DA 18-0268 - STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. CHRIS ARTHUR CHRISTENSEN, Defendant and Appellant.
Oral Argument is set for Friday, April 3, 2020, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana. No spectators will be allowed in the courtroom. The argument will be live-streamed and can be accessed through the Court’s website at http://stream.vision.net/MT-JUD/
Chris Christensen was a physician who operated a practice in Florence. In 2015, the State charged him with numerous felonies, alleging that he overprescribed some medications to the extent that his actions could not be considered prescribing drugs in the course of a professional practice.
After a jury trial in the Ravalli County District Court, Christensen was convicted of two counts of negligent homicide, nine counts of criminal endangerment, 388 counts of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs, and one count of criminal possession of dangerous drugs. The court sentenced him to 20 years commitment to the Department of Corrections, with 10 years suspended.
Christensen has appealed these convictions to the Montana Supreme Court. Christensen argues that the State did not present enough evidence to support the convictions. He also argues a properly licensed physician is exempt from criminal liability for distribution of dangerous drugs for the act of prescribing medication and that the criminal endangerment statute is unconstitutionally vague when applied to prescribing medication. Christensen also alleges the District Court used improper jury instructions, incorrectly allowed the State to introduce some evidence, and did not allow Christensen to elicit certain testimony in his defense.
The State disagrees with Christensen’s arguments and argues that the Montana Supreme Court should uphold the convictions.
Due to unforeseen circumstances and the Governor's declaration of a state of emergency and subsequent declaration for all Montanans to shelter in place
DA 19-0492 - PARK COUNTY ENVIRONMENTAL COUNCIL and GREATER YELLOWSTONE COALITION, Plaintiffs and Appellees, v. MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY and LUCKY MINERALS, INC., Defendants and Appellant, and TIM FOX, in his capacity as Attorney General of the STATE OF MONTANA.
Oral Argument is set for Thursday, April 30, 2020, at 10:00 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana. No spectators will be allowed in the courtroom. The argument will be live-streamed and can be accessed through the Court’s website at http://stream.vision.net/MT-JUD/
In 2017, DEQ approved Lucky Minerals’ application for a mining exploration license in the Emigrant Gulch area of the Absaroka Mountains. Park County Environmental Council and Greater Yellowstone Coalition filed a lawsuit in the Park County District Court to challenge DEQ’s decision to grant the license. The District Court concluded that DEQ had violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act by failing to take the required “hard look” at the environmental impacts of Lucky Minerals’ proposal, including the project’s impacts on wildlife and water quality.
Park County Environmental Council and Greater Yellowstone Coalition then moved to vacate the exploration license in spite of a recent statutory change which dictated that the matter must instead be remanded to DEQ to further analyze the environmental impact of the proposed exploration. They argued that the statute was unconstitutional because it did not allow the court to revoke or suspend the exploration license. The District Court agreed that the statute infringed upon Montanans’ constitutional rights to the right of participation in the operation of governmental agencies and to a clean and healthful environment.
Lucky Minerals and DEQ have appealed the District Court’s rulings. The Office of the Attorney General has intervened on behalf of the State of Montana. Lucky Minerals argues that Park County Environmental Council and Greater Yellowstone Coalition do not have standing in this matter. Both Lucky Minerals and DEQ argue that the District Court erred in ruling that DEQ’s environmental analysis was inadequate under MEPA. Lucky Minerals and the State of Montana also argue that the District Court incorrectly concluded that the statute requiring remand to DEQ is unconstitutional.
DA 19-0510 - JAMES REAVIS, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. PENNSYLVANIA HIGHER EDUCATION ASSISTANCE AGENCY d/b/a FEDLOAN SERVICING, Defendant and Appellee.
Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, May 20, 2020, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana.
James Reavis consolidated his student loans in 2012 in order to qualify for the Public Student Loan Forgiveness program. His loans were serviced by Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency under its d/b/a Fedloan Servicing.
In 2018, Reavis filed suit against Fedloan, alleging that it was not properly calculating and crediting his loan payments and thus delaying his student loan forgiveness. Fedloan moved to dismiss Reavis’s complaint, arguing that his claims under Montana law were preempted by the federal Higher Education Act. The District Court agreed with Fedloan, ruling that Reavis’s allegations all implicate “disclosure requirements” and that improper disclosure claims are preempted by federal law. It therefore dismissed his case.
On appeal, Reavis argues that the HEA does not expressly preempt his claims against Fedloan because Congress did not intend to preempt state law claims when it enacted the HEA. He also argues the District Court misapplied case law in analyzing Fedloan’s motion to dismiss and improperly relied on the Department of Education’s interpretation of the HEA. The Montana Attorney General, Montana Federation of Public Employees, Veterans Education Success, Montana Legal Services Association, National Consumer Law Center, and Student Borrower Protection Center have filed amicus briefs in this case, also arguing that Reavis’s state law claims are not preempted by federal law. Fedloan argues that the District Court correctly dismissed Reavis’s complaint because the HEA preempts his state law claims.
DA 19-0343 - ROBERT DANNELS, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, Defendant and Appellant.
Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, June 10, 2020, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana.
In 2010, Robert Dannels sued BNSF Railway Company under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act for work-related injuries. After Dannels obtained a jury verdict of $1.7 million, BNSF moved for a new trial. After BNSF’s motion for a new trial was denied, Dannels and BNSF settled the dispute for $1.7 million.
Dannels then filed a bad-faith claim against BNSF, arguing that BNSF violated Montana’s Unfair Trade Practices Act in its handling of Dannels’ FELA claim. BNSF moved for summary judgment in the District Court, arguing that Dannels’ bad-faith claims under Montana statutes and common law are preempted by FELA. The District Court denied BNSF’s motion. Dannels and BNSF ultimately agreed to a stipulated judgment that preserved BNSF’s right to argue on appeal that Dannels’ claims are preempted by FELA. This question of whether FELA preempts Dannels’ claims is the subject of this appeal.
DA 19-0680 - CITY OF BOZEMAN, Petitioner and Appellant, v. MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF NATRUAL RESOURCES AND CONSERVATION, an agency of the State of Montana, and UTILITY SOLUTIONS, LLC, Respondents and Appellees.
Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, June 17, 2020, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana.
Utility Solutions submitted an application to change the place of use for a water use permit. Utility Solutions claimed there were properties that fell into gaps between current place of use permits and it wanted to extend services into those areas. The City of Bozeman objected, arguing that some of the areas affected by Utility Solutions’ application overlapped areas served by Bozeman’s 2017 Water Facility Plan. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) granted the application.
Bozeman petitioned the District Court to review DNRC’s decision. It maintained that Utility Solutions’ permit would adversely affect its plan to provide municipal water to these areas and that Montana law protected its Water Facility Plan against adverse effects.
The District Court denied Bozeman’s petition, ruling that Bozeman’s planning interest was not the type of interest the law protects from a change of place of use of an existing water right.
On appeal, Bozeman alleges that the DNRC’s decision to grant Utility Solutions’ application was based on false information that the permit would fill in service area gaps because no such gaps existed under Bozeman’s current Water Facility Plan. Further, the District Court erred when it concluded that the Montana Water Use Act did not protect Bozeman’s planned use of the water from the adverse effects of the permit allowing Utility Solutions to change the place of use.