Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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In this action brought by Lisa Warrington bringing claims for breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and promissory estoppel the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's order granting partial summary judgment to Great Falls Clinic, LLP and denied the Clinic's cross appeal, holding that the district court did not err. Specifically, the Court held that the district court (1) did not err by granting partial summary judgment to the Clinic on Warrington's tort claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (2) did not commit reversible error by admitting evidence of the Clinic's liability and Warrington's emotional distress; (3) did not err by denying the Clinic's motion for judgment as a matter of law regarding Warrington's damages; and (4) did not err by failing to rule and instruct the jury that the contract at issue was for a one-year term pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 39-2-602(1). View "Warrington v. Great Falls Clinic, LLP" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court accepted a question certified to it by the United States District Court for the District of Montana to address an Estate's third-party claim to stacked liability limits in an aircraft insurance policy that covered multiple aircraft, concluding that the answer to the question, which the Court reformulated, was no. The Supreme Court reformulated the question as follows: "Is the Estate of Darrell L. Ward entitled to stack the limits of liability coverage for three separate aircraft under the terms of an insurance policy issued to the pilot of an aircraft in which Ward was a passenger at the time it crashed?" The Supreme Court answered no to the reformulated certified question because (1) the plain, unambiguous language of the contract limits the coverage to the aircraft that is involved in the accident; (2) there is no public policy or statute that mandates payment of the cumulative coverage for separate aircraft in an aviation liability insurance policy that does not provide for such payment; and (3) the insurance policy at issue was not subject to stacking of its passenger liability coverages. View "U.S. Specialty v. Estate of Ward" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Defendants’ motion to compel arbitration and dismiss the case, holding that the district court did not erroneously compel arbitration. Plaintiff entered into a construction contract that contained an arbitration agreement. Plaintiff later filed a complaint against Defendants, asserting claims for breach of contract, negligence, and other torts. Defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration and dismiss. The Supreme Court granted the motion to compel arbitration and dismissed the action. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err (1) in concluding that the arbitration agreement required arbitration of matters within its scope rather than merely authorizing it as a matter of discretion upon timely demand; (2) in failing to conclude that Defendants equitably waived the right to arbitrate; (3) in compelling arbitration without consideration of Plaintiff’s proposed declaratory judgment claim challenging the validity of the arbitration agreement; (4) in concluding that Plaintiff’s asserted non-contract claims were subject to arbitration; and (5) in failing to conclude that, as a non-party to the agreement, one defendant lacked standing to enforce the arbitration agreement. View "Peeler v. Rocky Mountain Log Homes Canada, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s denial of Appellants’ motion to compel arbitration of claims brought by Appellee, holding that the district court did not err in denying Appellants’ motion to compel arbitration. At issue in this case was a dealership agreement containing an arbitration clause. The agreement was signed by Frontline Ag, LLC and John Deere Company. Appellee owned an interest in Frontline. The dealer agreement contained an arbitration clause requiring arbitration of disputes between Deere and Frontline, the dealer. Appellee eventually filed this action against Deere alleging, inter alia, tortious interference with contract. Deere moved to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration. The district court denied the motion to compel arbitration, reasoning that Appellee never agreed to arbitrate his claims against Deere and that the dealer agreement only required arbitration of disputes between Deere and Frontline. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the arbitration clause did not incorporate Appellee’s personal damage claims within its definition of disputes subject to mandatory arbitration. View "Anderson v. John Deere & Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granted the State’s motion to dismiss and Jefferson County’s motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs’ complaint against special deputy prosecutor Steven Shapiro, the State, and Jefferson County, holding that the district court properly concluded that Shapiro was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity and that this immunity was properly extended to both Jefferson County and the State. Plaintiffs brought this complaint seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of their child’s constitutional rights, a Dorwart claim, and a malicious prosecution claim. Plaintiffs also filed a negligence claim against Jefferson County. The district court granted the motion to dismiss brought by the State and Shapiro on the grounds of absolute prosecutorial immunity. The court then granted summary judgment for Jefferson County on the grounds that the public duty doctrine barred Plaintiffs’ claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) correctly concluded that Shapiro was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity when he signed an affidavit establishing probable cause to file a petition initiating delinquency proceedings against Plaintiffs’ child; (2) properly extended this immunity to Jefferson County and the State; and (3) correctly concluded that the public duty doctrine prevented recovery against Jefferson County. View "Renenger v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s orders granting motions to dismiss Plaintiffs’ negligence claims against BNSF Railway Company, holding that a company does not consent to general personal jurisdiction by registering to do business in Montana and voluntarily conducting in-state business activities. BNSF, a rail carrier incorporated in Delaware with its principal place of business in Texas, registered to do business in Montana and designated an in-state agent for service of process. Plaintiffs filed suit against BNSF under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act for injuries allegedly sustained while working for BNSF in states other than Montana. BNSF moved to dismiss Plaintiffs’ claims for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court determined that BNSF did not consent to personal jurisdiction in Montana and, accordingly, granted BNSF’s motions to dismiss. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) a foreign corporation does not consent to general personal jurisdiction when it registers to do business in Montana and then voluntarily conducts in-state business activities; and (2) accordingly, BNSF did not consent to general personal jurisdiction in this case. View "Deleon v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court exercised supervisory control over pending proceedings in the underlying matter of Cepeda v. Montana State University and reversed an order sanctioning Montana State University-Bozeman (MSU), holding that the district court abused its discretion in imposing default judgment as an evidence spoliation sanction pursuant to Mont. R. Civ. P. 37(b)-(c) and (e). Plaintiff filed a claim alleging that MSU negligently hired or supervised a faculty member and that MSU’s negligence caused Plaintiff to suffer harm. Two and a half years after the district court heard oral argument on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment, discovery sanctions, and preliminary evidentiary rulings, the district court granted Plaintiff’s sanctions motion and summarily adjudicated liability against MSU as an evidence spoliation sanction. The Supreme Court held (1) exercise of supervisory control was necessary and proper because this case presented a significant question as to whether the district court was proceeding under a mistake of law which, if uncorrected, would likely cause significant injustice rendering ordinary appeal inadequate; and (2) the district court abused its discretion in imposing default judgment against MSU as a spoliation sanction under Rule 37(b)-(c) and (e). View "Montana State University-Bozeman v. First Judicial District Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court refusing to strike for cause a juror who was a state employee in this action filed against the State to recover damages for injuries sustained in a collision with a vehicle owned and operated by the Montana Department of Transportation. Plaintiff sued the State for its employee’s negligence. After a trial, a jury found Plaintiff fifty-one percent at fault in the accident. On appeal, Plaintiff challenged the district court’s refusal to excuse a juror for cause due to his employment with the State. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Plaintiff’s challenge for cause because the juror demonstrated that he could act with entire impartiality. View "Bockman-Fryberger v. State" on Justia Law

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In this insurance dispute, the Supreme Court reversed in part the entry of summary judgment in Plaintiff’s declaratory action regarding underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) in favor of Farmers Insurance Exchange, holding that the district court erred by holding that Farmers could offset its underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) obligation to Plaintiff dollar-for-dollar with GEICO’s entire UIM payment. Plaintiff was one of five passengers injured in an accident. The tortfeasor was underinsured by $48,686 as to Plaintiff’s damages. The vehicle in which Plaintiff was a passenger was insured by GEICO, and Plaintiff carried personal vehicle coverage with Farmers, including medical payment (MedPay) coverage and UIM coverage. GEICO paid Plaintiff its individual UIM coverage limit and Farmers paid Plaintiff under her MedPay coverage. In total, Plaintiff received payments of $2,500 less than her total stipulated damages. Disputes Plaintiff had with Farmers led Plaintiff to file this declaratory action. The district court held in Farmers’ favor on the two contested issues. The Supreme Court held (1) the policy language did not permit Farmers to offset its UIM obligation dollar-for-dollar with the entire GEICO UIM payment; (2) Farmers was entitled to offset its UIM obligation with its MedPay payments to Plaintiff; and (3) Plaintiff was entitled to recover attorney fees. View "Cramer v. Farmers Insurance Exchange" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the jury verdict in favor of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (BN) on Plaintiff’s claims that BN violated the standard of care under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) and the Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA), holding that Plaintiff’s allegations of error on appeal were unavailing. Plaintiff alleged injury for exposure to asbestos during his work at a treatment plant operated by BN’s predecessor. A jury found in favor of BN. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding certain evidence at trial; (2) Plaintiff was not denied a fair trial due to any alleged trial misconduct on the part of BN; and (3) Plaintiff was not denied a fair trial due to any alleged discovery misconduct on the part of BN. View "Daley v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co" on Justia Law