Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

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By Nathan Bourne
Pathfinder 

Judge tosses parts of lawsuit and releases Missoula County

Seeley Lake Sewer

 

November 14, 2019



MISSOULA – District Court Judge Leslie Halligan ruled on a pair of motions from Missoula County and the Seeley Lake Sewer District seeking to dismiss the lawsuit originally filed by Don Larson. The Court Orders granted the County’s request to be dismissed and granted parts of the District’s motion but denied dismissing the entire case against the District.

Larson filed the original complaint in June of 2018 and was joined by more than 50 landowners and residents as Plaintiffs in an amended complaint filed on Aug. 31, 2018.

The lawsuit makes several allegations against the District and County including mishandling the protest process, failing to provide reliable financial information about the project including estimates for future phases, disenfranchising renters, failing to answer questions from the public, violating campaign ethics and the sewer board making decisions when the board was confused and lacked understanding.

Based on these allegations, Larson asked for the Court to order the District to stop construction of the sewer, not to incur debt nor collect assessments and that the County stop providing the District resources including in-kind services. It also requests that the notice and protest the District conducted in the fall of 2017 be nullified and declared void.

The Court denied a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the District from working on the sewer pending the outcome of the case Oct. 1, 2018.

In October of 2018 the District and County filed motions to dismiss the case.

In Halligan’s Order dated Nov. 4, 2019 releasing the County from the lawsuit, the Court disagrees with Larson’s allegation that the County gained jurisdiction over the District through an interlocal agreement.

The Order states that despite the County providing assistance to the District they are separate entities. The District, not the County, made all the decisions around which most of the allegations are focused.

Regarding the District’s motion, the Court dismissed two parts of the lawsuit explaining that the amended complaint “fails to allege facts sufficient to compel relief.” The parts dismissed include the allegations that the District violated campaign practices and allegations that the District violated rights protected by the United States Constitution.

In dismissing the allegations of the violating campaign practices, the Order states that neither the amended complaint or a brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss answer the basic question of what campaign laws the District violated.

Similarly, the amended complaint failed to show the Court the connection between rights protected by the US Constitution and allegations of the District failing to answer questions in public meetings, making decisions outside of public meetings and failing to allow public participation.

One of the arguments made by the District in its Motion was that because the tax assessments had not yet been levied there were not actual damages yet. The District argued that once the taxes are levied there is a legal process to pay the taxes under protest. The Court disagreed, stating that the statute allowing for paying taxes under protest doesn’t necessarily prohibit pre-levy challenges.

Larson’s claim for declaratory judgment/relief survived the motion to dismiss. The Court considered the remaining parts/allegations of the lawsuit to be supporting this claim.

Order states that it is the Plaintiff who has the burden of proof. What the Court needs from the plaintiffs to move forward with a declaratory judgment is “a clear timeline of events with citations to the laws that Plaintiffs allege were violated by the District. Vague allusions to due process rights and rights to participate are not helpful.”

In addition the Order states the Plaintiffs need to provide the legal authorities as to what the proper remedies would be if the Court were persuaded that violations occurred. The Order concludes, “The Court is not inclined to issue orders that reverse, halt, or hinder major public projects in the absence of legal authorities that persuade the Court that such drastic remedies are proper under the circumstances.”

 

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