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Bull Lake Fire District v. Lincoln County

Supreme Court of Montana

November 12, 2013

BULL LAKE FIRE DISTRICT, a Political Subdivision, Petitioner and Appellant,
v.
LINCOLN COUNTY, a Political Subdivision, ROBY BOWE, in his capacity as Lincoln County Sheriff and Director of the Libby PSAP, TROY AREA DISPATCH BOARD, LIBBY VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT, a Municipal Fire Department of the City of Libby, LIBBY VOLUNTEER AMBULANCE SERVICE, INC., a Montana Public Benefit Corporation, and TROY VOLUNTEER AMBULANCE, a Montana Public Benefit Corporation, Respondents and Appellees.

Submitted on Briefs: October 16, 2013

APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Nineteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Lincoln, Cause No. DV-11-292 Honorable C.B. McNeil, Presiding Judge.

For Appellant: Kim T. Christopherson, Christopherson Law Office, P.C., Kalispell, Montana

For Appellees: Sean Goicoechea; Jinnifer J. Mariman, Moore, Cockrell, Goicoechea & Axelberg, P.C., Kalispell, Montana

For Amicus Curiae Angel Island Community Association: Douglas C. Allen, Attorney at Law, Cut Bank, Montana

For Amicus Curiae Montana State Fire Chiefs Association, Montana Volunteer Fire Fighters Association, Gallatin County Fire Council, and Missoula Rural Fire District: Catherine Dinwiddie, Attorney at Law, Bozeman, Montana Courtney Jo Lawellin, Attorney at Law, Livingston, Montana

OPINION

Mike McGrath, Chief Justice.

¶1 The Bull Lake Fire District appeals from the District Court's "Order Granting Respondents' Motion for Summary Judgment Re: BLFD, " filed March 5, 2013. We reverse.[1]

¶2 The controlling issue on appeal is whether the District Court properly granted summary judgment to Lincoln County and the other respondents, collectively referred to as the County Respondents.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

¶3 In 1989 the Lincoln County Commissioners created the Bull Lake Rural Fire District as provided for in §§ 7-33-2001 and 7-33-2101 through -2144, MCA. Those statutes provide that upon petition of property owners and after notice and hearing, a county commission may create a fire district. Sections 7-33-2101 through -2103, MCA. The county commission may contract directly with another public entity to provide fire protection, or it may choose to appoint trustees to govern and manage the district. Section 7-33-2104, MCA. When the Lincoln County Commission established the Bull Lake Fire District it chose to appoint a board of trustees to govern and manage it. The District encompasses identified parcels of private property located along an eleven-mile stretch of State Highway 56 in Lincoln County.

¶4 In 2011 the District's Trustees amended the Bull Lake Fire District By-Laws to reflect the scope of services that a district can offer under Montana law. Section 7-33-2105, MCA, provides that a district's trustees "have the authority to provide adequate and standard firefighting and emergency response apparatus, equipment, personnel, housing, and facilities, including real property and emergency medical services and equipment for the protection of the district." Section 7-33-2105(1)(b), MCA. Bull Lake's revised By-Laws provide that it intends to respond to "all non-medical emergencies within the district" including "fire prevention and suppression, motor vehicle accidents, extrication, hazardous material incidents, [and] water rescue/marine fire incidents."

¶5 A dispute arose between the District and the County Respondents over whether the District could offer any services other than "adequate and standard" firefighting. The County contends that the scope of the District's services was established when the District was created in 1989. The County contends that despite changes in Montana law regarding the scope of services that a district may provide, Bull Lake cannot extend its services beyond structure, wildland and vehicle firefighting without the County's prior approval.

ΒΆ6 The District and the County Respondents also have a dispute concerning dispatching the District to respond to emergencies. The Lincoln County Commission oversees emergency services dispatching in the County. It contracts with the Troy Area Dispatch Board to dispatch emergency services in the Troy area, which includes the Bull Lake Fire District. Troy Dispatch dispatches the District to respond to structure and wildland fires that arise in the District's territory, but does not dispatch the District to other emergencies. The District contends that it has the right to be dispatched to all emergencies in its ...


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