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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of criminal endangerment. On appeal, Defendant asserted judicial bias and argued that his appointed counsel violated their duty of loyalty. The Supreme Court held (1) this court declines to undertake consideration of the merits of Defendant’s bias allegation pursuant to the plain error doctrine because Defendant’s assertion of bias did not implicate a fundamental right or convince the court that failure to review the claim would result in a manifest miscarriage of justice, leave unsettled the question of the fundamental fairness of the trial proceedings, or compromise the integrity of the judicial process; and (2) Defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claims were not reviewable on direct appeal because they were not factually established in the record. View "State v. Howard" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the determination of the district court to quiet title in certain property to Zinvest, LLC, holding that the Department of Revenue’s defective property tax assessment voided the tax lien sale that resulted in Zinvest acquiring the Gallatin County’s interest. Gunnersfield Enterprises Inc. purchased five condominium units and an adjoining vacant lot in 2008. The deed was properly recorded, and a realty transfer certificate was submitted to the Department of Revenue, but the Department did not correctly update its ownership records for the vacant lot. While Gunnersfield paid the tax assessments for the condominium units yearly, the County Treasurer continued to send the tax bills for the vacant lot to the previous owner. The Treasurer eventually sold the lot for delinquent taxes and assigned its tax lien interest in the property to Zinvest. After Zinvest acquired a tax deed on the property Gunnersfield objected. The district court granted summary judgment for Zinvest and issued a final judgment quieting title to Zinvest. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for entry of judgment quieting title in Gunnersfield, holding that the tax assessment on the vacant lot was void, and therefore, the subsequent tax lien sale and issuance of a tax deed were also void. View "Zinvest v. Gunnersfield" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the district court did not err in dismissing Defendant’s motion to dismiss the State’s petition to revoke her suspended sentence on the ground that there had been a four-year delay in executing the arrest warrant. In 2009, the district court issued a “Montana only” warrant for the arrest of Defendant, who was on probation. Thereafter, Defendant was convicted of another offense in Colorado, where, several times, Defendant was paroled and then her sentence was revoked. Defendant discharged her Colorado sentences in 2013. That same year, Defendant was arrested on the 2009 warrant. Defendant moved to dismiss the petition to revoke her suspended sentence, arguing that the State violated her right to due process by failing to bring her to court without unnecessary delay. The district court concluded that Defendant had not suffered a deprivation of due process and then determined that Defendant had violated the terms of her original sentence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss the revocation petition. View "State v. Koon" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court affirming the municipal court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress blood evidence in a driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) proceeding against him, holding (1) the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress a telephonic search warrant issued pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 61-8-402(5) to draw Defendant’s blood; and (2) this court declines to address Defendant’s argument that the warrant was invalid because Defendant did not receive the implied consent advisory prior to his blood draw. View "City of Missoula v. Williams" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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An injured first party insured who is compelled to sue for underinsured motorist (UIM) benefits and recovers more at trial than the last insurance company offer, the insurer must pay the first party insured’s attorney fees in an amount determined by the district court to be reasonable. Plaintiff in this case filed suit against Farmers Insurance Exchange, demanding her UIM policy limits. After Farmers extended its final offer of $77,500 to settle the claim, the jury returned a verdict in the amount of $450,000 in favor of Plaintiff. Judgment was entered for the policy limit amount of $200,000. The district court denied Plaintiff’s motion for attorney fees. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Farmers was required to pay Plaintiff’s attorney fees because Plaintiff was compelled to sue and the jury returned a verdict higher than the amount of the last offer made by Farmers to settle her UIM claim. View "Mlekush v. Farmers Insurance Exchange" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the sentence imposed upon Defendant following his plea of no contest to sexual assault, holding that the district court erred in accepting Defendant’s no contest plea, and therefore, the district court could not have imposed a valid sentence upon Defendant. The district court erred in accepting Defendant’s no contest plea because generally, a court may not accept a plea of nolo contendere in a case involving a sexual offense, and the term sexual offense is statutorily defined to include sexual assault. The Supreme Court voided the plea agreement and remanded the matter to the district court to allow Defendant to enter a legal plea to the original charges, enter a new plea agreement, or to proceed to trial. View "State v. Hansen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company’s (BNSF) motion for summary judgment on Kelly Watson’s asbestos-related disease claim, brought under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, holding that the bankruptcy court’s order enjoining claims against W.R. Grace and other “affiliated entities,” including BNSF, tolled the statute of limitations on Watson’s claim. Thus, the district court erred in concluding that the bankruptcy court’s order expanding a previous injunction barring the commencement or filing of new claims to include BNSF as a nondebtor affiliate did not bar the commencement of new actions against BNSF. View "Watson v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the water court that largely adopted the water master’s report dividing the four water rights for irrigation from Nevada Creek between James and Linda Quigley and Richard Beck based on a ratio of the irrigated acres owned by each party. The court held (1) the water court did not err in its interpretation of the 1909 Geary v. Raymond decree as decreeing water rights for irrigation to all of Finn Ranch, which was since divided into adjoining ranches owned by the Quigley and Beck; and (2) the water court did not err in applying the clear error standard to the water master’s findings of fact. View "Quigley v. Beck" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s denial of the portion of Plaintiffs’ motion motion for partial summary judgment seeking an order compelling Defendants to immediately remove trespassing encroachments on Plaintiffs’ property an to restore the property to its prior condition subject to Plaintiffs’ right to do so at Defendants’ expense if they failed to timely act. The court further affirmed the district court’s underlying grant of summary judgment declaring Defendants’ shop building and underground septic system to be trespassing encroachments on Plaintiffs’ property. Specifically, the court held that, at this stage in the proceedings, the district court’s interlocutory denial of preliminary or final mandatory injunctive relief was neither irreconcilable with its summary judgment declaring a trespass nor a manifest abuse of discretion. View "Davis v. Westphal" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Water Compact, holding that Mont. Const. art. II, section 18 did not require the Montana Legislature to approve the Compact or its administrative provisions. The Compact, negotiated between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, provided a unified system for the administration of water rights and the resolution of disputes on the reservation. The Compact was approved by the Montana Legislature in 2015. The Flathead Board of Joint Control brought suit against the State seeking to invalidate the Compact. The district court ruled (1) the challenged section of the Compact did not contravene Article II, Section 18 because it did not enact any new immunities from suit; but (2) the challenged section of the administrative provision provided new immunity to the State and, therefore, was covered by Article II, Section 18, and because the provision did not pass by a two-thirds majority of each house, it is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) none of the Compact’s provisions grant any state governmental agency new immunities from a potential lawsuit; and (2) the Legislature’s majority vote to approve and adopt the contract was consistent with subject provisions of the Montana Constitution. View "Flathead Joint Board of Control v. State" on Justia Law