Arnone v. City of Bozeman

Arnone v. City of Bozeman, 2016 MT 184 (Aug. 2, 2016) (Shea, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred in denying Arnone’s motion for summary judgment and dismissing their complaint; and (2) whether the district court erred in denying Arnone’s motion for reconsideration.

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

Affirmed

Facts: The Bozeman City Commissioner adopted a nondiscrimination ordinance in June 2014 that prohibits discrimination by landlords, providers of public accommodations, or parties engaged in real estate transactions on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It creates a private cause of action for an aggrieved party claiming a violation of one of its provisions, and authorizes the Bozeman Municipal Court to fashion civil remedies, including injunctive relief. The ordinance provides an exception for landlords who rent individual rooms in a private residence in which the owner also resides.

In August 2014, Arnone et al. filed suit against the city, the commission, and the commissioners (collectively “the city”) seeking a declaratory judgment that the ordinance is invalid because it is preempted by state and beyond the scope of the city’s authority. In January 2015, Arnone moved for summary judgment. The city responded, alleging Arnone’s complaint failed to present a justiciable case or controversy.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court denied Arnone’s motion and dismissed the complaint, holding that Arnone was seeking an advisory opinion, lacked standing, and had not alleged a claim that was ripe for review. Arnone moved for reconsideration and to amend, alleging one of the petitioners was now subject to the ordinance. The district court denied the motion. Arnone appeals and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) The Court finds the district court’s advisory opinion analysis to be dispositive. Violation of the ordinance requires third-party action. For the ordinance to be enforced, someone whom the ordinance seeks to protect must be rejected by a petitioner for discriminatory reasons, and then sue the petitioner. None of the petitioners has alleged any such facts. Although the declaratory judgment act is to be liberally construed, it “does not license litigants to fish in judicial ponds for legal advice.” ¶ 10.

(2) Because Osen has not rejected someone’s application to live in her house, nor been sued by someone for rejecting their application, Osen’s claim similarly seeks an advisory opinion. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Arnone’s motion to amend the pleadings.