Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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Two zoning actions were at issue in this proceeding - the “Text Amendment” and the “Map Amendment.” Citizens for a Better Flathead and Sharon DeMeester (collectively, Citizens) initiated this action challenging the Board of County Commissioners of Flathead County’s adoption of both the Text Amendment and the Map Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Citizens. The Commissioners appealed. Uncertain over the scope of relief granted by the district court’s order, Citizens cross-appealed from any partial denial of the relief it sought. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the district court did not err by holding that the Map Amendment was invalid for failing to comply with statutory requirements; (2) the Text Amendment was not invalid for failure to comply with public participation requirements; and (3) the district court erred in awarding attorneys’ fees to Citizens. View "Citizens For A Better Flathead v. Flathead County Commissioners" on Justia Law

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Appellants owned property adjacent to Whitefish Lake, which the City of Whitefish has annexed. In 2005, Appellants petitioned the City for annexation of the property, and their petition was granted. In 2010, Appellants petitioned to have their property de-annexed. The City Council denied the petition. Appellants commenced a declaratory action in the district court challenging the decision. The district court dismissed the complaint on the basis of lack of service and on the ground that the statute of limitations for Appellants’ claims would bar any re-filed action. In 2014, Appellants filed another petition for de-annexation of their property. The City Council denied Appellants’ second petition for de-annexation, and Appellants filed a second declaratory action challenging the denial of their second petition. The district court entered summary judgment for the City, concluding that Appellants’ action was barred by claim preclusion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by granting summary judgment on the basis of claim preclusion. View "Schweitzer v. City of Whitefish" on Justia Law

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The Water Court is adjudicating the existing water right claims of all appropriators in the Teton River Basin and issued a temporary preliminary decree for Basin 41O. Eldorado, which distributes water to shareholders from the Teton River northwest of Choteau, owns water rights that historically have been administered under the 1908 Perry Decree by a water commissioner (MCA 85-5-101). In 2014, the Water Court addressed objections to Eldorado’s existing water right claims as established under the temporary preliminary decree. The Montana Supreme Court, in Eldorado I, upheld the Water Court’s determinations that Eldorado’s claims required a volume quantification and that Eldorado historically put to beneficial use 15,000 acre-feet of water under its existing rights. The Joint Objectors later informed the water commissioner that Eldorado was approaching the volumetric quantification established by that order and requested that he cap the distribution of Eldorado’s water. Eldorado petitioned the Water Court to stay the volume quantification order pending the Eldorado I appeal. The Water Court denied Eldorado’s request and the commissioner ceased delivering water to Eldorado. Eldorado filed a dissatisfied water user complaint (MCA 85-5-301). The Montana Supreme Court affirmed denial of that complaint. Eldorado participated in every step of the process that resulted in the establishment of its rights under the modified temporary preliminary decree. View "Eldorado Coop Canal Co. v. Hoge" on Justia Law

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Appellants (“the Silvertip Landowners”) were a group of private landowners in Carbon County who initiated a petition to establish a “Part 1” zoning district pursuant to 76-2-101, MCA, et seq. Appellees were the Board of County Commissioners of Carbon County (“the Commissioners”), and a group of private landowners in Carbon County who opposed the proposed zoning district (“the Neighbors”). At at hearing on the petition, the Commissioners reported that landowners holding 60.7% of the total acreage in the proposed district had submitted protests opposing the zoning district. The Commissioners rescinded their resolution of intent, and voted to deny creation of the zoning district as proposed, citing as the reason for doing so the formal protests lodged. The Silvertip Landowners filed suit at the district court, arguing: (1) reliance on an unconstitutional protest provision in 76-2-101(5), MCA; (2) arbitrary and capricious reversal of the Commissioners’ own finding of public interest; and (3) unconstitutional deprivation of the Silvertip Landowners’ right to a clean and healthful environment as guaranteed by the Montana Constitution. For relief, the Silvertip Landowners asked the District Court to: (1) declare 76-2-101(5), MCA, unconstitutional and therefore void; (2) declare the Commissioners’ decisions to withdraw the resolution of intent to create the zoning district and to deny the Silvertip Landowners’ petition as arbitrary and capricious; and therefore void; and (3) declare the Commissioners’ decisions to withdraw the resolution of intent and to deny the petition as violative of the Montana Constitutional environmental protections. The Commissioners and the Neighbors both moved to dismiss, and their motion was granted. Finding no reversible error, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed the district court's dismissal. View "Martinell v. Carbon Co. Comm." on Justia Law

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Landowners protested pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 76-2-205(6) to block the Board of County Commissioners of Missoula County from establishing a special zoning district north of Lolo, Montana. Landowners effectively blocked the zoning proposal pursuant to section 76-2-205(6). L. Reed Williams filed a complaint against Commissioners, challenging the constitutionality of the statute. Landowners intervened in the action. The district court denied Landowners' motion to dismiss and granted summary judgment to Williams and Commissioners, concluding that section 76-2-205(6) was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power and an unconstitutional violation of the right to equal protection and the right to suffrage. The Supreme Court upheld the Commissioners' adoption of the special zoning district and affirmed the district court, holding that the district court did not err in (1) denying Landowners' motion to dismiss Williams' complaint for failure to join them as necessary parties; (2) determining that section 76-2-205(6) was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power; and (3) ruling that section 76-2-205(6) was severable from the remainder of the statute. View "Williams v. Bd. of County Commr's" on Justia Law

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The Lakeside Neighborhood Planning Board approved a revised neighborhood plan (Plan) created by the Lakeside Neighborhood Planning Committee (LNPC). The Flathead County Commissioners passed a resolution to adopt the Plan. Numerous property owners in Flathead County sought to have the Plan declared void, contending that the LNPC violated Montana's open meeting laws by holding unannounced meetings in private homes or via a private Yahoo Group website and that LNPC unlawfully destroyed public records by deleting files that had been posted to the Yahoo Group website. The district court entered judgment in favor of LNPC and Flathead County, concluding (1) LNPC initially failed to fully comply with the open meeting laws, but voiding the final Plan was not an appropriate remedy for the offense; and (2) the term "meetings" as defined by the relevant statute could not be held on Yahoo Group. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err (1) when it declined to void the Plan and determined that no relief was available on Plaintiffs' claims regarding the destruction of public records and violations of Montana's open meeting laws; and (2) in determining that an electronic meeting did not occur in this case. View "Allen v. Lakeside Neighborhood Planning Comm." on Justia Law

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In 2011, the Granite County Commissioners (County) created a Georgetown Lake zoning district and adopted Georgetown Lake zoning regulations. Plaintiff filed this action to declare void the County's resolution to create the zoning district and to adopt the zoning regulations. The district court entered summary judgment that the County had properly enacted the Georgetown Lake zoning and determined Plaintiff to be a vexatious litigant. The Supreme Court affirmed except for the portion of the judgment requiring Plaintiff to pay the County's attorneys' fees, holding that the district court (1) correctly ruled that the County properly enacted the zoning; (2) did not err in determining that Plaintiff was a vexatious litigant; but (3) erred in its award of attorneys' fees to the County, as this case was not a case in which extraordinary circumstances justified the award of attorneys' fees. View "Motta v. Granite County Comm'rs" on Justia Law

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Appellant owned 5,400 contiguous acres of mostly undeveloped farmland in Chouteu County. Appellant filed a claim seeking declaratory relief regarding whether the entire length of a road that ran through Appellant's property, Lippard Road, constituted a public roadway. The district court determined that the entire length of Lippard Road constituted a public roadway. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court properly viewed the record as a whole, pursuant to the principles of Reid v. Park, to determine whether the County had established a public road; and (2) the district court properly determined that the entire length of Lippard Road constitutes a public roadway. View "Sayers v. Chouteau County" on Justia Law

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Helena Sand and Gravel, Inc. (HSG) challenged Lewis and Clark County's decision to adopt a citizen-initiated proposal to configure a zoning district that favored residential uses and prohibited mining. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the County, concluding that the County had properly adopted the zoning pattern and regulations creating the district, and the County's zoning decision did not constitute a taking of HSG's property. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and remanded, holding (1) the County's decision to adopt the zoning pattern and regulations for the district was not clearly unreasonable or an abuse of discretion; (2) the County's adoption of zoning regulations prohibiting sand and gravel mining did not constitute illegal reverse spot zoning; and (3) because HSG had a constitutionally protected property interest in property within the district, the Court granted HSG's request for remand to the district court for the parties to brief the Penn Central takings test, narrowly limited to whether the County's adoption of the zoning pattern and regulations in the district constituted a taking of HSG's real property interest without just compensation. View "Helena Sand & Gravel, Inc. v. Planning & Zoning Comm'n" on Justia Law

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This appeal pertained to the location of a partially-constructed horse barn in a planned unit development (PUD). Plaintiffs were the owner of the barn, the owner's contractor, and FPR Properties. After it was notified that the barn did not comply with the regulations and covenants and must be removed, FPR submitted an application to modify the conditional use permit of the PUD development to bring the location of the barn into compliance. The planning and zoning commission affirmed the code compliance specialist's determination that the barn violated zoning regulations and applicable covenants. The commission also denied FPR's request to modify the conditional use permit for the PUD. On appeal, the district affirmed the commission's rulings and dismissed FDR's takings claim without conducting a trial. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in (1) affirming the commission's determination that the partially-constructed barn violated applicable zoning regulations and covenants and must be removed; (2) affirming the commission's denial of FPR's application to modify the PUD's conditional use permit; and (3) dismissing FPR's constitutional takings claim. View "Botz v. Bridger Canyon Planning & Zoning Comm'n" on Justia Law