OP 19-0085 - BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY Petitioner, v. THE ASBESTOS CLAIMS COURT OF THE STATE OF MONTANA, HONORABLE AMY EDDY, Presiding Judge, Respondent.
Oral argument is set for Wednesday, October 30, 2019, at 9:30 AM, in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court.
The plaintiffs in this matter sued BNSF for negligence and strict liability for damages the plaintiffs suffered after exposure to asbestos from contaminated vermiculite ore. The plaintiffs argued that BNSF was liable for their damages because of the role it played in transporting the vermiculite ore from the mining operations in Libby. BNSF denied liability.
In January 2019, the Asbestos Claims Court (ACC) issued two orders in which it made several conclusions of law that BNSF now challenges before the Montana Supreme Court. First, the ACC concluded that neither the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act nor the Federal Railroad Safety Act preempted the plaintiffs’ claims against BNSF. Second, the ACC concluded that BNSF was engaged in an abnormally dangerous activity, thus subjecting it to strict liability for the plaintiffs’ claims. Third, the ACC concluded that BNSF was not immune from liability as a common carrier. Fourth, the ACC barred BNSF from raising several affirmative defenses in the matter, ruling that it could not argue apportionment, superseding intervening cause, or that a non-party caused the plaintiffs’ injuries.
BNSF then petitioned the Montana Supreme Court for writs of supervisory control, arguing that supervisory control was appropriate because the ACC was allegedly proceeding under mistakes of law in its rulings against BNSF. The plaintiffs maintain that the ACC ruled correctly on the issues before it. This Court accepted supervisory control, consolidated the writs, and ordered additional briefing. After considering the parties’ respective briefs, the Court ordered oral argument on the issues raised.
OP 19-0304 - MARY ANN MURRAY; LIGE M. MURRAY, Plaintiffs, Counter-Defendants and Appellees, v. BEJ MINERALS, LLC; RWF, LLC,
Oral Argument - is set for Thursday, November 7, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena. Hon. Olivia Rieger will participate in place of Justice Jim Rice, who has recused himself.
The Murrays own the surface rights and a minority interest to the mineral rights of a ranch in Garfield County. BEJ Minerals, LLC, and RWTF, LLC, own the remaining mineral rights to this property. After BEJ and RWTF acquired the mineral rights, several valuable dinosaur fossils were located on the property. In 2013, the Murrays filed a declaratory judgment action in the Sixteenth Judicial District Court, seeking a ruling that the Murrays owned the fossils. BEJ and RWTF removed the case to federal district court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction and counterclaimed for a declaratory judgment that the fossils are minerals under Montana law.
After the federal district court granted judgment in the Murrays’ favor, BEJ and RWTF appealed to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit ultimately certified a question to the Montana Supreme Court: Whether, under Montana law, dinosaur fossils constitute “minerals” for the purpose of a mineral reservation.
The Montana Supreme Court accepted the question and ordered briefing. In their respective briefs, the Murrays argue that no fossils are properly classified as minerals under Montana law while BEJ and RWTF argue that the particularly valuable fossils at issue in this case are properly classified as minerals because case law holds that materials that are scientifically or technically minerals are legally “minerals” if they are “rare” or “valuable.”