Wagman v. Motl

Wagman v. Motl, 2015 MT 168 (June 23, 2015) (Rice, J.) (5-0, aff’d & rev’d)

Issue: Whether the district court erred by transferring Wagman’s declaratory judgment action to Lewis & Clark County.

Short Answer: No, transfer was warranted, but the district court lacked power to transfer to a specific department and judge.

Affirmed in part and reversed in part

Facts: Pat Wagman was a 2010 candidate for state Senate District 31, which included all of Park County and most of Sweet Grass County. The Commissioner of Political Practices, Jonathan Motl, filed a civil enforcement action against Wagman in Lewis & Clark County. Before filing, Motl notified the Lewis & Clark County attorney, providing an opportunity for the county attorney to prosecute. That office declined, and Motl then filed suit.

Wagman filed a declaratory judgment action in Park County, raising issues similar to those raised in the enforcement action. Wagman moved to dismiss the enforcement action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which was denied by the First Judicial District. The Park County Attorney moved to intervene in both actions, arguing Motl should have referred his sufficiency findings to the Park County Attorney rather than the Lewis and Clark County Attorney. Motl answered Wagman’s complaint, and opposed the Park County Attorney’s motions to intervene.

The First Judicial District denied the motion to intervene in the enforcement action, and the Sixth Judicial District granted the motion to intervene in the declaratory judgment action.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Motl moved for summary judgment, or alternatively, for transfer of the declaratory judgment action to Lewis and Clark County, pursuant to Rule 42. After Wagman responded, Motl withdrew the transfer motion. Nonetheless, the Sixth Judicial District ordered sue sponte that the case be transferred to Lewis and Clark County, Department 2, Judge Sherlock. Wagman appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms the transfer but reverses the specification of the judge.

Reasoning: The district court did not specify whether its transfer was ordered pursuant to Rule 42, as argued by Motl, or the court’s authority under § 25-2-201, MCA. Under that statute, venue must be changed if the convenience of witnesses and the ends of justice would be promoted by the transfer. The declaratory action as to Wagman was duplicative, and judicial economy was an appropriate basis on which to transfer venue.

However, the district court lacked power to transfer to a specific department and judge.