MC, Inc. v. Cascade City-County Board of Health

MC, Inc. v. Cascade City-County Bd. Of Health, 2015 MT 52 (Feb. 24, 2015) (Rice, J.) (5-0, rev’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court properly granted summary judgment to Casino Owners regarding their compliance with the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act, and (2) whether the district court abused its discretion by awarding attorneys’ fees to Casino Owners for the preliminary injunction proceeding.

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

Reversed and remanded for entry of judgment in the board’s favor

Facts: In 2011, Casino Owners built smoking shelters attached to their two casinos. The shelters have four walls, including a common wall with the casinos, multiple large glass windows, inside entrances, a roof, carpeting, heating, air conditioning, electricity, and gaming machines. The structures also have several small openings near the top of the exterior walls that are several inches high and several feet wide. They run parallel to the ceiling, are not obstructed from the inside, have a cover on the outside and no mechanism for closure. Except for the openings, the structures look like enclosed structures. Adults who enter must join a “Smokers’ Club.”

Casino Owners sought approval from the city building department, fire department, and health board after construction. All three agencies approved the blueprints. After inspection, health department specialists approved each of the structures.

Two months later, the tobacco prevention specialist for the health board filed a complaint about smoking in the structures, which prompted the board to issue a letter, then written warnings, and then a final notice prior to taking legal action.

In January 2012, Casino Owners petitioned for declaratory judgment that the structures comply with the Clean Indoor Air Act. In February 2013, the board moved for a preliminary injunction prohibiting smoking in the buildings, which the district court denied.

During discovery, the board admitted that the small openings made the structures “partially open to the outside air.”

Procedural Posture & Holding: The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court granted Casino Owners’ motion, reasoning that the Board’s admission established the Clean Indoor Air Act is not applicable to the structures. The district court awarded Casino Owners attorneys’ fees and costs. The board appeals, and the Supreme Court reverses.

Reasoning: The Clean Indoor Air Act prohibits smoking in enclosed public places. § 50-40-104(1), MCA. The statute lists bars as a place where smoking is prohibited, and defines bars as including casinos. Casino Owners argue their structures are not enclosed, are not open to the general public, and do not serve as a place of work. The board points to statutory mention of casinos.

The parties do not dispute that the casinos meet the statutory definition of “bar.” The Court holds that the structures are enclosed public places subject to the smoking prohibition of the statute. It holds that the board’s admission regarding the building being partially open to the outside are immaterial to the legal interpretation of the statute. It further holds that the misrepresentations made by the health department employees who approved the structures were misrepresentations of law, not fact, precluding application of the doctrine of equitable estoppel.

(2) Because the Casino Owners are not the prevailing party, they are not entitled to attorneys’ fees under § 25-10-711, MCA.