McDunn v. Arnold, 2013 MT 138 (May 28, 2013) (5-0) (McGrath, C.J.)
Issue: (1) Whether the district court properly allowed McDunns to amend their complaint and add a new claim; (2) whether the district court properly denied Arnold’s motion in limine to prohibit reference to the testimony and evidence presented in the justice court; and (3) whether Arnold was denied her right to a trial de novo.
Short Answer: (1) Yes; (2) yes; and (3) no.
Facts: Dave and Cathy McDunn leased an apartment from Diana Arnold for 13 months beginning June 1, 2008. Before the term expired, a dispute arose and McDunns vacated on Jan. 31, 2009.
McDunns sued Arnold in justice court in August 2009, alleging negligence, negligence per se and breach of contract, and seeking $1,300 damages. After a bench trial the justice court found for McDunns, and awarded them $7,059 damages, costs, and attorney’s fees. Arnold appealed to the district court and filed an amended answer, adding counterclaims. McDunns sought leave to file an amended complaint and added a claim for intentional and negligent misrepresentation.
Procedural Posture & Holding: Following a bench trial, the district court found for McDunns on their breach of contract claim and awarded them $1,444 damages, and $20,697 in costs and attorney’s fees. Arnold appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.
Reasoning: (1) When a party appeals from a justice court that is not a court of record, the district court must try to case de novo. The district court may allowed amended pleadings to be filed. Arnold did not respond to McDunns’ motion for leave to file an amended complaint.
(2) Arnold contends testimony from a court that is not a court of record is inadmissible hearsay, but did not raise that argument in the district court. A district court should treat testimony given in justice court the same as any other statement that has not been transcribed or recorded.
(3) Although the district court referenced the justice court proceedings in its FOF/COLs, the references do not suggest those proceedings unduly influenced the court.