Justia Montana Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the water court denying Robert and Carol Hurds' motion to amend the water right for a groundwater well on the grounds that the untimeliness of the motion meant the water court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the requested modification, holding that there was no error.In 2017, the Montana legislature established a June 30, 2019 deadline for exempt water rights holders to file a statement of claim. The deadline passed without the Hurds filing a statement of claim for their exempt water right. In 2021, the Hurds filed a motion to amend a statement of claim under Mont. Code Ann. 85-2-233(6). The water court concluded that it had no jurisdiction to modify a statement of claim for the Hurds because they hadn't properly filed a claim to amend. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the water court correctly denied the Hurds' motion for lack of jurisdiction. View "In re Hurd" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting a motion to approve a settlement agreement reached in mediation involving siblings Lily Smith and Sam, Dan, and Vernon Lindemulder, holding that Petitioners were not entitled to relief on their claims of error.The agreement at issue resolved claims involving the Alice M. Lindemulder Trust, established by the parties' mother, which held more than 2,000 acres of land in Stillwater County. Sam appealed the district court's decision to approve the settlement agreement, arguing that the agreement was unenforceable because he lacked the capacity to enter it and had been subjected to undue influence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in concluding that Sam validly consented to the agreement; and (2) did not err in holding that the agreement was valid and enforceable. View "Smith v. Lindemulder" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment and commitment issued by the district court following Defendant's convictions for two counts of deliberate homicide and one count of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, holding that there was no error.On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred in admitting any and all text messages at trial and by not giving Defendant's proposed instruction regarding reasonable doubt. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not abuse its discretion by admitting testimony regarding certain text messages at trial; and (2) did not abuse its discretion by declining to give Defendant's proposed jury instruction regarding reasonable doubt. View "State v. Wienke" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting summary judgment to J&L Lands, LP and awarding J&L a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Jerry Nezat's homestead property, holding that the homestead exemption statutes disposed of this matter.J&L filed this action against Nezat to foreclose a judgment lien on the property at issue but agreed to lift its lien to allow Nezat to sell the property. After Nezat sold the property the district court granted summary judgment to J&L and awarded J&L up to twenty-five percent of the proceeds from the sale of the home despite Nezat's homestead declaration on the property. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court erred in satisfying J&L's judgment lien before Nezat received the full value of the homestead exemption from the proceeds of the sale. View "J&L Lands, LP v. Nezat" on Justia Law

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In this marital dissolution proceeding, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court awarding child support and failing to award retroactive child support, holding that there was no error or abuse of discretion.The district court awarded Wife permanent child support of $1,800 per month from Husband and declined Wife's request for retroactive child support. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err or abuse its discretion in categorizing Husband's income from his father as "gift income," resulting in the exclusion of that income from the court's child support calculation; and (2) did not abuse its discretion when it refused to award Wife retroactive child support. View "Miller v. Miller" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for partner or family members assault (PFMA), unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, and two counts of tampering with witnesses or informants but reversed the district court's imposition of various fees and costs on Defendant, holding that remand was required for an analysis of Defendant's ability to pay before imposing costs and fees.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the admission of certain hearsay statements was not harmless error; (2) Defendant's right to a fair trial by an impartial jury was not violated; (3) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his argument that his right to confrontation was violated by the repeated emphasis on recorded jail phone calls; (4) the record was insufficient to review Defendant's claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel; and (5) the district court erred in imposing jury and other costs on Defendant without first undertaking an ability to pay inquiry. View "State v. Oliver" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing North Star Development, LLC's petition for judicial review of the Montana Public Service Commission's (PSC) August 2020 rate determination regarding North Star's 2019 application for water and sewer utility rate increase authorizations, holding there was no error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court correctly concluded that North Star failed to exhaust all available administrative remedies, as required by Mont. Code Ann. 2-4-702(1)(a); (2) the correct jurisdictional basis for dismissal of a petition for judicial review due to failure to exhaust administrative remedies is a lack of procedural justiciability rather than lack of subject matter jurisdiction; and (3) the district court did not commit reversible error by failing to consider North Star's asserted waiver and equitable estoppel defenses. View "North Star Development, LLC v. Montana Public Service Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Lewis and Clark County (County) and Bridge Creek Estates Homeowners Association (HOA) on the County's claim for declaratory judgment and on Philip Wirth's counterclaim against the County, holding that the district court erred in part.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) erred in its interpretation of the covenants by concluding that Wirth was unambiguously prevented from further subdividing the lots retained by him within the subject subdivision, in failing to consider extrinsic evidence, and by resolving the issue at summary judgment; (2) erred by granting summary judgment to the County and dismissing Wirth's counterclaim for statutory damages; (3) did not err in granting summary judgment to the HOA; and (4) prematurely granted attorney fees to the HOA. View "Wirth v. Lewis & Clark County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order entered by the district court dismissing as time-barred Appellant's negligence claims against Community Hospital of Anaconda and Pintler Surgical Specialists (collectively, CHA), holding that there was no error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) did not err by concluding that Appellant's claim against CHA was a professional negligence claim subject to the two-year period of limitations pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 27-2-205(1); and (2) did not err by ruling that Appellant's medical negligence claim was not tolled under section 27-2-205(1) and dismissing the claim as time-barred. View "Selensky-Foust v. Mercer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for felony driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), holding that there was no harmless error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not violate Defendant's right to equal protection by denying his Batson objection to the State's peremptory strike of the only racial minority member of the venire; (2) while one of the prosecutor's remarks during closing argument was erroneous, the prosecutor's remarks, considered cumulatively, did not violate Defendant's right to a fair trial; and (3) the district court did not err when it relied on one of Defendant's prior convictions to support enhancement of his DUI conviction to a felony offense and in determining that the prior conviction was constitutionally valid. View "State v. Wellknown" on Justia Law