Justia Montana Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Montana Supreme Court reversed the district court's order of a refund to Mountain Water and assessment of property taxes against the City of Missoula. The court held that section 70-30-315, MCA, selects a different date for purposes of designating the person who shall be assessed the property taxes in condemnation situations, requiring the condemnor to be assessed earlier in time than the general tax statutes would normally require, thus effectuating a unique proration of taxes as between condemnation parties. The statute simply established a tax proration date that is more favorable to condemnees than under general law, and provided no additional or alternate process to accompany this simple adjustment. In this case, Mountain Water retains responsibility for actual payment of the property taxes for the period it possesses the property, until the taking occurs. View "Mountain Water v. Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether the district court's finding that particularized suspicion existed to support an investigatory stop was clearly erroneous. The Supreme Court of Montana held that, based on the totality of the circumstances, a witness's 911 report contained sufficient indicia of reliability to form the basis for the highway patrol trooper's particularized suspicion. Furthermore, the trooper independently formed particularized suspicion that defendant was drinking under the influence of alcohol. Therefore, the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress evidence and motion to dismiss. The court affirmed the judgment. View "State v. Foster" on Justia Law
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Mother appealed an amended parenting plan issued by the district court, arguing that it was contrary to the best interests of her child and that the court failed to make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law. The district court found that it was “in the best interest of the child to spend Fall and Spring in school in Columbia Falls and Summer in Missoula.” The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the district court’s order contained insufficient findings of fact related to the child’s best interest, and the findings it did contain were clearly erroneous; and (2) the district court abused its discretion in amending the parenting plan. View "In re Parenting of G.M.O." on Justia Law
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In this criminal case, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s imposition of criminal defense fees and other costs in the judgment against Defendant. On appeal from his convictions for felony driving under the influence, negligent endangerment, and six other driving offenses, Defendant argued that the district court erred in imposing fees, costs, and surcharges in the written judgment because they were not imposed in the oral pronouncement of the sentence or following a consideration of Defendant’s ability to pay. The Supreme Court held that the imposition of fees and costs was not unlawful because Defendant had notice and an opportunity to respond to the presentence investigation report conditions relating to fees, costs, and surcharges being included in his sentence and because Defendant did not object when the district court failed to inquire into his ability to pay those costs. View "State v. Thompson" on Justia Law
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After a hearing, the district court terminated the parental rights of Mother to her two children, C.B.D. and P.M.P. Mother appealed this order only as it pertained to the P.M.P.’s placement, not the termination of her parental rights. Specifically, Mother argued that the Department of Health and Human Services violated her due process rights when the child was moved into the home of R.W. and J.A. without affording her ten days of notice and an opportunity to participate, as required by the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Supreme court affirmed, holding that Mother lacked standing in the matter because she failed to show an injury to her civil or property rights or that her injury would be alleviated by successfully maintaining her action. View "In re C.B.D." on Justia Law
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In this home construction contract dispute, the Supreme Court (1) affirmed the district court’s decision awarding contractual damages to Contractor and dismissing Homeowners’ counterclaims for damages and attorney’s fees; but (2) reversed the district court’s denial of Contractor’s right to foreclose its construction lien placed on Homeowners’ property and the court’s decision to deny Contractor attorney’s fees pursuant to the lien foreclosure statute. The Court held that the district court erred as a matter of law when it reasoned that Contractor was not entitled to a favorable judgment for the foreclosure of the construction lien on the basis of Homeowners’ dissatisfaction with the work performed. Remanded. View "Vintage Construction, Inc. v. Feighner" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his convictions for obstructing a peace officer, partner or family member assault and three counts of criminal endangerment, among other offenses, rendered after the district court rejected a plea agreement entered into between Defendant and the State and the case proceeded to trial. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is not reviewable on direct appeal because it is not apparent based on the record; and (2) assuming, for the sake of argument, that the State breached the plea agreement, Defendant elected the remedy of withdrawing his plea in response to the alleged breach and could not now obtain the alternative remedy of specific performance. View "State v. Stratton" on Justia Law
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A jury found Defendant guilty of sexual assault against R.W., the eight-year-old daughter of Defendant’s former girlfriend, and acquitted him of a separate charge against K.W., R.W.’s twin sister. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, holding (1) even if a certain remark made by the prosecutor during closing argument was improper, the statement was not prejudicial; (2) the district court did not commit plain error when it failed to give a specific unanimity instruction to the jury in light of the parties’ presentation of the case; and (3) the district court’s failure to disclose to the defense information from the medical and counseling records that it reviewed in camera did not warrant a new trial. View "State v. Stutzman" on Justia Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed its plain meaning construction of Mont. Code Ann. 46-13-401(2) and clarified the correct shorthand calculation method for measuring the six-month speedy trial deadline, as manifest in State v. Ronningen and State v. Belgarde. The Court held that the municipal court erred in denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss due to lack of a speedy trial because Defendant’s trial was untimely under the plain meaning of Mont. Code Ann. 46-13-401(2). Thus, the Court reversed Defendant’s conviction for misdemeanor driving under the influence, third offense, and a related traffic offense, holding that the trial court failed to correctly measure the six-month speedy trial deadline under section 46-13-401(2). View "City of Helena v. Grove" on Justia Law
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Appellant appealed the order of the district court recommitting him to the Montana Mental Health Nursing Care Center for a period of up to one year and finding that involuntary administration of necessary medication was in Appellant’s best interest. On appeal, Appellant challenged the sufficiency of the district court’s written findings of fact and sought remand for entry of an amended recommitment order with required statutory findings. The Supreme Court remanded for entry of an amended recommitment order, holding that the district court’s recommitment order did not minimally comply with the specific findings requirements of Mont. Code Ann. 53-12-127(8)(b), (c), (d), (f), (g) and -128(1)(d). View "In re D.L.B." on Justia Law
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