Kiser v. Kiser & McDowell

Kiser v. Kiser & McDowell, 2015 MT 315 (Nov. 10, 2015) (Rice, J.) (5-0, rev’d)

Issue: Whether the district court erred in dismissing Kiser/McDowell’s appeal from small claims court.

Short Answer: Yes.

Reversed & remanded

Facts: Todd Kiser filed a complaint against Noel Kiser and Marie McDowell in the small claims division of justice court in April 2015, alleging Noel and Marie owed him $3,445.85 based on an agreement regarding their father’s nursing care and cremation costs. The clerk issued an order that set a hearing for May 22, 2015, advised Noel and Marie to bring any evidence they needed to defend themselves, advised them they had 10 days to remove the action to justice court, and advised them that failure to remove constituted a waiver of their right to trial by jury and representation to counsel. Noel and Marie were served on April 20, 2015.

Noel and Marie did not remove the matter, and all three parties appeared for the hearing on May 22, 2015. On June 10, 2015, the justice of the peace entered findings of fact, conclusions of law and judgment in favor of Todd. Noel and Marie, now represented by counsel, appealed to the district court. On June 25, 2015, the clerk of court mailed a form letter to the parties stating the appeal was received on June 23, 2015, and that no separate briefing schedule would be issued by the court. It referred the parties to Rule 14 of the Uniform Municipal Court Rules of Appeal, which it attached. Nothing was mentioned about the record being transferred or received.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Noel and Marie filed a brief on July 16, 2015. The district court dismissed the appeal on July 22, stating the brief was untimely filed under Rule 14, which states the appellant shall file a brief within 15 days after the record is filed. Noel and Marie appeal, and the Supreme Court reverses.

Reasoning: Noel and Marie did not remove the case to justice court. Instead, the small claims court entered judgment from which Noel and Marie appealed to the district court. Therefore, the Municipal Court Appellate Rules do not apply. Instead, sections 25-35-801 to -807 govern. The statutes do not set a deadline for filing an appellant’s brief. Any deadline would have to be set through local rule or district court order. In any event, the district court improperly applied the Municipal Appellate Rules.