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Williams v. Board of County Commissioners of Missoula County

Supreme Court of Montana

August 28, 2013

L. REED WILLIAMS, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF MISSOULA COUNTY, the governing body of the County of Missoula, acting by and through Michele Landquist, Bill Carey and Jean Curtiss, Defendants and Appellees, LIBERTY COVE, INC., PAUL ROSSIGNOL, NORMA ROSSIGNOL, and PONDEROSA DEVELOPMENT, INC., Intervenors and Appellants.

Argued: April 17, 2013

Submitted: April 23, 2013

District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DV-10-673 Honorable Karen Townsend, Presiding Judge

For Intervenors and Appellants: Cory R. Gangle (argued); Gangle Law Firm, P.C.

For Appellee L. Reed Williams: Timothy M. Bechtold (argued); Bechtold Law Firm, PLLC

For Appellee Missoula County: Fred Van Valkenburg; Missoula County Attorney; D. James McCubbin (argued); Deputy County Attorney

For Amicus Land Use Clinic: Michelle Bryan Mudd, Benjamin S. Sudduth (argued); University of Montana School of Law

For Amicus State of Montana: Timothy C. Fox; Montana Attorney General; Lawrence Vandyke (argued); Montana Solicitor General

OPINION

Patricia O. Cotter Justice

¶1 Liberty Cove, Inc., Paul and Norma Rossignol, and Ponderosa Development, Inc. (collectively "Landowners") utilized the protest provision of § 76-2-205(6), MCA, to block the Board of County Commissioners of Missoula County (Commissioners) from establishing a special zoning district north of Lolo, Montana. L. Reed Williams (Williams) challenged the constitutionality of § 76-2-205(6), MCA, by filing a complaint against Commissioners in Montana's Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Landowners intervened in the action at the District Court and now appeal from the District Court's order denying their motion to dismiss and granting summary judgment to Williams and Commissioners. We affirm.

ISSUES

¶2 We restate the four issues raised by Landowners on appeal as follows:

¶3 1. Did the District Court abuse its discretion in denying Landowners' motion to dismiss Williams' complaint for failure to join them as necessary parties under the Montana Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act?

¶4 2. Did the District Court err in determining that § 76-2-205(6), MCA, was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power?

¶5 3. Did the District Court err in determining that § 76-2-205(6), MCA, was an unconstitutional violation of the right to equal protection and the right to suffrage?

¶6 4. Did the District Court err when it ruled that § 76-2-205(6), MCA, was severable from the remainder of the statute?

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

¶7 On September 8, 2009, Commissioners and the Lolo Community Council held a joint public meeting to solicit public testimony concerning the development of a zoning proposal for an area north of Lolo, Montana. Public testimony at this meeting indicated that support existed for the development of a zoning proposal. Following the joint public meeting, Commissioners directed their staff to work with residents and landowners to create a proposal to replace the North Lolo Interim Zoning Plan. Three draft alternative plans were presented at public meetings on January 30, February 3, and February 9, 2010. Based on comments received on the alternative plans and additional staff review, Commissioners issued the Planning Board Public Hearing Draft on February 25, 2010, for public comment.

¶8 The proposed North Lolo Rural Special Zoning District consisted of 422 acres of land north of Lolo and west of U.S. Highway 93. Agricultural and forest land comprised 223 acres in the district. Prior to 2008, this area had been unzoned. On May 30, 2008, Commissioners enacted interim zoning to address public health and safety issues associated with a gravel mining and asphalt production operation proposed by Liberty Cove, Inc., who is one of the parties referred to as Landowners in the instant case. We previously upheld these interim zoning regulations as lawful in Liberty Cove, Inc. v. Missoula County, 2009 MT 377, 353 Mont. 286, 220 P.3d 617.[1] Commissioners extended the one-year interim zoning in 2009, but the interim zoning was set to expire on May 30, 2010. The proposed North Lolo Special Zoning District would have replaced the interim zoning and continued to prohibit sand and gravel mining and concrete and asphalt operations within the district.

¶9 Legal notice concerning the North Lolo Growth Policy Amendment and North Lolo Rural Special Zoning District was published on multiple occasions in Missoula newspapers, posted in five locations, mailed to property owners in and near the proposed district, and emailed to interested members of the public in the Lolo area. The Missoula Consolidated Planning Board held public hearings on March 16 and 23, 2010, and recommended approval of the proposed zoning amendment and special zoning district to Commissioners on a 5 to 1 vote.

¶10 On April 7, 2010, Commissioners held a public hearing and passed "A Resolution of Intention to Adopt Amendments to the 2002 Lolo Regional Plan as an Amendment to the Missoula County Growth Policy 2005 Update." Commissioners published notice in accordance with § 76-2-205(5), MCA, on April 15, 2010. The publication included notice that the written protest period provided for in § 76-2-205(6), MCA, would expire in 30 days. Section 76-2-205(6), MCA, is a protest provision that allows landowners to prevent the board of county commissioners from adopting a zoning resolution when protests are received from one of the following two groups: (1) 40 percent of the real property owners within the district; or (2) real property owners representing 50 percent of property taxed for agricultural purposes or as forest land in the district. When a successful protest is received, it prevents the board of county commissioners from proposing any further zoning resolutions with respect to the subject property for one year. Section 76-2-205(6), MCA.

¶11 On April 20, 2010, five landowners[2] who together owned more than 50 percent of the agricultural and forest land within the district filed a written protest. All parties agree that these landowners owned the requisite acreage to effectively block the zoning proposal pursuant to § 76-2-205(6), MCA.

¶12 On May 14, 2010, Williams filed a complaint in District Court against Commissioners. Williams requested that the District Court declare that the protest provision of § 76-2-205(6), MCA, was unconstitutional because it violated equal protection, due process, and voting rights. Williams also asked for a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions preventing Commissioners from taking any action pursuant to the allegedly unconstitutional protest provision.

¶13 On May 20, 2010, Commissioners filed an answer. Commissioners agreed with Williams that § 76-2-205(6), MCA, was unconstitutional for the reasons set forth by Williams. However, Commissioners admitted that they would apply the protest provision to prevent adoption of the zoning regulations absent an order from the District Court directing otherwise.

¶14 Without objection from Commissioners, the District Court issued an order for a preliminary injunction on May 21, 2010. The order enjoined Commissioners from taking any actions based on § 76-2-205(6), MCA, but permitted Commissioners to proceed in accordance with the remaining provisions of § 76-2-205, MCA. On May 26, 2010, Commissioners adopted the North Lolo Rural Special Zoning District.

¶15 Landowners filed an unopposed motion to intervene on May 24, 2010. The District Court granted Landowners' motion to intervene on May 28, 2010. Next, Landowners filed a M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(7) motion to dismiss on June 3, 2010, arguing that Williams failed to join all of the proper parties pursuant to M. R. Civ. P. 19, which governs joinder of required parties, and Montana's Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (UDJA), § 27-8-301, MCA, which requires inclusion of all parties who have an interest which would be affected by the declaration.

¶16 On July 14, 2010, Williams filed a motion for summary judgment. Williams' motion for summary judgment sought a declaration from the District Court that the protest provision of § 76-2-205(6), MCA, was an unconstitutional violation of equal protection and voting rights. Williams requested permanent injunctive relief to prevent Commissioners from enforcing the protest provision. Commissioners agreed that § 76-2-205(6), MCA, was unconstitutional and they supported issuance of a permanent injunction. On September 21, 2010, Commissioners filed a separate motion for summary judgment, challenging the constitutionality § 76-2-205(6), MCA, as an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power.

¶17 On July 23, 2010, Landowners filed a motion to stay summary judgment proceedings pending the District Court's disposition of their motion to dismiss. Landowners filed an application to quash, vacate and dissolve the preliminary injunction on August 30, 2010. On October 15, 2010, Landowners filed a motion to quash Commissioners' motion for summary judgment, arguing that Commissioners' motion addressed matters outside the pleadings, and that Commissioners and Williams lacked standing to challenge the constitutionality of § 76-2-205(6), MCA, on the grounds that it represented an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. In response to Williams' and Commissioners' motions for summary judgment, Landowners maintained that the protest provision was constitutional.

¶18 On February 2, 2011, Williams filed a motion for leave to amend his complaint to add the claim that § 76-2-205(6), MCA, constituted an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. Williams alleged that this claim was merely a new theory of recovery that arose from the same set of facts contained in the original complaint. The District Court granted Williams' motion to amend his complaint on April 18, 2011.

¶19 On April 5, 2012, the District Court issued its order addressing all of the outstanding and fully briefed motions. The District Court denied Landowners' M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(7) motion to dismiss, denied Landowners' application to quash, vacate and dissolve the preliminary injunction, and denied Landowners' motion to quash Commissioners' motion for summary judgment. The District Court granted Williams' and Commissioners' motions for summary judgment and concluded that § 76-2-205(6), MCA, was unconstitutional on three grounds: (1) it violated the fundamental right to vote because not all landowners within the district were permitted to participate equally in the zoning process; (2) it violated equal protection rights because there was no compelling state interest in providing some landowners with a vote against zoning regulations while depriving other landowners of the opportunity to vote in favor of the zoning regulations; and (3) it constituted an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power because it failed to provide any standards or guidelines for the application of a protest and failed to provide a legislative bypass to allow for review of a protest. Furthermore, the District Court determined that the protest provision, § 76-2-205(6), MCA, was severable from the remainder of the statute.

¶20 On May 4, 2012, the District Court entered a final judgment in favor of Williams and Commissioners. Landowners appeal.

STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶21 When considering a motion to dismiss based on the assertion that an indispensible party is absent, the court is given discretion to determine whether the action will proceed or must be dismissed. Blaze Constr. v. Glacier Elec. Coop., 280 Mont. 7, 10, 928 P.2d 224, 225 (1996); Mohl v. Johnson, 275 Mont. 167, 169, 911 P.2d 217, 219 (1996). We review such discretionary rulings for an abuse of discretion. Blaze Constr., 280 Mont. at 10, 928 P.2d at 225; Mont. Rail Link v. Byard, 260 Mont. 331, 337, 860 P.2d 121, 125 (1993).

¶22 We review a district court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment de novo, applying the same criteria of M. R. Civ. P. 56 as the district court. Steichen v. Talcott Props., LLC, 2013 MT 2, ¶ 7, 368 Mont. 169, 292 P.3d 458; Brown & Brown of MT, Inc. v. Raty, 2012 MT 264, ¶ 17, 367 Mont. 67, 289 P.3d 156. Summary judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." M. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3).

¶23 This Court's review of constitutional questions is plenary. Walters v. Flathead Concrete Prods., 2011 MT 45, ¶ 9, 359 Mont. 346, 249 P.3d 913. The constitutionality of a statute is a question of law, and we review a district court's legal conclusions for correctness. Walters, ¶ 9. Legislative enactments are presumed to be constitutional, and the party challenging the provision bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that it is unconstitutional. DeVoe v. City of Missoula, 2012 MT 72, ¶ 12, 364 Mont. 375, 274 P.3d 752; State v. Ergdorf, 2003 MT 264, ¶ 12, 317 Mont. 436, 77 P.3d 517.

¶24 The severability of an unconstitutional provision from a statute is a matter of statutory interpretation. See Finke v. State ex rel. McGrath, 2003 MT 48, ¶¶ 25-26, 314 Mont. 314, 65 P.3d 576. We review a district court's interpretation of a statute for correctness. Blanton v. Dep't of Pub. HHS, 2011 MT 110, ¶ 21, 360 Mont. 396, 255 P.3d 1229; Stevens v. Novartis Pharms. Corp., 2010 MT 282, ¶ 24, 358 Mont. 474, 247 P.3d 244.

DISCUSSION

¶25 Did the District Court abuse its discretion in denying Landowners' motion to dismiss Williams' complaint for failure to join them as necessary parties under the Montana Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act?

¶26 When Williams filed his initial complaint on May 14, 2010, seeking declaratory relief pursuant to the UDJA, he did not include Landowners as parties to the action. Landowners claim that they were "necessary parties" to Williams' action because their interests as protesting property owners would be affected by the District Court's declaration as to the constitutionality of § 76-2-205(6), MCA. Landowners moved to intervene on May 24, 2010, and the District Court granted Landowners' motion on May 28, 2010. However, by the time Landowners were allowed to intervene, the District Court had already granted Williams' request for a preliminary injunction.

¶27 On June 3, 2010, Landowners filed a M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(7) motion to dismiss premised on Williams' failure to join all of the proper parties. Landowners asserted that both M. R. Civ. P. 19 and the UDJA required that Landowners must be included as parties to Williams' action. The District Court discussed the application of M. R. Civ. P. 19(a)(1), and determined that "[a]lthough Intervenors [Landowners] may have an interest in the instant action, their interest is not one that is within the provisions of Rule 19(a)(1)." The District Court reasoned that Williams' action was a constitutional challenge to the protest provision of a zoning statute and not a property rights dispute. After concluding that it was not mandatory under M. R. Civ. P. 19(a)(1) to join Landowners, the District Court denied Landowners' motion to dismiss. The District Court noted that "as property owners with an interest in the constitutionality of the zoning statute at issue, Intervenors [Landowners] were properly granted leave to intervene." ¶28 While the District Court's decision on Landowners' motion to dismiss addressed the matter in the context of M. R. Civ. P. 19, it is completely bereft of any analysis of necessary parties under the UDJA. On appeal, Landowners do not challenge the District Court's conclusions concerning M. R. Civ. P. 19. Instead, they assert that the District Court abused its discretion by failing to consider that Landowners were necessary parties under the UDJA.

¶29 Section 27-8-301, MCA, governs "necessary parties" to an action brought under the UDJA and provides as follows:

When declaratory relief is sought, all persons shall be made parties who have or claim any interest which would be affected by the declaration, and no declaration shall prejudice the rights of persons not parties to the proceeding.

A court's decision as to whether a non-party must be included in a matter depends on the facts and circumstances of the particular case in question. John Alexander Ethen Trust Agreement v. River Res. Outfitters, LLC, 2011 MT 143, ¶ 49, 361 Mont. 57, 256 P.3d 913.

¶30 John Alexander Ethen Trust Agreement involved a boundary dispute between neighboring property owners. One of the property owners attempted to invalidate the trial court's decision concerning the location of the property boundary for failure to join an indispensable party. John Alexander Ethen Trust Agreement, ¶ 22. The property owner argued that other neighboring landowners who owned parcels along the same creek and whose property was divided by the same survey were indispensible. JohnAlexander Ethen Trust Agreement, ¶ 52. This Court disagreed, reasoning that while the other neighboring landowners had an interest in the interpretation of the surveys, they held no legal interest in the disputed acreage at issue in the case. John Alexander EthenTrust Agreement, ΒΆ 52. Since the only boundary in dispute in the case was between the two parties to the action and the ...


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