Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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Carbon County Resource Council and Northern Plains Resources Council (collectively, Resource Councils) challenged the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation’s (the Board) approval of well stimulation activities at an exploratory gas well in Carbon County. Specifically, Resource Councils claimed that the Board’s permitting process violated their constitutional right to meaningfully participate in government decisions. The district court concluded that Resource Councils’ constitutional challenge was not ripe for judgment and granted summary judgment in favor of the Board. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Resource Councils’ claims are ripe for judicial review; but (2) the Board did not violate Resource Councils’ right to participate in its consideration of the permit at issue in this case. View "Carbon County Res. Council v. Bd. of Oil & Gas Conservation" on Justia Law

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Appellants (collectively, the Teisingers) claimed a 3/5ths royalty interest in oil, gas, and minerals located on several sections of land in Richland County. The Teisingers’ assert that their 3/5ths royalty interest was reserved in a 1953 warranty deed. The district court denied the Teisingers’ claim and quieted title to the royalty interest in favor of Appellees (collectively, the Sundheims). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court (1) improperly admitted testimony from an English professor interpreting the language of the warranty deed’s royalty interest reservation; (2) erred by resolving the ambiguity in the warranty deed in favor of the Sundheims; and (3) erred in applying the doctrine of laches to bar the Teisingers’ claim to the 3/5ths royalty interest. Remanded for entry of judgment quieting title to the 3/5ths royalty interest reserved in the warranty deed in favor of the Teisingers. View "Wicklund v. Sundheim" on Justia Law

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The dispute in this case centered on the ownership of subsurface mineral rights to coal-rich land located in Musselshell County. Plaintiffs filed this action against Musselshell County to quiet title to the property. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the County and awarded costs but not attorney fees. Plaintiffs appealed, and the County cross-appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in concluding that the pertinent statute of limitations barred Plaintiffs’ quiet title action; and (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the County its attorney fees. View "Bergum v. Musselshell County" on Justia Law

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Morgen Farm and Ranch, Inc., which owned surface rights to certain property, leased oil and gas rights on a portion of its property to a corporation. The corporation later assigned its interest in the lease to Interstate Explorations, LLC, which drilled and completed a well on the Morgen property. Interstate later filed suit against Morgen requesting a declaration that Morgen had wrongfully denied an easement necessary for installing a power line to operate the well. Morgen counterclaimed that Interstate had damaged the surface of the property by spilling hydrocarbons. Interstate moved to dismiss Morgen’s counterclaims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, asserting that Morgen had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies before initiating legal action for damages. The district court denied Interstate’s motion to dismiss, concluding that a surface owner is not required to exhaust an administrative remedy under the Surface Damage Act before litigating a damage claim in the courts. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly denied Interstate’s motion to dismiss Morgen’s counterclaims. View "Interstate Explorations, LLC v. Morgen Farm & Ranch, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the Montana Board of Oil & Gas Conservation's (MBOGC) issuance of twenty-three gas well permits to Fidelity Exploration and Production Company in the area known as the Cedar Creek Anticline (CCA). The Montana Wildlife Federation and National Wildlife Federation (collectively, Federations) challenged the issuance of the permits. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellees, MBOGC, Fidelity, and Montana Petroleum Association, holding that the Federations failed to rebut the presumption of validity in the MBOGC's decision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in (1) conducting its review under Mont. Code Ann. 82-11-144 and in considering evidence outside the administrative record; (2) determining that the environmental assessments prepared by MBOGC for gas development in the CCA were adequate under the Montana Environmental Policy Act; and (3) ruling that MBOGC did not have to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement for oil and gas development in the CCA. View "Mont. Wildlife Fed'n v. Bd. of Oil & Gas Conservation" on Justia Law

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NorthWestern Energy proposed constructing an electric transmission line from Montana to Idaho and submitted its application for a certificate from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). While preparing a draft of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), Jefferson County informed DEQ that it expected DEQ to consult with the County in determining the route. Jefferson County subsequently filed a petition for writ of mandamus and injunction relief against DEQ, (1) seeking an order requiring DEQ to comply with the Montana Environmental Policy Act and other environmental legislation, and (2) requesting DEQ be enjoined from releasing a draft EIS. NorthWestern subsequently intervened. The district court ruled in favor of Jefferson County after determining that DEQ had not satisfied its duty to consult with Jefferson County under Mont. Code Ann. 75-1-201(1)(c) and enjoined DEP from releasing the Draft EIS until it had done so. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) at this stage in the process, DEQ had not violated a clear legal duty to consult with the County prior to issuing its draft EIS; and (2) because the County had adequate legal remedies once DEQ rendered a final agency action, the County was not entitled to mandamus or injunctive relief. View "Jefferson County v. Dep't of Envtl. Quality" on Justia Law

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Appellant, Summer Night Oil Company, and Appellees, individuals and oil companies, resolved a dispute over the operation of two oil wells through a settlement agreement. Appellant filed a motion to compel performance of the agreement after the parties failed to perform timely their obligations under the agreement. Specifically, Appellant asked the district court to compel Appellees to deliver all title clearance documents under the agreement. Appellees responded with a request to compel Appellant to pay a fine due to the EPA and a payment owed to Appellees under the agreement. Both parties sought attorney fees. The district court enforced what it determined to be the plain meaning of the agreement's terms, and (1) ordered Appellant to pay the fine owed to the EPA, (2) ordered Appellant to pay Appellee the amount owed it under the agreement, (3) ordered Appellees to deliver all title clearance documents to an escrow agent, and (4) declined to award attorney fees to either party. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court properly denied Appellant's motion to compel performance of the agreement according to Appellant's terms, and (2) the district court correctly denied Appellant's motion to alter or amend its judgment. View "Summer Night Oil Co. v. Munoz " on Justia Law

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Defendant Lang and Sons owned and operated a cattle ranch. Plaintiff Burlington Resources Oil and Gas Company leased the rights to oil and gas beneath Lang's surface estate. Burlington reinstated use of an abandoned well on Lang's property for the disposal of wastewater, which Lang objected to. Burlington filed a complaint with the district court to compel access to Lang's property, and Lang counterclaimed that it had a right to compensation for the use of the pore space beneath the abandoned well. The district court determined that Burlington had no obligation to compensate Lang separately for injecting wastewater into the pore space and that Lang had failed to prove entitlement to damages under the Surface Owner Damage and Disruption Compensation Act (SODDCA). On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court correctly concluded that Lang failed to establish that it was due separate compensation under SODDCA and the facts of this case, and (2) the district court correctly refused to defer to witnesses employed by the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation in interpreting the SODDCA. View "Burlington Res. Oil Gas & Co., L.P. v. Lang & Sons, Inc." on Justia Law

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The City of Great Falls, Benefis Health Care, and Electric City Power (ECP) filed a complaint with the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) challenging the lawfulness of NorthWestern Energy's (NWE) refusal to allow ECP to provide electricity supply to meters owned by the City and Benefis. The PSC issued a final order concluding that ECP could not provide electricity supply service to the disputed meters, basing its decision upon its interpretation that "customer," as contained in Mont. Code Ann. 69-8-201(2), meant an individual meter or point of delivery, rather than an entity or person. The City, Benefis, and ECP appealed the final order. The district court reversed, finding error in the PSC's statutory interpretation, and remanded the matter to the PSC to allow all of the City's and Benefis' meters to receive electricity supply service from ECP. NWE and the PSC appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding the district court correctly determined that under the statute, the term "customer" means an entity or person rather than an individual meter and, accordingly, correctly permitted the City and Benefis to receive electricity from ECP at the disputed meters.

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In 2010, MATL, a Calgary-based company currently building a power transmission line, filed a complaint for condemnation against Larry Salois, the guardian and conservator of Shirley Salois. Salois moved for summary judgment. The district court then issued an order concluding that MATL did not possess the power of eminent domain and had no authority to take the private property of a nonconsenting landowner. MATL appealed. The Supreme Court reversed. At issue was HB 198, which was made into law on May 9, 2011. The bill expressly gives a person issued a certificate under the Major Facility Siting Act the power of eminent domain. The legislature explicitly provided for HB 198 to apply retroactively to certificates issued after September 30, 2008. In October 2008, MATL received a Major Facility Siting Act certificate. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that (1) HB 198 applies retroactively to MATL's certificate issued pursuant to the Major Facility Citing Act, and (2) the explicit language of HB 198 is in conflict with the district court's order.