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Graham v. BNSF Railway Co.
United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division
January 24, 2013
David GRAHAM, Jean Graham, Michael Barragan, Pamela Barragan, Barbara Brown, Kathy Dugre, Edward Eyestone, Carla Eyestone, David Hayes, Deborah Hayes, Michael Michaelis, Melissa Michaelis, Mark Blasdel, Alice Blasdel, Robert Lincoln, and Beth Lincoln, Plaintiffs,
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company, Burlington Northern Railroad Company, and Does 1-30, inclusive, Defendants. Richard A. Ortiz; Alice Enterprises, LLC; Thomas E. Abel, and Sheryl Lynn Abel; Plaintiffs, BNSF Railway Company, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company, Burlington Northern Railroad Company, and Does 1-30, inclusive Defendants.
J. David Slovak, Mark Kovacich, Tom L. Lewis, Lewis Slovak Kovacich and Marr, Great Falls, MT, for Plaintiffs.
J. Daniel Hoven, William John Tietz, III, M. Christy S. McCann, Browning Kaleczyc Berry & Hoven, Helena, MT, for Defendants.
DONALD W. MOLLOY, District Judge.
The defendants (hereafter, " BNSF" ) move to dismiss the plaintiffs' wrongful occupation and unjust enrichment claims. The plaintiffs oppose dismissal of the former but not the latter. BNSF's motion is granted in part and denied in part.
The plaintiffs' wrongful occupation claim alleges tat BNSF violated Montana Code Annotated § 27-1-318, which provides:
The detriment caused by the wrongful occupation of real property in cases not otherwise provided for in this code is deemed to be the value of the use of the property for the time of such occupation, not exceeding 5 years next preceding the commencement of the action or proceeding to enforce the right to damages,
and the costs, if any, of recovering the possession.
BNSF argues that the phrase " in cases not otherwise provided for in this code" means that a plaintiff cannot bring a wrongful occupation claim if the plaintiff has a different, potential cause of action that addresses the same conduct. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, argue that the statute merely defines how damages are calculated when they are not otherwise specified by statute.
The Montana Supreme Court has not addressed the meaning of the phrase " in cases not otherwise provided for in this code." Consequently, it is necessary to attempt to ferret out how the Montana Supreme Court would interpret the phrase. See McKown v. Simon Prop. Group Inc., 689 F.3d 1086, 1091 (9th Cir.2012).
The Montana Supreme Court, like most all other courts, takes the following approach to interpreting statutes:
We interpret a statute first by looking to its plain language. We construe a statute by reading and interpreting the statute as a whole, without isolating specific terms from the context in which they are used by the Legislature. We will not interpret the statute further if the language is clear and unambiguous. We look to legislative intent if the language is not clear and unambiguous, and give effect to the legislative will. Statutory construction should not lead to absurd results if a reasonable interpretation can avoid it. We must harmonize statutes relating to the same subject, as much as possible, giving effect to each.
Mont. Sports Shooting Assn., Inc. v. State, 344 Mont. 1, 185 P.3d 1003, 1006 (2008) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
The plain language of Montana Code Annotated § 27-1-318 is clear. When a plaintiff makes a claim for wrongful occupation, the measure of damages is governed by § 27-1-318 and not some other statute. See Martin v. Randono, 191 Mont. 266, 623 P.2d 959, 962 (1981) (" Section 27-1-318, MCA, governs the measure of damages in instances of wrongful occupation and therefore, section 27-1-317, MCA, [" Breach of obligation other than ...