Oral Argument Schedule
The majority of cases before the Montana Supreme Court are decided based upon the written briefs submitted by the parties. However, the Court may decide that a case requires further discussion, in addition to what the parties have argued in their written briefs. In such cases, oral arguments are scheduled in open session before the Court. Approximately 30 cases a year are scheduled for oral argument.
Oral arguments are tightly structured and timed. The counsel for each party is allowed limited time to make an argument. The times typically range from 20 to 40 minutes and are set forth by the Court in the order setting oral argument.
While this format allows the counsel brief opportunity to further develop their arguments, it also gives the Court an opportunity to ask questions of the attorneys on points which the Court needs clarification.
A majority of oral arguments take place in the Montana Supreme Court Courtroom, located at 215 N. Sanders, Helena, Montana. The Court does schedule a few arguments to be heard in different cities around the State.
All of the oral arguments are open to the public.
--DA 16-0156 IN THE MATTER OF: J.S., Respondent and Appellant. Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, June 28, 2017, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana.
The issue in this appeal is whether J.S.’s attorney provided her with ineffective assistance of counsel at involuntary mental health commitment proceedings. Appellate counsel for J.S. argues that her trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance when she failed to investigate alternative community treatment options or to request a continuance for that purpose, failed to give J.S. the opportunity to testify at the hearing, and failed to object to hearsay testimony. As part of its argument, the State of Montana asks the Court to revise the standard for evaluating claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in involuntary commitment cases, as set forth in In re K.G.F., 2001 MT 140, ¶¶ 70-86, 306 Mont. 1, 29 P.3d 485.
--DA 16-0745 ZIRKELBACK CONSTRUCTION, INC., Third-Party Plaintiff and Appellant, v. DOWL, LLC dba DOWL HKM, Third-Party Defendant and Appellee. Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, July 12, 2017, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana.
Zirkelbach--the general contractor for the construction of a Fed Ex ground facility in Billings--contracted with DOWL for professional design and engineering services. A clause in their contract limited DOWL’s liability to $50,000. In this action, Zirkelbach sued DOWL and other defendants for alleged defects in the project. The Thirteenth Judicial District Court has upheld the contract provision limiting DOWL’s liability to $50,000. Zirkelbach appeals, arguing that the limitation clause violates Montana’s general prohibition on exculpatory clauses in contracts.
--DA 16-0670 TANYA L. MLEKUSH, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. FARMERS INSURANCE EXCHANGE, Respondent and Appellee. Oral Argument is set for July 26, 2017 at 9:30 AM in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Building, Helena, Montana.
Mlekush was injured in an automobile collision for which the driver of the other vehicle admitted liability. In this action, Mlekush seeks reimbursement from her own auto insurance company for her damages beyond the coverage limits of the other driver’s insurance. For a second time, the First Judicial District Court has determined that Mlekush is not entitled to recover her attorney fees and costs from her insurer under the so-called “insurance exception” to the American Rule (in civil litigation, each side pays its own attorney fees and costs). Mlekush argues that, because she was forced to assume the burden of legal action to recover the full benefit of her insurance contract, she is entitled to those fees and costs.
--DA 16-0716 ELAINE MITCHELL, and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. GLACIER COUNTY, and STATE OF MONTANA, Defendants and Appellees. Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, August 9, 2017, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana.
In this action, Elaine Mitchell seeks declaratory and injunctive relief against Glacier County, which she claims is mismanaging tax monies and failing to comply with statutory and constitutional budgeting requirements. Mitchell is a Glacier County property tax payer, and also seeks to appear on behalf of other Glacier County taxpayers who have paid taxes under protest. The First Judicial District Court dismissed the action on grounds that Mitchell does not have standing to bring it, because she had not alleged a concrete injury to her property or to her individual constitutional or statutory rights. Both Glacier County and the State of Montana appear in support of the District Court’s dismissal of the action.
--DA 16-0739 ALPS PROPERTY & CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, d/b/a Attorneys Liability Protection Society, A Risk Retention Group, Plaintiff and Appellees, v. McLEAN & McLEAN, PLLP; DAVID McLEAN; MICHAEL McLEAN and MIANTAE McConnell, Defendants and Appellants. __________________________________________ McLEAN & McLEAN, PLLP and MICHAEL McLEAN, Counter Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. ALPS PROPERTY & CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Counter Defendants and Appellees. _________________________________________________ JOSEPH MICHELETTI and MARILYN C. MICHELETTI, Intervenors and Appellants. Oral Argument is set for Friday, September 22, 2017, at 3:00 p.m. at 3:00 p.m. at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, Anaconda, Montana, with an introduction to begin at 2:30 p.m.
This action arises out of malpractice liability claims against the law firm of McLean & McLean and its legal malpractice insurer ALPS, for acts of law firm member David McLean. The Third Judicial District Court entered summary judgment that ALPS properly rescinded the firm’s insurance policy based on David McLean’s material misrepresentations (he failed to inform ALPS of his thefts of client monies, which culminated in his imprisonment). The court also ruled that the claims at issue were not afforded coverage under the policy and that the policy was void ab initio, thereby denying coverage to third-party claimants like law firm clients and Appellants Micheletti. The court ruled that the “innocent insured” doctrine does not apply.
Appellants Micheletti argue that material issues of fact exist as to what David McLean should have known and done. They also argue they had a reasonable expectation of coverage and are third-party beneficiaries of the insurance policy. Appellant McLean & McLean points out that law firm member Michael McLean did not commit any of David McLean’s bad acts, and aggressively took action and reported them when he learned of them. McLean & McLean maintains Michael McLean is entitled to receive Innocent-Insured Coverage under the policy. McLean & McLean also maintains that the policy did not give ALPS the right to rescind or void it, and the fact that ALPS had to obtain court relief to do so means the common-law doctrines of reasonable expectations, the prudent insurer, and the innocent insured all apply.
Amicus Property Casualty Insurers of America has filed a brief in support of the District Court’s decision, and the Montana Trial Lawyers Association has filed an amicus brief in support of the Appellants.