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Motta v. Granite County Commissioners

Supreme Court of Montana

July 2, 2013

RICHARD MOTTA, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
GRANITE COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, Defendants and Appellees.

Submitted on Briefs: March 20, 2013

District Court of the Third Judicial District, In and For the County of Granite, Cause No. DV 11-16 Honorable John W. Larson, Presiding Judge

For Appellant: Richard Motta, self represented; Philipsburg,

For Appellees: Susan Brooks Swimley; Attorney at Law; Bozeman,

OPINION

Beth Baker Justice

¶1 In this action, Richard Motta asked the Third Judicial District Court, Granite County, to declare void the Granite County Commissioners' 2011 creation of a Georgetown Lake zoning district. Instead, the District Court entered summary judgment that Granite County properly had enacted the Georgetown Lake zoning. The court also determined Motta to be a vexatious litigant and ordered him to pay the County Commissioners' attorneys' fees. Motta appeals. We affirm, except for the portion of the judgment that requires Motta to pay the County Commissioners' attorneys' fees incurred for seeking attorneys' fees.

¶2 The issues are:

¶3 1. Did the District Court correctly rule that Granite County properly enacted the 2011 Georgetown Lake zoning in compliance with §§ 76-2-201 through -228, MCA?

¶4 2. Did the District Court properly determine Motta to be a vexatious litigant?

¶5 3. Did the District Court err in its award of attorneys' fees to the County Commissioners?

BACKGROUND

¶6 The Granite County Commissioners enacted the Georgetown Lake Zoning District and Regulations by resolution in April of 2011. As documented in the "whereas" sections of the resolution, the process began in 2008, when "a contingency of citizens from Georgetown Lake" approached the County Commissioners with a request that the county pursue a zoning district in that area under Title 76, Chapter 2, MCA. The County Commission authorized the citizens to draft and present proposed zoning regulations to the Granite County Planning Board and County Commissioners for consideration. At a series of public meetings and a public hearing, the Planning Board reviewed and amended the draft revisions. In October 2010, the Planning Board approved the regulations, as amended, and presented them to the County Commissioners with a recommendation for approval. After conducting a public hearing in February 2011, the County Commissioners made revisions and amendments in accordance with § 76-2-205(3), MCA. They allowed a 30-day period for submission of written protests and then, in April 2011, entered a resolution creating the Georgetown Lake Zoning District and adopting the regulations as amended.

¶7 The following month, Motta filed this action. He asked the District Court to enter declaratory judgment voiding the County Commissioners' resolution to create the Georgetown Lake Zoning District and to adopt the Georgetown Lake Zoning Regulations. The County Commissioners' answer to Motta's complaint included a counterclaim asking the court to declare Motta a "vexatious litigant" because he had "sued the County and its agents multiple times and used the court system inappropriately which is an abuse of the judicial system" and "filed [the present case] based upon inapplicable law forcing [the County Commissioners] to file answers and motions to resolve this matter, " and because his "abuses to the judicial system are numerous, without merit and frivolous."

¶8 Following discovery, Motta and the County Commissioners filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The District Court held a hearing on the motions and later entered an order denying Motta's motion and granting the County Commissioners summary judgment on the merits of Motta's complaint.

ΒΆ9 Following a bench trial on the County Commissioners' counterclaim, the court issued findings, conclusions, and an order determining Motta to be a vexatious litigant. The court prohibited Motta from filing any more actions against government entities without permission from the court. The court further determined that Motta should pay for the costs and fees incurred in this action, and directed the County Commissioners to submit an affidavit of the County's costs and ...


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