Archive | March, 2016

In the Matter of KB

In the Matter of KB, 2016 MT 73 (March 29, 2016) (McKinnon, J.) (7-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over KB’s abuse and neglect proceeding, and (2) whether Father received ineffective assistance of counsel.

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


Facts: KB was removed from her mother’s care in November 2012, at the age of 5, due to concerns about Mother’s inability to protect KB from domestic violence. KB was placed in kinship foster care with her aunt and uncle, where she has remained. Her younger sister, TH, also lives with aunt and uncle.

KB was adjudicated a youth in need of care in 2013, and the Department drafted a treatment plan for Father.…

Curry v. Pondera County Canal & Reservoir Co.

Curry v. Pondera County Canal & Reservoir Co., 2016 MT 77 (March 29, 2016) (Wheat, J.; Baker, J. concurring; McKinnon, J., dissenting) (6-1, aff’d & rev’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the water court erred in holding that the water rights of an entity developed under the Carey Land Act for the purpose of sale or rental are not limited by the stockholders’ actual historic water use; (2) whether the water court erred in granting Pondera a “service area” rather than a place of use based on historically irrigated land; (3) whether the water court erred by ruling Pondera’s storage rights were beneficially used on the Birch Creek Flats before 1973; (4) whether the water court improperly increased the flow rate for the Gray right and improperly reversed the water master’s dismissal of a claim it found was duplicative; and (5) whether the water court’s tabulation for the Curry claim and the Pondera claim without volume measurements was an abuse of discretion.…

Stonehocker v. Gulf Insur. Co.

Stonehocker v. Gulf Insur. Co., 2016 MT 78 (March 29, 2016) (Cotter, J.) (6-0, aff’d & rev’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment to Travelers on the basis that Stonehocker was not a named insured under the uninsured provision of the policy, and (2) whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment to Travelers because at the time of Stonehocker’s injury her personal pickup was not a “temporary substitute auto” under the policy.

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

Affirmed (issue #1) & reversed (issue #2), and remanded for entry of judgment for Stonehocker on coverage 

Facts: Marilyn Stonehocker was a camp cook for Bear Creek Outfitters, a guest ranch near East Glacier.…

Heavygun v. State

Heavygun v. State, 2016 MT 66 (March 22, 2016) (McKinnon, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether Heavygun received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: Heavygun was charged with and convicted of deliberate homicide, felony DUI, violation of an order of protection, felony criminal endangerment, driving with a suspended or revoked license, and felony tampering with physical evidence. He was sentenced to life in prison plus other concurrent sentences. His conviction was affirmed by this Court in 2011.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Heavygun petitioned for postconviction relief, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court denied the petition, and Heavygun appeals. The Supreme Court affirms. 

Reasoning: Heavygun argues ineffective assistance on the grounds that: 1) he was represented by six public defenders, three of whom were his attorney of record; 2) his attorney failed to investigate and present evidence of his victim’s history of violence; and 3) his attorney failed to adequately prepare him to testify.…

In the Matter of SGR

In the Matter of SGR, 2016 MT 70 (March 22, 2016) (Baker, J.; McKinnon, dissenting) (5-2, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court’s order met the statutory requirements for extending commitments under §§ 53-21-127 and -128, MCA.

Short Answer: Yes.


Facts: SGR is 76 years old, with a long history of severe alcoholism, mental health issues and multiple periods of institutionalization. He is in a wheelchair. Before his initial commitment in 2014, SGR had a pattern of receiving his social security check on the first of the month, staying at a hotel, and drinking until his money ran out. He would then check in to the Community Crisis Center in Billings for the rest of the month. At the Community Crisis Center in 2014, he suffered a seizure as a result of alcohol withdrawal and was hospitalized.…

Russell v. State

Russell v. State, 2016 MT 69 (March 22, 2016) (McGrath, C.J.; Cotter, J., dissenting) (5-2, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether Russell received effective assistance of counsel at trial, and (2) whether Russell received effective assistance of counsel on appeal.

Short Answer: (1) Yes, and (2) yes.


Facts: Russell and Spotted Wolf assaulted two men in an alley one night after drinking all day. One of the men died, and the other was seriously and permanently injured. Russell was charged with felony murder, aggravated assault, and accountability for Spotted Wolf’s robbery and aggravated assault. Russell was convicted by a jury in May 2005, and sentenced. Russell appealed and the Court reversed the conviction for aggravated assault against one victim, as it was an included offense of the felony murder conviction.…

In the Matter of JB, Jr.

In the Matter of JB, Jr., 2016 MT 68 (March 22, 2016) (Rice, J.; McKinnon, J, concurring; Baker, J., dissenting) (5-1, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred in holding that the treatment plan was appropriate, and (2) whether the district court abuse its discretion in terminating Father’s parental rights.

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


Facts: When JB was just a few weeks old, his parents took him shoplifting. Father was on probation and had two outstanding felony warrants for his arrest. The Department investigated and petitioned for protective services, adjudication of JB as a youth in need of care, and temporary legal custody. JB was placed in foster care with his sibling, EB, and Father was sentenced to 10 years suspended on each of the two outstanding felonies, to run concurrently with another unspecified sentence he was serving.…

State v. Langley

State v. Langley, 2016 MT 67 (March 22, 2016) (Baker, J.) (5-0, rev’d)

Issue: Whether the district court erred in denying Langley’s motion to withdraw his no contest plea.

Short Answer: Yes.

Reversed and remanded

Facts: In February 2014 the state charged Langley with one count of arson, a felony. Langley entered a plea agreement with the state under which he agreed to plead nolo contendre and the state agreed to recommend that sentencing be deferred for six years. The agreement further provided that Langley would be allowed to withdraw his plea if the state failed to perform its obligations under the plea agreement.

At the sentencing hearing, the court indicated it was not inclined to impose a deferred sentence.…

City of Kalispell v. Omyer

City of Kalispell v. Omyer, 2016 MT 63 (March 15, 2016) (Wheat, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether § 61-5-212, MCA imposes absolute liability for driving with a suspended license; and (2) whether letters from the Motor Vehicle Department informing each appellant that their drivers’ licenses were suspended were improperly admitted testimonial hearsay or properly admitted copies of public records.

Short Answer: (1) Yes, and (2) the letters were properly admitted as copies of public records under Rules 803(8) and 902(4).


Facts: In this consolidated appeal, three defendants were charged with various traffic violations, including driving with a suspended license. In each of the three bench trials, the state introduced letters sent from the MVD to the defendant notifying him or her of the suspension.…

Wicklund v. Sundheim

Wicklund v. Sundheim, 2016 MT 62 (March 9, 2016) (Baker, J.; McKinnon, J., dissenting) (4-1, rev’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court properly admitted the testimony of an English professor interpreting the language of the warranty deed’s royalty interest reservation; (2) whether the district court erred by resolving the ambiguity in the 1953 warrant deed in favor of Sundheims; and (3) whether the district court improperly applied the doctrine of laches to deny Teisingers’ claim to the 3/5 royalty interest.

Short Answer: (1) No; (2) yes; and (3) yes.

Reversed and remanded for entry of judgment in Teisingers’ favor

Facts: In 1953, Teisingers conveyed several sections of real property to Sundheims by warranty deed, and included language reserving “three-fifths (3/5ths) of Land owners [sic] oil, gas and mineral royalties and three-fifths (3/5ths) of any and all delay rentals on present and existing oil and gas leases now of record against the lands herein described,” subject to “such oil and gas leases” and any assignments of record.…