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Palmer v. Quinn

Supreme Court of Montana

December 31, 2013

M. STACEY PALMER, M. STACEY PALMER TRUST, Plaintiff and Appellant,

Submitted on Briefs: November 20, 2013

APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Gallatin, Cause No. DV-09-1211B Honorable Wm. Nels Swandal, Presiding Judge.

For Appellant: M. Stacey Palmer, self-represented; San Pedro, California

For Appellees: Jason T. Cutts; Attorney at Law; Belgrade, Montana (for Gary Perren), Robert J. Quinn; Attorney at Law; Bozeman, Montana (for AFM Contracting, Shawn Johnston, and Steven Johnston), Alexander L. Roots, J. Robert Planalp; Landoe, Brown, Planalp & Reida, PC; Bozeman, Montana (for City of Three Forks, Mayor Gene Townsend, and Ray Noble), Neil G. Westesen, Brad J. Brown; Crowley Fleck PLLP; Bozeman, Montana (for C&H Engineering & Surveying, Inc., Mark Chandler, and Matt Cotterman)


Beth Baker Justice

¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(d), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

¶2 This case arises from a project to develop and subdivide a piece of real property owned by M. Stacey Palmer (Palmer) near Three Forks, Montana. Palmer and her business partner, Gary Perren (Perren), hired C&H Engineering & Surveying, Inc. to be the project engineer and AFM Contracting for construction of underground infrastructure work.

¶3 The project failed in June 2001 after Palmer could not obtain sufficient financing. Having completed considerable work, AFM filed a construction lien and a foreclosure action. We upheld the validity of the construction lien in a 2007 appeal. Johnston v. Palmer, 2007 MT 99, 337 Mont. 101, 158 P.3d 998.

¶4 The City of Three Forks owned a parcel in Palmer's subdivision that had been reserved for future use as a city street (Kentucky Street). Palmer submitted a petition for the City to vacate the parcel, and the City Council voted to approve the petition on June 12, 2001. The city took no further action concerning the Kentucky Street parcel until 2009, when Palmer informed the City that her property was sold at a Sheriff's sale in December 2008 and requested that the City record the 2001 decision to vacate the Kentucky Street parcel. The City filed a resolution with the Gallatin County Clerk and Recorder's Office on February 27, 2009, recognizing the approved 2001 petition.

¶5 On December 18, 2009, Palmer filed a complaint in the District Court alleging negligence and contract claims against C&H Engineering and Surveying, Inc., and its owners Mark Chandler and Matt Cotterman (C&H Defendants); the City of Three Forks, Mayor Gene Townsend, and city clerk Ray Noble (Three Forks Defendants); AFM Contracting, its owners Shawn Johnston and Steven Johnston, and their lawyer Robert Quinn (AFM Defendants); and Perren.

¶6 The District Court granted the C&H Defendants', Three Forks Defendants', and AFM Defendants' motions for summary judgment on April 8, 2011, December 19, 2011, and November 21, 2012, respectively. Each was granted for primarily the same reason— expiration of the time allowed by the statutes of limitation for commencement of an action.

¶7 The allegations against Perren proceeded to a bench trial on December 5, 2012. On December 26, 2012, the court issued findings of fact, conclusions of law, and a judgment in favor of Perren. The court dismissed the majority of Palmer's claims against Perren because they were time-barred under the relevant statutes of limitation. The court determined that the only possible allegation that was not time-barred was the claim for a breach of a written obligation based on a document signed by Perren. The court concluded, however, that the testimony established that the document was intended only to help Palmer secure financing and that, because there was no consideration given in exchange for Perren's signature on the document, it was not an enforceable contract.

¶8 Palmer appeals the judgments entered by the District Court. We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, using the same criteria applied by the district court under M. R. Civ. P. 56. Draggin' Y Cattle Co. v. Addink, 2013 MT 319, ¶ 16, 372 Mont. 334, 312 P.3d 451. Summary judgment is appropriate when "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). We review a district court's findings of fact to determine if they are clearly erroneous and its conclusions of law to determine whether they are correct. Byrum v. Andren, 2007 MT 107, ¶ 14, 337 Mont. 167, 159 P.3d 1062.

ΒΆ9 A statute of limitations begins to run "when the claim or cause of action accrues." Section 27-2-102(2), MCA. A claim accrues "when all elements of the claim or cause exist or have occurred, the right to maintain an action on the claim or cause is complete, and a court or other agency is authorized to ...

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