Sewer District files suit against two newly elected board members
June 18, 2020
SEELEY LAKE – The Seeley Lake Sewer District filed a lawsuit Friday, June 12 against newly elected board directors Thomas Morris and Jason Gilpin seeking to stop the pair from taking any steps that may interrupt the ongoing sewer project.
Despite filing the lawsuit three days prior to their June 15 board meeting, there was no notification or discussion of it at the meeting.
The 77-page Verified Compliant with 16 pages of attachments was filed by District board attorney Jon Beal and verified by board President Pat Goodover. Goodover’s notarized signature was done on June 11.
The Pathfinder emailed the board’s secretary, Goodover and District Manager Jean Curtiss regarding the date of the board meeting where the lawsuit was discussed, vote taken to initiate the lawsuit and board members present. The Pathfinder received no response.
While there is rumor that the lawsuit will be withdrawn, as of 11:55 a.m. Thursday, June 18, the suit was still active based on the Registry of Actions available from the court.
The Pathfinder reached out to Goodover since his signature appears on the lawsuit. He replied that he was hesitant to comment on it until the board could have a special meeting to discuss withdrawing it.
Curtiss confirmed that the board was actively seeking a special meeting for Monday June 22 but the agenda has not yet been set. If the three of the five board members agree to the meeting, the agenda will be posted in the usual locations including the District’s website seeleysewer.org
The lawsuit outlines the parties and presents 211 “Facts on All Accounts.” These facts include topics related to: history of the District; health requirements for wastewater and nitrates; review of Board-adopted resolutions; funding available for the current project and review of past and present Board members and applicants for open positions.
Many of the issues raised come from two lawsuits impacting the District. The first being filed against the District by Seeley Lake resident Don Larson who was later joined by approximately 50 others, including Morris. The second lawsuit was filed by Larson and Morris against the Missoula County Elections Administrator but dealt with two of the District’s adopted resolutions. Both lawsuits have been recently dismissed and denied by judges.
The Sewer District’s lawsuit against Morris and Gilpin makes the argument that due to Morris being a plaintiff in the two previous actions against the District, he has a clear conflict of interest. The conflict is extended to Gilpin because he is Morris’s son-in-law.
In addition to Morris being a plaintiff in the lawsuits, both Morris and Gilpin have made several public statements that they intend to take actions that could interfere with the design, construction and installation of the proposed public sewer system. Their statements were made both before and after they won the election over two candidates that openly supported the sewer project.
According to the lawsuit, the conflict of interest exists because the board has a legal and fiduciary duty to move the project forward to address documented groundwater pollution.
Under Count 1 Declaratory Judgment, Morris and Gilpin by their words and actions are accused of declaring their intention to violate several laws and District resolutions by not pursuing and interfering with the design, construction and installation of the public sewer system. These laws include the Constitutional rights of the citizens of Seeley Lake to clean and healthful environment, Montana Environmental Policy Act, the public trust laid out in MCA 2-2-103(1) and the District’s own by-laws.
The lawsuit also claims that by running for the board and being elected Morris created a concurrent conflict of interest prohibiting and intentionally deprived the District of its representation by the District’s counsel. Due to Gilpin being Morris’s son-in-law, this includes him as well.
The lawsuit seeks to have the court declare 41 things including:
• Declare that Morris and Gilpin are prohibited in from violating the Constitutional rights of the citizens and the Montana Environmental Policy Act.
• Declare that they shall comply with the duly adopted District Resolutions. Any actions by them against adopted Resolutions or the project violate their fiduciary duties of loyalty, trust and competence.
• Declare that they are not authorize to take actions preventing or interfering with the current proposed system or even participate in the proceedings and decisions related to the proposed system.
• Declare any actions against the project or District Resolutions are ultra vires acts, which Morris and Gilpin are personally liable for. Ultra vires acts are those that are beyond their legal capacity to perform.
• Declare that Morris is prohibited from participating in any District business regarding the two lawsuits in which he was a plaintiff in including viewing of attorney-client privileged materials from those cases.
• Declare that Gilpin is prohibited from sharing privileged materials related to the lawsuits in with Morris was a plaintiff and privileged materials regarding the sewer project.
• Declare that the two are judicially and/or equitably precluded from taking positions contrary to the law and facts deemed well taken and conclusively established in the two prior lawsuits.
Along with the declarations, the District is also seeking the court to award them attorneys’ fees for this lawsuit and for other and further relief as the court deems just and proper.
The full text and supporting documents of the lawsuit is available on the Pathfinder’s website: http://www.seeleylake.com/home/customer_files/article_documents/sewer_district_vs_morris_gilpin.pdf