APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Gallatin, Cause No. DV 10-105B Honorable Mike Salvagni, Presiding Judge
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Beth Baker
Submitted on Briefs: June 6, 2012
Justice Beth Baker delivered the Opinion of the Court.
¶1 Faith Malpeli brought an inverse condemnation action against the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT), seeking compensation for the alleged taking of her property as a result of the reconstruction of Montana Highway 191 near Big Sky, Montana during a highway safety improvement project. A jury found that MDT had not taken a property right belonging to Malpeli, and therefore did not reach the question of compensation. Malpeli appeals, arguing that the District Court erred by (a) denying Malpeli's motions for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial; (b) excluding Malpeli's appraiser from testifying; and (c) allowing MDT to disclose to the jury an offer of compromise it had made to Malpeli before this action was filed. MDT cross-appeals, arguing that the District Court erred by denying its motion for partial summary judgment before trial. After careful consideration, we determine that the motion for summary judgment should have been granted, and therefore affirm the judgment in favor of MDT.
¶2 The issue that we address on appeal is the following:
¶3 Did the District Court err in denying MDT's motion for summary judgment regarding Malpeli's claim that MDT took from her the right of reasonable access to her property?
¶4 Because we conclude that the District Court erred in denying summary judgment on this issue, we do not address Malpeli's claims of trial error.
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
¶5 Malpeli owns residential property adjacent to Montana Highway 191. MDT is the state agency responsible for operating and maintaining public highway facilities, including rights-of-way, embankments, drainage structures, bridges, guardrails, and other protective structures, to ensure the safe, efficient use of the highways. See §§ 2-15-2501 to -2511, MCA; §§ 60-1-101 to -103, MCA; §§ 60-2-201 to -243, MCA.
¶6 In the summer and fall of 2008 and 2009, MDT reconstructed the portion of Highway 191 adjacent to Malpeli's residence as part of a highway safety improvement project. The MDT reconstruction of Highway 191 involved widening the highway to include a left-turn lane and adding eight-foot-wide paved shoulders. All of these improvements were completed within the existing highway right-of-way. None of Malpeli's property was required in order to widen the highway and add the paved shoulder.
¶7 Malpeli's property includes a driveway from Highway 191 to her garage. Part of Malpeli's garage is located just one foot from the highway right-of-way. After the project was completed, the highway fog line and the edge of the pavement were as much as eight feet (the fog line) to nearly eighteen feet (the edge of the pavement) closer to part of Malpeli's garage than they had been before the project. In addition, Malpeli's approach from the highway to her ...