Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court certifying three classes of more than 30,000 ratepayers of the City of Billings who challenged certain franchise fees that the City imposed on water, wastewater, and solid waste disposal services, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it certified the classes. After the City ceased imposing the franchise fees in 2018 the Ratepayers sued the City alleging that the fees constituted unlawful sales taxes. Ratepayers brought claims for breach of contract and constitutional due process violations. The Ratepayers sought class action certification for those similarly situated persons who paid the water and wastewater fees since 2010 and the sold waste disposal fees since 2012. The district court granted the motion and certified three classes. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err when it certified the classes under Mont. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3). View "Houser v. City of Billings" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment for the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) and dismissing Plaintiff's claims for wrongful discharge from employment, violation of Montana constitutional and administrative rights to privacy, and tortious defamation, holding that the district court did not err. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) no genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether DOC discharged Plaintiff for good cause, and therefore, the district court properly granted summary judgment on Plaintiff's wrongful discharge claim; (2) no genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether DOC discharged Plaintiff in violation of its written personnel policy, and therefore, the district court properly granted summary judgment on Plaintiff's wrongful discharge claim; (3) the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim that DOC violated her right to privacy under Mont. Const. art. II, 10 and Admin. R. M. 2.21.6615; and (4) the district court did not err in concluding that derogatory statements made by DOC to the Montana Peace Officer Standards and Training Council were privileged under Mont. Code Ann. 27-1-804(2). View "Speer v. State, Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of partner family member assault (PFMA), holding that Defendant's claim that he received ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) was not susceptible to review on direct appeal and that Defendant failed to establish that the district court allowed testimonial material into the jury room during deliberations. On appeal, Defendant argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel failed to object to witnesses' and the State's references to his probation status and, further, referenced Defendant's probation status herself. Defendant also argued that the district court abused its discretion by sending testimonial materials into the jury room during deliberations. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) this Court will not address Defendant's IAC claim on direct appeal because the record was silent as to why defense counsel did not object to the probation references and testimony; and (2) the record did not establish that testimonial material was provided to the jury during its deliberations. View "State v. Ward" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court reversing an order entered by the municipal court granting Appellant's motion to suppress and dismiss, holding that the district court erred in determining that the police officer possessed particularized suspicion to stop Appellant's vehicle based solely on the discrepancy between the vehicle's color and the color listed on the registration. The officer in this case conducted a traffic stop to investigate the color discrepancy between the vehicle and that listed on the registration. Appellant was charged with criminal possession of dangerous drugs and criminal possession of drug paraphernalia. Appellant filed a motion to suppress and dismiss, arguing that the officer lacked particularized suspicion that Appellant was engaged in car theft or other criminal activity necessary to justify the vehicle stop. The municipal court granted the motion and dismissed the case with prejudice. The district court reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, standing alone, the color discrepancy between Appellant's vehicle and that listed on the vehicle's registration was too thin to constitute particularized suspicion. View "State v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to his two children, holding that Father's due process rights were infringed by ineffective assistance of counsel, and because of counsel's ineffective assistance, Father was prejudiced and his parental rights were terminated. In arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel as it related to placement of the children and his stipulation to a treatment plan, Father pointed out that he was the non-offending, non-custodial parent and that there were no allegations of abuse or neglect ever brought in this case against him. Father asserted that but forms counsel's failure to correct legal misunderstandings, failure to object to an unnecessary treatment plan, and failure to request a placement hearing, his parental rights would not have been terminated. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division did not prove the existence of good cause to deny immediate placement with Father; and (2) Father's fundamental rights were prejudiced by ineffective assistance of counsel. View "In re B.H." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of assault with a weapon and aggravated assault, holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Court held that the district court (1) did not violate Defendant's constitutional right to self-representation by refusing his request to represent himself at an omnibus hearing but otherwise allowing Defendant to represent himself for the duration of his case; and (2) correctly applied the law and did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant a new trial after the court considered the victim's post-trial recantations and the evidence of Defendant's guilt produced at trial. View "State v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of burglary, theft, and violating an order of protection, holding that Defendant waived his right to be present at all critical stages of his criminal proceedings and that the district court did not err in concluding that Defendant did not unequivocally assert his right to represent himself. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court denied his constitutional right to be present at a critical stage of his criminal proceedings when it held a hearing in his absence and without defense counsel and denied him the right to represent himself when he unequivocally waived his right to counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant voluntarily waived his right to be present at the hearing; and (2) substantial evidence existed to support the district court's determination that Defendant did not intend to represent himself, and therefore, the district court did not violate Defendant's constitutional right to do so. View "State v. Marquart" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying the motion for summary judgment filed by Montana Independent Living Project (MILP) and granting the Montana Department of Transportation's (MDOT) motion for summary judgment in this case concerning the disbursement of Transportation Assistance for the Elderly and Disabled (TransADE) funds, holding that the district court properly granted summary judgment to MDOT. The TransADE program provides operating assistance for bus transportation to state agencies serving elderly and disabled persons. MDOT was authorized to administer the TransADE program and award special revenue grants using guidelines established in the State Management Plan (Plan). MILP, a nonprofit organization that provides transportation services for the elderly and disabled, submitted a proposal to offer weekend transportation services for elderly and disabled citizens in the Helena area. MDOT, however, awarded the general 2018 TransADE grant to the City of Helena. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Mont. Code Ann. 7-14-112 constitutionally delegates legislative authority to MDOT by authorizing the funds consistent with the Plan; (2) the Plan's policies and procedures are not subject to rulemaking procedures; (3) in adopting the Plan, MDOT met its constitutional requirements; and (4) the Legislature's authorization of disbursement of TransADE funds does not violate Mont. Const. art. VII, 12. View "Independent Living v. State, Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court ordering restitution after convicting Defendant of embezzling money from her employer, holding that the district court did not violate Defendant's due process rights when it did not hold an evidentiary hearing before ordering her to pay restitution. The State charged Defendant with theft of property by embezzlement, alleging that Defendant stole more than $7,000 from her employer. The jury found Defendant guilty. The State sought restitution for the amount Defendant stole and for expenses her employer incurred investigating and assisting in the prosecution. The district court entered an order requiring Defendant to pay restitution. Defendant appealed, arguing that the court abused her due process rights by failing to hold an evidentiary hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant failed to preserve a due process challenge to the lack of an evidentiary hearing. View "State v. Johns" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Defendant's petition for postconviction relief, holding that Defendant did not meet his burden of establishing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant was found guilty of one count of sexual intercourse without consent and other sexual offenses. The Supreme Court affirmed. Defendant then filed a petition for postconviction relief, arguing that his counsel had rendered ineffective assistance. The district court determined that Appellant had received effective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not carry his burden of establishing that the district court's findings were clearly erroneous and that his counsel's performance was unreasonable or deficient. View "Cheetham v. State" on Justia Law