Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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After Plaintiff’s employment was terminated, he filed suit against Defendant alleging wrongful discharge, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and defamation. The district court granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, concluding that Ohio law governed or, alternatively, that Ohio was the appropriate forum to exercise jurisdiction. The Supreme Court vacated the district court’s dismissal, holding that Montana courts had subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claim, and remanded for further proceedings to consider whether dismissal under the doctrine of forum non conveniens was appropriate. On remand, the district court denied Plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint and granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss under forum non conveniens. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not act arbitrarily or exceed the bounds of reason in concluding that Plaintiff’s amendment would prejudice Defendant and that the amendment would run counter to the Supreme Court’s remand instructions in Harrington I; and (2) did not abuse its discretion by determining that resolution of Plaintiff’s claims in Ohio would promote the convenience of witnesses and the ends of justice. View "Harrington v. Energy West Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2009, Atkins-Swanson applied and qualified for participation in the Self-Directed Personal Assistance Service Program, a government-sponsored program that allowed Atkins-Swanson to direct health-related tasks. Consumer Direct was Atkins-Swanson’s provider agency and provided administrative services to Atkins-Swanson during the course of her participation in the program. In 2013, Atkins-Swanson succumbed to a fatal overdose of buspirone. Lee Swanson, on his own behalf and on behalf of Atkins-Swanson’s estate, filed this action against Consumer Direct, alleging wrongful death, survivorship, and breach of contract. The district court granted summary judgment for Consumer Direct, concluding that Consumer Direct was statutorily immune from liability because it was not directing the personal-care services. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly granted Consumer Direct’s motion for summary judgment and did not err by denying Swanson’s motion to alter or amend the judgment on the ground that the claims were foreclosed under Mont. Code Ann. 53-6-145. View "Swanson v. Consumer Direct" on Justia Law

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Thomas Cherewick and Ronald Henry and Landowners all owned property in Remington Ranch, a real estate development comprising several subdivisions. Landowners filed a complaint against Cherewick, Henry, and the development’s property owner’s association, alleging, as relevant to this appeal, that Henry and Cherewick took actions that were either unauthorized or exceeded their authority as directors and officers of the association. Henry and his company, Western Investments, Inc., brought several counterclaims against Landowners, including defamation and tortious interference with business relations and prospective economic opportunity. The district court granted summary judgment against all parties on their respective claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in granting Landowners summary judgment on Henry’s and Western Investment’s counterclaims for conspiracy and other alleged tortious conduct; and (2) did not abuse its discretion in denying Henry’s and Cherewick’s motion for attorney fees after they prevailed on Plaintiff’s claims against them. View "Henry v. Sullivan" on Justia Law

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Charlene Berdahl, a court reporter, filed a sexual harassment complaint against Judge George Huss, a district judge, with the Montana Human Rights Bureau (HRB). Huss’s attorney requested that the State agree to defend and indemnify Huss regarding Berdahl's HRB claims. Berdahl and Huss subsequently entered into a stipulated judgment resulting from the State’s refusal to defend and indemnify. The State filed this action seeking declarations that the State had no duty to defend or indemnify Huss against the claims and that Huss had entered a settlement without the consent of the State, which was unenforceable against the State. Berdahl counterclaimed seeking declarations that the State was responsible for the stipulated judgment entered by Berdahl and Huss and that the State was liable under the principle of respondent superior. The district court rejected Berdahl’s request for a declaration and held that the State owed no duty to defend or indemnify Huss. The court further reasoned that Berdahl’s exclusive remedy regarding her respondent superior claim was under the Montana Human Rights Act. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in concluding that the State bore no obligation to pay the stipulated settlement between Huss and Berdahl. View "State v. Berdahl" on Justia Law

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The parties in this case disagreed over the ownership and operation of an irrigation system on a ranch. Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants, arguing that Defendants had converted his property by exercising unauthorized dominion or control over the irrigation system, that Defendants had been unjustly enriched through their possession of the irrigation system, and that Defendants had caused him damages. Defendants filed counterclaims against Welu, alleging trespass and breach of contract. The district court entered judgment in favor of Defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in (1) determining that the entire pivot irrigation system constituted a fixture; (2) concluding that Defendants did not breach the parties’ agreement concerning the pivot irrigation system; and (3) did not err in determining that Defendants were not unjustly enriched. View "Welu v. Twin Hearts Smiling Horses, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellants, three individuals, alleged that Appellees, a newspaper and its editor, published defamatory statements about the group concerning an incident at a rest area near Conrad, Montana. The district court ruled that the statements did not constitute defamatory libel and granted summary judgment in favor of Appellees. The Supreme Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment as to Appellees, holding that, under the three-part analysis to determine whether the publication was defamatory, Appellees’ defamatory libel allegations failed because the public was not false within the meaning of court precedent regarding libel. View "Lee v. Traxler" on Justia Law

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Robert Crawford was pulled over by Flathead Tribal Police Officer Casey Couture on the Flathead Reservation. Crawford was allowed to leave but was then informed that he was in violation of his parole because he did not have permission to be traveling in that area. Crawford was arrested upon a warrant issued for parole violations and then charged with criminal possession of dangerous drugs. A jury found him guilty. Thereafter, Crawford filed this action in state court against Couture, the Flathead Tribal Police Department, and the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribal Government alleging numerous claims due to inappropriate conduct by Couture. The district court dismissed Crawford’s claims based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction and the sovereign immunity of the Tribe. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court properly dismissed Crawford’s claims based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction and sovereign immunity. View "Crawford v. Couture" on Justia Law

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This case related to circumstances surrounding a data entry error that resulted in a significant sum of money being deposited into the wrong bank account. Grizzly Security Armored Express (Grizzly Security) filed suit against Bancard Services (Bancard) and B&B Lounge and Leland Ruzicka (collectively, Ruzicka). The district court concluded that the claim against Ruzicka was time-barred under the pertinent statute of limitations and that the claims against Bancard failed for various reasons. The court further awarded attorney’s fees to Bancard. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of Ruzicka; (2) did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of Bancard; and (3) did not err in awarding attorney’s fees to Bancard under the terms of a contract between the parties. View "Grizzly Security Armored Express, Inc. v. Bancard Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Peter Lee and three other passengers were injured in a single vehicle accident. The driver held an insurance policy issued by USAA Casualty Insurance Company and United States Automobile Association (collectively, USAA), and all of the passengers were covered by TRICARE. TRICARE paid medical benefits for the passengers and asserted medical payment liens for the passengers’ combined medical expenses. Lee made a settlement demand on USAA for Perez’s $100,000 policy limits. USAA offered to pay the policy limits provided that Lee first secure lien releases from TRICARE. TRICARE eventually waived its liens, and USAA issued a check for the policy limits of $100,000. Lee continued his suit against Perez after receiving the policy limits payment from USAA. Perez agreed to a consent judgment and assigned his claims against USAA to Lee. Elizabeth West, acting as guardian ad litem for Lee, filed suit asserting that USAA acted in bad faith by conditioning payment on resolving the TRICARE liens. The district court granted summary judgment for West, holding USAA liable to Lee for the consent judgment. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that USAA’s grounds for conditioning its payment of policy limits upon resolution of the TRICARE liens were reasonable under existing law, and therefore, USAA was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. View "West v. United Services Automobile Ass’n" on Justia Law

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James Raulston started a fire while cutting scrap metal on Bernice McPhillips’ property. The fire spread, burning several structures and a variety of equipment on Gabriel Pearson’s property. Pearson filed a complaint against Raulston and McPhillips, alleging that Raulston was acting as an agent, servant, or employee of McPhillips when he started the fire. The district court granted summary judgment to McPhillips, concluding that McPhillips was not vicariously liable for Raulston’s actions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err (1) in finding that McPhillips and Raulston were not engaged in a joint venture, and (2) in finding that Raulston’s use of a cutting torch was not an inherently dangerous activity. View "Pearson v. McPhillips" on Justia Law