Murray v. Motl

Murray v. Motl, 2015 MT 216 (July 28, 2015) (Cotter, J.; McKinnon, J., concurring) (7-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court erred in dismissing Murray’s declaratory relief action for lacking a justiciable controversy.

Short Answer: No.

Affirmed

Facts: Murray was an unsuccessful candidate for the Montana Legislature in the June 2010 primary. On Dec. 18, 2013, the Commissioner of Political Practices issued a decision finding sufficient evidence Murray had violated Montana’s campaign practice laws and that civil adjudication was warranted. The commissioner forwarded the decision to the Lewis & Clark county attorney for consideration, and the county attorney waived his right to participate.

In January 2014, Murray filed an action for declaratory relief in Gallatin County, where he resides, seeking a determination that the commissioner violated § 13-37-124, MCA, when he referred the sufficiency decision to the Lewis & Clark county attorney rather than the Gallatin county attorney. In February 2014, the commissioner filed a civil enforcement action against Murray in Lewis & Clark county.

In March 2014, the commissioner answered Murray’s Gallatin County complaint, and filed notice of the enforcement action in Lewis & Clark County. The commissioner then moved for summary judgment on Murray’s Gallatin County action.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The 18th Judicial District, Gallatin County, dismissed Murray’s declaratory relief action for lack of a justiciable controversy, and declined to rule on the commissioner’s summary judgment motion. The court took judicial notice of the pending proceedings in the First Judicial District and concluded Murray already had an adequate alternative remedy available in the enforcement action, and that any decision it issued would be an advisory opinion, not binding on the First Judicial District. Murray appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: The court reviews the three elements of a justiciable controversy and finds the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding no justiciable controversy.

Justice McKinnon’s Concurrence: Justice McKinnon concurs in the judgment based on § 27-8-206, MCA, and this Court’s precedent. It is not clear, however, which county is the proper one in which to file notice pursuant to § 13-37-124, MCA, and the issue has yet to be decided by this Court even though it has been raised several times. It appears that the commissioner, as the initiator of the enforcement action, has sole discretion to choose in which county to file the notice.