch of the road did not amount to a taking but that Letica Land Company, LLC was not constitutionally entitled to litigation expenses and that both Letica and the County were responsible for their individual trial costs. At issue was the status of Modesty Creek Road, located near the boundary between Anaconda-Deer Lodge County (the County) and Powell County. Letica filed a complaint and sought a preliminary injunction barring public use of the road until a judgment established the existence of a right-of-way over either or both the upper and lower branches. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the County and dismissed Letica’s takings claims. The Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err in granting summary judgment in the County’s favor; (2) because a taking did not occur, Letica was not constitutionally entitled to compensation or litigation expenses; and (3) the district court erred in holding Letica accountable for the County’s trial costs. View "Letica Land Co., LLC v. Anaconda-Deer Lodge County" on Justia Law

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In this dispute over the distribution of settlement proceeds that arose out of litigation regarding the Pine Creek Fire in August 2012, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court approving the special master’s recommendation for allocating the Pine Creek Fire settlement proceeds among the Funks, the Pitmans, the Wilcoxes, and four other plaintiffs, holding that the district court did not clearly err by adopting the special master’s factual findings. Seeking to recover damages for injuries the Pine Creek Fire caused, the Funks, Pitmans, Wilcoxes, and four other property owners brought negligence claims against multiple defendants. The parties agreed to a settlement, and because the settlement proceeds could not cover all the plaintiffs’ damages, the district court appointed a special master to allocate the settlement proceeds. Of the settlement proceeds, the special master awarded approximately sixty-six percent to the Wilcoxes, twenty-four percent to the Funks, and three percent to the Pitmans. The district court adopted the special master’s recommendations for allocating the settlement funds. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the special master did not commit a clear error by finding that the Wilcoxes lost sixty acres of forested land during the fire. View "Funk v. Wilcox" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Water Court denying Little Big Warm Ranch, LLC’s (LBWR) motion to reopen proceedings and its request to substitute as an objector, holding that the Water Court did not err when it denied LBWR’s motion to reopen cases 40M-171 and 40M-238 and when it denied LBWR’s request for substitution in those cases. At issue was two water rights from Big Warm Springs Creek and Little Warm Springs Creek - one claim for stock water and the other claim for irrigation. The Water Court in this case determined that LBWR was not entitled to substitute itself as an objector to Claimants’ water rights in Cases 40M-171 and 40 M-238 and denied LBWR’s request for substitution and its motion to reopen. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Water Court did not err. View "Little Big Warm Ranch, LLC v. Doll" on Justia Law

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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