Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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In this home construction contract dispute, the Supreme Court (1) affirmed the district court’s decision awarding contractual damages to Contractor and dismissing Homeowners’ counterclaims for damages and attorney’s fees; but (2) reversed the district court’s denial of Contractor’s right to foreclose its construction lien placed on Homeowners’ property and the court’s decision to deny Contractor attorney’s fees pursuant to the lien foreclosure statute. The Court held that the district court erred as a matter of law when it reasoned that Contractor was not entitled to a favorable judgment for the foreclosure of the construction lien on the basis of Homeowners’ dissatisfaction with the work performed. Remanded. View "Vintage Construction, Inc. v. Feighner" on Justia Law

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Michael Mandell and Bayliss Ward and Bayliss Architects, P.C. (Bayliss) agreed that Bayliss would provide architectural and construction services for Mandell’s home. Mandell refused to pay Bayliss’s final invoice, and Bayliss filed a construction lien on the property. Mandell initiated this action stating counts of breach of contract, declaratory judgment that the lien was invalid, and quiet title to the property. Bayliss counterclaimed for foreclosure of the construction lien, quantum meruit, and breach of contract. The district court partially granted Mandell’s claim for declaratory relief, ruling that because Bayliss failed to obtain a written contract for construction services, the contract was void and the lien for those services was invalid. After a trial, the district court granted relief in quantum meruit and awarded attorney fees to Bayliss. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, holding that the district court (1) did not err in granting equitable relief in quantum meruit, despite violation of the statutory requirement that residential construction contracts be in writing; and (2) erred in awarding attorney fees for the quantum meruit claim. Remanded. View "Mandell v. Bayliss Ward" on Justia Law

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Jerry and Karen Slack hired Jeffrey Fisher and his construction company, Fisher Builders, to build a remodeled home. During the project, the deck collapsed, and the Slacks’ construction permit was revoked. The Slacks filed a negligence action against Fisher and his company. Fisher had a commercial general liability insurance policy with Employers Mutual Casualty Company (EMC). EMC filed a declaratory action alleging that there was no coverage and that it had no duty to defend or indemnify any party in the negligence action. Fisher and Fisher Builders ultimately settled with the Slacks and assigned their rights under the EMC insurance policy to the Slacks. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of EMC, ruling that Fisher’s conduct was clearly intentional and did not fit within the meaning of “occurrence” under the policy, regardless of whether Fisher intended the consequences. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court (1) erred by concluding that, in the context of general liability insurance, the term “occurrence,” defined by the policy as “an accident,” categorically precludes coverage for any intentional conduct on the part of the insured with unintended results; and (2) erred when it granted summary judgment in favor of EMC, as issues of material fact precluded summary judgment. Remanded. View "Employers Mut. Cas. Co. v. Slack" on Justia Law

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Continental Partners bought a lot with two building pads from Yellowstone Development that was part of the Yellowstone Club subdivision. The purchase and sale agreement included an assurance that the houses Continental intended to build on the lot would have ski-in and gravity ski-out access built by the Yellowstone Club. During construction, Continental sold the homes to separate buyers, including the managing member of WLW Realty Partners, LLC. Before construction on the ski-out access on the two homes had begun, the Yellowstone Club filed for bankruptcy protection. The subsequent owners of Yellowstone Club informed the new owners that ski-out access to the homes would not be constructed. WLW Realty filed this action against Continental, alleging, inter alia, negligent misrepresentation and violation of the Montana Consumer Protection Act (MCPA). After a bench trial, the district court entered judgment for WLW Realty. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court erred by (1) imposing liability on Continental for negligent misrepresentation, as WLW Realty failed to satisfy the first and second elements of the tort; and (2) finding that Continental had violated the MCPA, as Continental did not engage in unfair or deceptive acts or practices. View "WLW Realty Partners, LLC v. Continental Partners VIII, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Leonards entered into contracts with Centennial for the sale of a log home kit and construction of a custom log home. The Leonards later released Centennial from any claims for damages for defective construction or warranty arising out of the home's construction. Greg and Elvira Johnston held a thirty-six percent interest in the property at the time the release was signed. Eventually, all interest in the property was transferred to the Elvira Johnston Trust. A few years later, because of a number of construction defects affecting the structural integrity of the house, the Johnstons decided to demolish the house. The Johnstons sued Centennnial for negligent construction, breach of statutory and implied warranties, and other causes of action. The district court granted summary judgment for Centennial, finding that the Johnstons' claims were time-barred and were waived by the Leonards' release. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the court's ruling that the Johnstons' claims were time-barred and directed that the decision on remand apply only to the interest owned by the Johnstons at the time the release was executed; and (2) affirmed the district court's conclusion that the release was binding on the Leonards' sixty-four percent interest, later transferred to the Trust. View "Johnston v. Centennial Log Homes & Furnishings, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case arose out of several business transactions entered into by parties involved in the development of condominiums on Hauser Lake. Cherrad, Merritt & Marie, and Max & V (the Hale interests) were limited liability companies owned by Conrad and Cheryl Hale. Craig Kinnaman was sole proprietor of a business called CK Design. Merritt & Marie purchased the Hauser Lake property. Subsequently, the Hales and Kinnaman agreed to develop a portion of the property. Cherrad was the developer, and Mountain West Bank (MWB) made three loans to Cherrad to develop the project. CK Design suffered delays in the project and later left the project. In 2007, Kinnaman committed suicide, and the Estate recorded a $3.3 million construction lien on the condominiums. MWB brought this action 2008 against the Hale interests and the Estate seeking foreclosure on the three secured loans. The Hale interests and the Estate cross-claimed against each other. The district court (1) declared the Estate's construction lien invalid; and (2) determined Cherrad owed the Estate $76,278 for work that CK Design performed on the project. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Mountain West Bank, N.A. v. Cherrad, LLC" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a construction contract dispute between Total Industrial Plant Services, Inc. (TIPS) and Turner Industries Group, LLC (Turner). Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland (Fidelity) was the surety for Turner's substitution bond filed in lieu of TIPS's construction lien. TIPS filed a complaint against Turner and Fidelity, alleging various causes of action. The trial court granted TIPS's motion for partial summary judgment and ordered Turner to return the retainage it had withheld. After a trial, the district court found in favor of Defendants and dismissed TIPS's remaining claims. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the district court did not err by (1) denying TIPS's claim for additional compensation under a theory of either quantum meruit or breach of contract; (2) failing to find that TIPS was the prevailing party and awarding costs and fees to Turner; (3) finding TIPS's construction lien was barred by the ninety-day statute of limitations; (4) granting partial summary judgment to TIPS and ordering Turner to return the retainage; and (5) dismissing Turner's bill of costs for being untimely. The Court, however, found the district court erred by denying TIPS prejudgment interest on the retainage. Remanded. View "Total Indust. Plant Servs. v. Turner Indust. Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, in anticipation of Revett Silver Company and RC Resources, Inc. (collectively, "Revett") seeking approval for mine-related construction under a general permit, filed this action against the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) seeking a declaratory judgment that use of general permits to approve stormwater runoff from the Rock Creek Mine would violate Mont. Admin. R. 17.30.1341(4)(e) because Rock Creek is an area of "unique ecological significance" based on considerations of impacts on fishery resource and local conditions at proposed discharge. The district court granted summary judgment to Plaintiffs and declared the general permit void. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that DEQ's approval of the use of the general permit to allow storm water discharges was arbitrary and capricious because DEQ failed to consider the relevant factors set forth in the law prior to its decision, and as a result, committed a clear error of judgment. View "Clark Fork Coalition v. Dep't of Envtl. Quality" on Justia Law

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Lake Cabin Development entered into two separate written agreements with the Robert Hurly and John Hurly families to purchase their respective properties. Pursuant to an agreement, Lake Cabin provided Robert Hurly with a $250,000 option payment. After public opposition to Lake Cabin's proposed development on the land forced Lake Cabin to extend the deadline on the closing date of its agreement with the Hurlys, Lake Cabin declared the contract to be null and void and demanded return of its option payment. Both Hurly families brought separate breach of contract actions. The district court concluded that Robert Hurly was required to refund the $250,000 option payment to Lake Cabin because there was never an enforceable contract between the parties. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the district court erred in determining that the parties had not entered into a binding agreement, and (2) Lake Cabin was not entitled to a refund of the option payment. Remanded. View "Hurly v. Lake Cabin Dev., LLC" on Justia Law

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A dispute arose between Cascade Development, Inc. and the City of Bozeman. On December 7, 2007, Cascade filed a complaint alleging various claims against Bozeman. A summons and complaint were issued by the clerk's office on the same day, but service was not attempted by Cascade for nearly three years. On December 2, 2010, a professional process server took the summons and complaint to the city attorney's office, and a deputy city attorney took the papers. Bozeman filed a motion to quash service and dismiss the complaint, which the district court granted. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court was correct in determining that Cascade had not validly served its summons and complaint on Bozeman pursuant to Mont. R. Civ. P. 4(t), as the deputy city attorney had neither implied authority nor apparent authority to accept service of process on behalf of Bozeman; and (2) the district court was correct in concluding that Bozeman was not estopped from asserting defective service of process. View "Cascade Dev., Inc. v. City of Bozeman" on Justia Law