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 15-0375 CITY OF MISSOULA, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. MOUNTAIN WATER COMPANY and CARLYLE INFRASTRUCTURE PARTNERS, LP, Defendants and Appellants.THE EMPLOYEES OF MOUNTAIN WATER COMPANY, Intervenors and Appellants. Oral Argument is set for Friday, April 22, 2016, at 9:00 a.m. at the UC Ballroom, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, with an introduction to the oral argument beginning at 8:30 a.m.
The Fourth Judicial District Court has granted a preliminary order of condemnation allowing the City of Missoula to take over the Missoula water system now operated by Mountain Water Company. The court ruled that municipal ownership of the system is a “more necessary public use” than private ownership.
Although Mountain Water and its parent company raise several issues on appeal, the Court has limited oral argument to the question of whether the District Court correctly applied the law as set forth in § 70-30-111, MCA, and City of Missoula v. Mountain Water Co., 228 Mont. 404, 743 P.2d 590 (1987).
--DA 15-0502 JON KRAKAUER, Petitioner and Appellee, v. STATE OF MONTANA, by and through its COMMISSIONER OF HIGHER EDUCATION,Clayton Christian, Respondent and Appellant. Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, April 27, 2016 at 10:00 a.m. in the Strand Union Building, Ballroom A on the campus of Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana, with an introduction to the oral argument beginning at 9:30 a.m.
Journalist Jon Krakauer asked the Commissioner of Higher Education for copies of disciplinary records of a University of Montana student and, when the Commissioner refused to provide those records, brought this action to force disclosure of the records. The First Judicial District Court ruled that Krakauer is entitled to the requested records under the right-to-know provision of the Montana Constitution and a since-repealed public records statute, § 2-6-102, MCA. The court also ordered the Commissioner to pay Krakauer’s attorney’s fees and costs.
The Commissioner appeals, arguing that disclosure of the records is prohibited by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), the § 20-25-515, MCA, requirement that a university shall release a student’s academic record only upon request by the student or a court-issued subpoena, and the student’s right to privacy under the Montana Constitution. The Commissioner also argues that the District Court abused its discretion in ordering him to pay Krakauer’s attorney’s fees and costs.
The Court has accepted friend-of-the-Court briefs from the United States Attorney for Montana (concerning FERPA) and from several journalistic organizations that support Krakauer.
--DA 14-0813 THE CLARK FORK COALITION, a non-profit organization KATRIN CHANDLER, an individual, BETTY J. LANNEN, an individual, POLLY REX, an individual, and JOSEPH MILLER, an individual, Petitioners and Appellees, v. JOHN E. TUBBS, in his capacity as Director of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and THE MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES AND CONSERVATION, an executive branch agency of the State of Montana, Respondents, v. MONTANA WELL DRILLERS ASSOCIATION, Intervenors and Appellants, v. MONTANA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS and MONTANA BUILDING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION, Intervenors and Appellants, v. MOUNTAIN WATER COMPANY, Intervenor. Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, May 18, 2016, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana.
The First Judicial District Court invalidated a 1993 administrative rule defining “combined appropriation” for purposes of the Water Use Act permitting process. That rule limited “combined appropriations” to two or more groundwater developments that are “physically manifold” together. The court reasoned that the 1993 rule allowed large consumptive water users to evade permitting and to impact senior water rights holders by drilling multiple unconnected wells for a single large use. The court reinstated a 1987 rule on the subject and ordered the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to reinitiate rulemaking. The 1987 definition of “combined appropriation” is:
[A]n appropriation of water from the same source aquifer by two or more groundwater developments, the purpose of which, in the department’s judgement, could have been accomplished by a single appropriation. Groundwater developments need not be physically connected nor have a common distribution system to be considered a ‘combined appropriation.’ They can be separate developed springs or wells to separate parts of a project or development. Such wells and springs need not be developed simultaneously. They can be developed gradually or in increments. The amount of water appropriated from the entire project or development from these groundwater developments in the same source aquifer is the ‘combined appropriation.’
Appellants argue the 1993 rule is consistent with statutes and reasonably necessary to effectuate the statutes’ purpose. They also argue that, by reinstating the 1987 rule, the court violated the Montana Administrative Procedure Act and the public’s right to participate under the Montana Constitution. The Court has accepted amicus briefs from the Montana Association of Counties, Water Systems Council, Montana Trout Unlimited, the Montana League of Cities and Towns, and a coalition of environmental groups led by Bitterrooters for Planning
--DA 15-0690 JASON T. TALBOT, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. WMK-DAVIS, LLC, Defendant, and CUDD PRESSURE CONTROL, INC., Intervenor and Appellant. Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, May 25, 2016, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana.
Oklahoma resident Jason Talbot was injured when he was hit by a motor vehicle while working in Billings for his Oklahoma-based employer, Cudd Pressure Control, Inc. Talbot is receiving Oklahoma workers compensation benefits. In this personal injury action, Talbot has sued the employer of the driver of the motor vehicle that hit him. Cudd intervened to assert a lien against any recovery Talbot obtains.
The issue in this appeal is which state’s law applies regarding Cudd’s lien claim: the law of Montana, or the law of the state of Oklahoma. The Yellowstone County District Court ruled that Montana law applies and Cudd cannot subrogate until Talbot has fully recovered all of his damages, including costs and fees.
--DA 15-0605 JUNKERMIER, CLARK, CAMPANELLA, STEVENS, P.C., a Montana Professional Corporation, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. ALBORN, UITHOVEN, RIEKENBERG, P.C., a Montana Professional Corporation, TERRY ALBORN, PAUL UITHOVEN, CHRISTINA RIEKENBERG, JOE BATESON, and SHERM VELTKAMP, Defendants and Appellees. Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, June 8, 2016, at 9:30 a.m. in the Old Supreme Court Chambers, State Capitol Building, Helena, Montana.
Accounting firm JCCS sued the defendant accountants after they left the Bozeman JCCS office to form their own accounting firm. JCCS claims the accountants breached both their fiduciary duties and a covenant not to compete in their employment agreements with JCCS. The District Court determined, as a matter of law, that the covenant not to compete was an unenforceable agreement to agree and an unconscionable contract of adhesion. Following a bench trial, the District Court further concluded that defendants Uithoven, Riekenberg, Bateson, and Veltkamp did not breach any fiduciary duties and that, although defendant Alborn breached a fiduciary duty, JCCS had failed to prove the breach caused it any damages. The District Court awarded attorney fees to the defendant accountants in the amount of $108,355.55. JCCS appeals.
A group of accounting firms has filed an amicus brief in which it points out that covenants not to compete regularly are used in the accounting profession.
-- OP 16-0335 GREAT FALLS CLINIC LLP, Petitioner, v. MONTANA EIGHTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT, Cascade County, The Honorable John A. Kutzman, Presiding Judge, Respondents. Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, August 31, 2016, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana.
October of 2014, Lisa Warrington accepted an offer of employment from the Great Falls Clinic. On the last business day before her start date, the Clinic notified her that it would not be employing her after all. At that time, Warrington already had resigned her previous job. In this lawsuit she alleges damages from the Clinic’s actions. The Eighth Judicial District Court has held that Warrington’s claims are not governed by the Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (WDEA) because she was never the Clinic’s employee, she never began a probationary period, and the parties had an enforceable executory contract.
This case meets the standards for this Court’s intervention in a pending district court action under our power of supervisory control. The case presents a threshold legal issue of first impression, the resolution of which will govern the entire theory upon which Warrington’s lawsuit may be allowed to proceed: does the WDEA apply to the undisputed facts of this case?
--DA 15-0533 CLAIMANT: United States of America, (Bureau of Land Management) OBJECTORS: Barthelmess Ranch Corporation; Double O Ranch, Inc.; Lela M. French; William R .French; Conni D. French; Craig R. French; M Cross Cattle Company. Oral Argument is set for Friday, September 23, 2016, at 11:15 a.m. at the Holiday Inn Great Falls, in Great Falls, Montana, with and introduction to the argument beginning at 10:45 a.m.
A group of Bureau of Land Management permittees challenge a Water Court determination that six stock water claims on the Beaver Creek tributary of Milk River Basin in south Phillips County are owned by BLM. The Water Court determined the existence of the permittees’ senior instream rights neither defeats BLM’s claims based on 5 reservoirs BLM has constructed nor provides legal grounds for declaring the BLM reservoir rights to be owned by the permittees. The permittees object to the determination that BLM is the owner of the claims, because the permittees or their predecessors in interest have been the actual user of the water. The permittees also object to the Water Court’s determination that BLM has validly reserved water rights in a pothole lake—they argue that genuine issues of material fact exist as to the size and recordation of the pothole lake.
--DA 16-0097 ELIZABETH WEST, as Guardian Ad Litem for PETER LEE, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. UNITED SERVICES AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION (USAA), an Unincorporated Reciprocal Inter-Insurance Exchange, and USAA CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants and Appellants. Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, September 28, 2016, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana.
West is the legal guardian of Peter Lee, who was injured in a one-car automobile accident. The driver was insured by USAA. TRICARE, a federal health benefits program for members of the armed forces and their families, has provided benefits for Lee.
In this action, West sued USAA for bad faith in resolving Lee’s claim for compensation from the insurer. The District Court granted West summary judgment on her claim that USAA acted in bad faith when it refused to settle Lee’s claim against the driver without including TRICARE on the settlement check. As stated by Appellant USAA, the central issue in this appeal is whether (a) an insurer carrier has a legal duty to honor a known TRICARE lien in settlement of a third party liability claim; and (b) if not, whether its belief that it did, and corresponding attempts to do so as part of its settlement offers, was unreasonable as a matter of law. West maintains that the court’s decision respected customary lien resolution practices.