Beebe v. Bridger Creek Subdivision

Beebe v. Bridger Creek Subdivision, 2015 MT 183 (June 30, 2015) (Cotter, J.) (5-0, aff’d & rev’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court properly granted judgment to Beebe, and (2) whether the district court properly awarded costs and fees to Beebe.

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

Judgment affirmed, attorneys’ fees and costs reversed

Facts: Beebe is a member of the subdivision Community Association. He sued for declaratory judgment, alleging the Association bypassed an approval procedure laid out in the covenants and bylaws when it used maintenance funds for constructing a trail adjacent to the subdivision. Beebe argued the project was a capital improvement subject to a special assessment, not a maintenance assessment, and that the Association did not follow the procedure for special assessments.

Procedural Posture & Holding: On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court held Beebe’s interpretation of the covenants was correct, granted judgment to the Association on its counterclaim for dues and assessments, and awarded fees and costs to the Association for that claim based on a provision in the covenants. Beebe then moved for attorneys’ fees and costs based on being the prevailing party in his declaratory relief action. The district court held Beebe had a reciprocal right to fees and costs and granted his motion.

Reasoning: (1) The Court agrees with the district court that the construction of a capital improvement requires a special assessment, which the members must first vote on.

(2) The district court improperly applied the covenants’ fees and costs provision in a reciprocal manner. The specific section a limited to claims for the recovery of assessments. Beebe did not argue the Association improperly levied assessments against him, and the Court reverses the award. Beebe appeals in the alternative for reversal of the district court’s holding that attorneys’ fees were not proper under the Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act, but the Court finds no extraordinary circumstances and affirms.