Archive | March, 2015

Missoula County Public Schools v. Bitterroot Star

Missoula County Public Schools v. Bitterroot Star, 2015 MT 95 (March 31, 2015) (McGrath, C.J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court properly held that a school district employee did not have a protectable privacy interest in investigatory documents, and that any privacy interest she had was outweighed by her position of public trust.

Short Answer: Yes.


Facts: Valerie Addis was the supervisor of food services for Missoula County Public School. During her employment in 2010, the school investigated Addis as to whether she had engaged in fraudulent or illegal financial transactions. Following the investigation, the school district instituted disciplinary action. Addis left the school district and filed a wrongful discharge suit.

The Ravalli County Commission then appointed Addis to serve as the county treasurer.…

State v. Barrick

State v. Barrick, 2015 MT 94 (March 31, 2015) (Rice, J.; Cotter, J., concurring & dissenting) (4-1, aff’d & rev’d)

Issue: (1) Whether district court properly ordered restitution for lost income; (2) whether evidence supported restitution for victim’ medical bills incurred as a result of defendant shooting victim’s family dog; and (3) whether the district court abused its discretion in denying defendant’s request for victim’s financial and medical records.

Short Answer: (1) No; (2) yes, and (3) no.

Affirmed (2 & 3) and reversed (1) and remanded to amend the judgment

Facts: In September 2013, a jury convicted Barrick of criminal mischief and cruelty to animals for fatally shooting the Tuss family’s dog. During sentencing, the Tuss family asked for restitution of $9,357.14 to pay for the replacement cost of the dog, medical bills for Brett Tuss, lost wages for family members spent cooperating with the prosecution, and travel expenses associated with the prosecution of the offenses.…

Stokes v. Duncan

Stokes v. Duncan, 2015 MT 92 (March 24, 2015) (McGrath, C.J.; Cotter, J., dissenting) (4-1, aff’d)

Issue: Whether debtor’s legal malpractice claim accrued at the time of filing bankruptcy, making it part of the bankruptcy estate.

Short Answer: Yes.


Facts: In 2008, a jury returned a verdict against John Stokes for defamation, with damages of about $4 million. Stokes appealed, and retained attorney Greg Duncan to advise him on how to maintain the appeal while discharging the obligation in bankruptcy. Stokes contends Duncan advised him he could discharge the judgment in bankruptcy and maintain his appeal. Duncan filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Stokes’ behalf in March 2009. After a creditors’ meeting in April 2009, Duncan moved to withdraw as counsel due to disagreements over who was responsible for Stokes’ incomplete disclosure of assets.…

State v. Himes

State v. Himes, 2015 MT 91 (March 24, 2015) (Shea, J.) (5-0, aff’d & rev’d)

Issue: (1) Whether “security” was adequately defined for the jury; (2) whether the state proved that Himes sold a security; (3) whether the mens rea rule requires a mental state other than ‘willfully’ to sustain a felony conviction; (4) whether the “willfully” jury instruction created a strict liability offense, and renders the 10-year sentence a violation of Himes’ due process rights; (5) whether the fraudulent practices jury instruction was erroneous; and (6) whether Himes was properly sentenced.

Short Answer: (1) Yes; (2) yes; (3) yes; (4) no; (5) yes; and (6) yes.

Affirmed in part and reversed (fraudulent practices conviction)

Facts: Geoffrey Serata met Harris Himes at Himes’ ministry, Big Sky Christian Center.…

Cadena v. Fries

Cadena v. Fries, 2015 MT 90 (March 24, 2015) (Wheat, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court properly valued Fries’ pension plan in the QDRO; and (2) whether Cadena is entitled to attorneys’ fees on appeal.

Short Answer: (1) Yes, the time rule approach; and (2) yes.


Facts: In their settlement agreement of dissolution in 2000, Cadena and Fries agreed that Fries’ pension would be equally divided between them as of the date of the dissolution. Cadena filed a QDRO in November 2013. The pension had not fully vested or begun paying. Fries objected to Cadena’s QDRO and submitted his own.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court issued a QDRO identical to Cadena’s. Fries appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.…

Victory Insurance Co., Inc. v. Montana State Fund

Victory Insurance Co., Inc. v. Montana State Fund, 2015 MT 82 (March 17, 2015) (Cotter, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court erred in dismissing Victory’s common law UTPA claim, and granting summary judgment to the State Fund on Victory’s claim for intentional interference with prospective economic advantage.

Short Answer: Yes, as Victory’s inability to establish damages is fatal to both claims.


Facts: Plaintiffs and defendants are competitors in the workers compensation industry. Victory is a Montana corporation in Miles City, and began operating in 2007. It sells work comp insurance directly to employers without using insurance agencies for sales or claims adjustment. Defendant State Fund sells work comp insurance though in-house and out-of-house agents. Defendants Liberty Northwest, Payne Financial Group, and Western States Insurance also sell work comp insurance, including State Fund policies.…

Ginn v. Smurfit Stone Container Enterp., Inc.

Ginn v. Smurfit Stone Container Enterp., Inc., 2015 MT 81 (March 17, 2015) (Wheat, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether district court properly held that mill failed to show its default was not willful and that the plaintiff would not be prejudiced by setting aside default judgment.

Short Answer: Yes.


Facts: Allen Ginn was a log truck driver for Ginn Trucking. In July 2008, Ginn drove to a mill owned by Smurfit to deliver a load of logs, and was severely injured when he released the logs and several fell on him.

In January 2009, Smurfit filed voluntary petitions for bankruptcy, and the bankruptcy court set a claim bar date of August 2009 for claims accruing prior to the petition.

In October 2011, Ginn and his wife moved the bankruptcy court for leave to file a late claim, relief from the plan injunction, and for the bankruptcy court to abstain from hearing the claim under 28 USC § 1334(c) so that Ginns could file in Montana.…

Marriage of Axelberg

Marriage of Axelberg, 2015 MT 110 (March 11, 2015) (Wheat, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court should have considered the net worth of the marital estate before dividing the property; (2) whether the district court erred in awarding Tracy certain pre-marital and post-separation property; (3) whether the district court abused its discretion by refusing to award maintenance to Delynn; (4) whether the district court erred by retroactively modifying Tracy’s obligations under the interim support agreement; and (5) whether the child support order was clearly erroneous or an abuse of discretion.

Short Answer: (1) No; (2) no; (3) no; (4) no; and (5) no.


Facts: Delynn and Tracy married in 1998 and separated in 2010. Delyn filed for divorce in June 2011.…

Abbey/Land LLC v. Interstate Mechanical, Inc.

Abbey/Land LLC v. Interstate Mechanical, Inc., 2015 MT 77 (March 10, 2015) (McGrath, C.J.) (5-0, rev’d) 

Issue: Whether the lower court properly entered final judgment based on a $12 million confession of judgment without first allowing insurer James River to intervene and question the reasonableness of the settlement.

Short Answer: No.

Reversed & remanded

Facts: Donald Abbey formed Abbey/Land LLC to buy Shelter Island in Flathead Lake in 2001. After several contractual disputes, Abbey formed Glacier Construction Partners LLC to handle construction of the house. Abbey is the sole member of each LLC.

Interstate has been involved in several disputes with Glacier and Abbey/Land since 2009, resulting in arbitration as well as the current action for damages. In 2011, Abbey/Land amended its complaint, dismissing sister entity Glacier as a plaintiff and naming it as a defendant.…

Woods v. Shannon

Woods v. Shannon, 2015 MT 76 (March 10, 2015) (McKinnon, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court properly dismissed servient tenement owners’ claim against dominant tenement owners for injunctive relief on grounds that easement was no longer necessary.

Short Answer: Yes.


Facts: Walter and Nereida Woods bought lot 13 in the Arrow Island subdivision in 2007. Jeff Shannon owns lot 13, which borders lot 12 to the north. Shannon has an easement over Woods’ property, which Woodses claim they were not informed of when they bought their property. In May 2013, the Woodses saw an excavator removing vegetation from the northwest corner of their property, and were told Shannon held an easement and intended to build a driveway.…