Muir v. Bilderback

Muir v. Bilderback, 2015 MT 180 (June 30, 2015) (McGrath, C.J.) (5-0, aff’d) 

Issue: (1) Whether the district court properly denied Bilderback’s motion to suppress; (2) whether the district court properly denied Bilderback’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal service; and (3) whether the district court properly denied Bilderback’s motion for summary judgment.

Short Answer: (1) Yes; (2) yes, and (3) yes.


Facts: Washington law enforcement contracted Missoula police in March 2013 for help in finding Bobby Bilderback, who was wanted in Washington in connection with a homicide. Missoula police found and arrested Bilderback and seized his Hummer. Missoula Detective Curtis applied for and received a search warrant for the Hummer, based on an affidavit that incorporated an affidavit from a Washington detective. When they searched the Hummer, police found $36,000 in cash and a thermos with methamphetamine residue in it.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Mark Muir, the Missoula police chief, petitioned for forfeiture of the Hummer, the cash, and other items found in the search. The petition and summons were served on Bilderback, who moved to suppress the results of the search. The district court denied the motion and set a hearing, which neither Bilderback nor his attorney attended. After receiving evidence from the state, the court ordered forfeiture. Bilderback appeals and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) The search warrant relied on information from an informant in Washington who disclosed his name, address, phone number and social security number. The information he provided was detailed and reliable. The locking toolbox found in the Hummer was a “lockbox” as described by the informant, and was covered by the warrant.

(2) Notice of a forfeiture hearing must be served “in the manner provided for service of the petition and summons.” MCA § 44-12-203(3). The petition and summons are to be served “as provided in the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure.” MCA § 44-12-201. But in civil proceedings, service of all matters after the summons is to be made on the party’s attorney. MCA § 25-3-402; MRCP 5(b)(1). The Court holds that personal service is required when a party does not appear through counsel, but service on the attorney is appropriate when the party is represented.

(3) Bilderback owned the Hummer with his mother, Marie Felton, who had no connection to any of Bilderback’s crimes. He moved for summary judgment arguing she was an innocent owner, and the Hummer was not used in a drug offense. Muir presented affidavits showing Felton was a sham owner who was not entitled to assert the innocent owner defense, and that the Hummer had been used in drug offenses. The district court properly found disputed issues of fact and denied Bilderback’s motion for summary judgment.