Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court invalidating the Secretary of State Corey Stapleton’s (Secretary) act of certifying the eligibility of the Montana Green Party to nominate candidates for election to public officers in Montana, holding that the district court did not erroneously invalidate eighty-seven signatures due to noncompliance with Mont. Code Ann. 13-10-601(2). Plaintiffs filed this complaint seeking declaratory judgment that the Secretary’s Green Party certification was invalid due to noncompliance with section 13-10-601(2). The district court invalidated the certification and enjoined the Secretary from giving any effect to the Green Party ballot eligibility petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiffs’ claim for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the legal sufficiency of the petition and the Secretary’s certification of the petition stated a cognizable claim for relief; (2) Plaintiffs’ claim did not involve a non-justiciable political question; (3) the Montana Democratic Party had legal standing to challenge the petition and the Secretary’s resulting certification thereof; and (4) the district court did not err in invalidating eighty-seven signatures due to noncompliance with the statute. View "Larson v. Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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In this original action, the Supreme Court denied Montanans Against Tax Hikes’s petition for declaratory and injunctive relief to determine whether the ballot statement of Initiative 185 (I-185) met the requirements of Mont. Code Ann. 13-27-312, holding that the Attorney General’s ballot statement satisfied the requirements of Montana law. I-185 raised taxes on all tobacco products and amended the definition to include e-cigarettes and vaping products. Petitioners argued that the ballot statement was deficient because it contained false information that was likely to confuse voters, disagreed with the language of the last sentence in the ballot statement, and contended that the ballot statement provided no useful context for the tax increase on moist snuff. The Supreme Court held (1) while the ballot statement may contain a mathematical misstatement, this Court need not alter a technical mistake; (2) the last sentence is not misleading; and (3) not every detail of an initiative can be explained given the word limit on ballot statements. View "Montanans Against Tax Hikes v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied the Montana Mining Association’s (MMA) request to overrule the Attorney General’s determination that Initiative 186 (I-186) is legally sufficient in this original proceeding. If enacted, I-186 would alter the mine permitting process by adding a requirement to mines’ reclamation plans. The Attorney General determined that the initiative was legally sufficient. MMA filed this original action asking the Supreme Court to determine that I-186 violates Mont. Code Ann. 13-27-105, which requires that an initiative issue delegating rulemaking authority be “effective no sooner than October 1 following approval.” The Supreme Court denied MMA’s request, holding that the issue of whether I-186 delegates rulemaking authority is outside the scope of the Attorney General’s legal-suffiency review, and therefore, the issue is also outside the scope of the Supreme Court’s pre-election initiative review. View "Montana Mining Ass’n v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s orders denying certain elected officers attorney fees, costs, and disbursements, holding that equities did not support such awards under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (UDJA). Lynn Nemeth, a Whitehall elector, sought a recall election to determine whether the mayor of Whitehall and some Town Council members (collectively, the Elected Officers) should be recalled from their respective positions. The district court granted the Elected Officers’ petition for injunctive relief and declaratory judgment, finding that Nemeth’s recall petitions and circulation sheets did not substantially conform to the statutory forms. The district court eventually decided that the Elected Officers were not entitled to attorneys fees or costs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the equities did not support awarding fees and costs under the UDJA because the proper way to stop a recall election based on an insufficient recall petition is to request an injunction pursuant to the Montana Recall Act; and (2) the Elected Officers were not entitled to attorney fees and costs under either Mont. Code Ann. 25-10-711(1)(b) or Mont. Code Ann. 25-10-101(8). View "Davis v. Ramey" on Justia Law

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Initiative No. 181 (I-181) proposed to enact the “Montana Biomedical Research Authority Act.” The Secretary of State determined that sufficient signatures had been submitted to qualify I-181 for the November 8, 2016 general election ballot. Petitioners filed a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief requesting that the Supreme Court exercise its original jurisdiction to declare I-181 unconstitutional on its face and to enjoin its certification for the November 2016 general election ballot. The Supreme Court denied Petitioners’ request without prejudice to the filing of an appropriate civil action should the measure become law, as I-181 was not a “law.” View "Montana AFL-CIO v. McCulloch" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Montana voters passed Legislative Referendum 121 (LR 121). The referendum denied certain state services to “illegal aliens.” Before the law went into effect, Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (MIJA) filed a complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief from LR 121, arguing that the referendum violated certain constitutional rights and was preempted by federal law. The district court denied Plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction as to the majority of LR 121 but enjoined the use of the definition of “illegal alien” so as to preclude the State from using an individual’s unlawful entry into the United States as a factor in determining that individual’s entitlement to state benefits. The district court subsequently concluded that LR 121 was preempted by federal law. The court then awarded MIJA attorney fees. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the district court (1) did not err in concluding that MIJA has associational standing to challenge LR 121; (2) did not err in concluding that LR 121 is preempted by federal law; and (3) erred in awarding “supplemental relief” to MIJA in the form of attorney fees. View "Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance v. Bullock" on Justia Law

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Petitioner served two terms as a Public Service Commissioner (PSC). While serving his first term at the PSC, Respondent, campaign manager for Petitioner's opponent in the upcoming election, filed four complaints against Petitioner with the Commissioner of Political Practices (Commissioner), alleging that Petitioner had violated the statutory Code of Ethics by accepting gifts of substantial value from two corporations with which the PSC regularly dealt and by using state resources to aid his reelection campaign and for personal business. Following a three-day hearing on Respondent's complaints, a hearing examiner determined that Petitioner violated Mont. Code Ann. 2-2-104 two times by receiving "gifts of substantial value" and violated Mont. Code Ann. 2-2-121 five times by using state facilities and equipment for election purposes. The Commissioner affirmed, ordering Petitioner to pay $5,750 in fines and $14,945 for the costs of the hearing. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by concluding (1) Respondent had legal standing to file ethics complaints against Petitioner; (2) Petitioner received unlawful gifts; (3) Petitioner improperly used State facilities for political purposes; and (4) the penalty statute for ethics violations was not unconstitutionally vague. View "Molnar v. Fox" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought a declaratory ruling that Mont. Code Ann. 13-35-227(1) violated their constitutional rights to free speech by prohibiting political expenditures by corporations on behalf of or opposing candidates for public office. Plaintiffs argued that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC barred Montana from prohibiting independent and indirect corporate expenditures on political speech, and that Montana's century-old ban on independent corporate expenditures therefore was invalid. The district court granted ATP's motion for summary judgment on the merits of its constitutional claim, declared section 13-35-227(1) unconstitutional, and denied ATP's request for attorneys' fees. The Supreme Court reversed, concluding (1) the statute was constitutional; and (2) Plaintiffs' cross-appeal on the attorneys' fee issue, therefore, was moot. The Court's decision thereafter was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Montana Supreme Court then returned to ATP's cross-appeal on the issue of attorneys' fees and affirmed the district court's order declining to award attorneys' fees to Plaintiffs, holding that equitable considerations did not require the district court to award fees against the State under either the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act or the private attorney general doctrine. View "W. Tradition P'ship, Inc. v. Attorney Gen." on Justia Law

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LR-123 was enacted by the Montana Legislature in 2011. It proposed a vote in the November 2012 general election on whether to provide a tax credit and potential tax refund, or outright State payment, to individuals in years in which there is a certain level of projected surplus revenue. Plaintiffs filed a complaint contending LR-123 was unconstitutional because it unlawfully delegated legislative powers. The constitutional issue in this case turned upon whether LR-123 impermissibly delegated legislative power to an employee (the legislative fiscal analyst) of one of the Legislature's committees. The district court found that LR-123 unconstitutionally delegated legislative power to the legislative fiscal analyst. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that LR-123 was unconstitutional on its face and therefore may not appear on the ballot in November 2012. View "MEA-MFT v. McCulloch" on Justia Law

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Petitioners brought an original proceeding to the Supreme Court to challenge the validity of Initiative 166. They requested the Court rule that the Attorney General and Secretary of State did not comply with their responsibilities under law when they failed to bar I-166 from appearing on the general election ballot. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the Attorney General and Secretary of State acted in compliance with their duties under law, and that the initiative met all statutory requirements. Accordingly, the Court denied the petition. View "Montanans Opposed to I-166 v. Bullock" on Justia Law