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Montana Department of Natural v. Abbco Investments

August 28, 2012

MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES AND CONSERVATION, AND MONTANA BOARD OF LAND COMMISSIONERS, PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
ABBCO INVESTMENTS, LLC, ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND APPELLEES,
BOYD A. HARDY, SHIRLEY J. HARDY, HARD INVESTMENTS, L.P., NICKIE E. ROTH, COUNTER-CLAIMANTS AND APPELLEES,
v.
MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES AND CONSERVATION, AND MONTANA BOARD OF LAND COMMISSIONERS, COUNTER-DEFENDANTS AND APPELLANTS.



APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Seventh Judicial District, In and For the County of Richland, Cause No. DV 06-52 Honorable Katherine M. Bidegaray, Presiding Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Beth Baker

Submitted on Briefs: June 27, 2012

Decided: August 28, 2012

Filed:

Clerk

Justice Beth Baker delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Appellants Montana Department of Natural Resources and Montana Board of Land Commissioners (collectively, "the State") appeal several portions of the Seventh Judicial District Court's summary judgment order in the State's quiet title action. We reverse and remand.

¶2 We address the following issues on appeal:

¶3 1. Whether the District Court erred by declaring that islands arising vertically from the bed of the Missouri River after statehood are not held by the State in trust for the financial benefit of the public schools.

¶4 2. Whether the District Court erred by refusing to declare a surveyed boundary between the islands and adjacent private lands based on the State's evidence.

¶5 3. Whether the District Court erred in requiring the State to pay damages for taxes paid and improvements made on the land under the theory of unjust enrichment.

¶6 4. Whether the District Court erred by denying costs to the State.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

¶7 On July 12, 2006, the State filed an action in the Seventh Judicial District Court to quiet title to three islands in the Missouri River located in Sections 4, 5, and 8, Township 26 North, Range 59 East, MPM, Richland County, Montana. The State attached to its complaint a chronological series of surveys and aerial photographs demonstrating that the islands were formed from sedimentary accretions on the riverbed. The latest aerial photograph, taken in 2005, illustrated that the lands-described as Tracts 1, 2, and 3- were no longer surrounded by water but attached to shore land. The total property at issue was approximately 487 acres. The State averred that, because the islands emerged after statehood, its title to the land was superior to that of all the defendants named in the complaint.

¶8 In July 2007, the State filed a request to enter the land, pursuant to M. R. Civ. P. 34, for the purpose of surveying. Nearly a year later, the State filed an amended complaint identifying the precise geographical coordinates of the land it claimed should be declared State-owned land in the quiet title action.

¶9 Of the numerous defendants named in the complaint, most did not file an answer and many of the defendants who did respond ultimately settled with the State. Defendants Boyd Hardy, Shirley Hardy, Hardy Investments, L.P., and Nickie Roth, (collectively "Defendants") filed answers and counterclaimed that they owned portions of the land in fee simple and that the District Court should quiet title in their favor.

ΒΆ10 On September 11, 2009, the State filed a motion for summary judgment. It asserted that the lands at issue properly were characterized as vertical accretions to a navigable river and, as such, the property belonged to the State and was held in trust for common public schools. Defendants filed a response brief and cross-motion for summary judgment. Defendants did not dispute that the lands constituted accretions to the riverbed and ...


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