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Schoof v. Nesbit

Supreme Court of Montana

January 9, 2014

BRIAN F. SCHOOF, Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
JACK NESBIT, GARY MATTHEWS, MILO HUBER (deceased), KEITH HOLMLUND, DOUG ELLINGSON, HAZEL PARKER, TONY HARBAUGH, and WYATT GLADE, Defendants and Appellees. [1]

Brian Schoof (Schoof) filed this case to challenge a 2007 decision by the Custer County Commissioners to receive cash payments in lieu of county contributions to their group health insurance. Schoof alleges that the Commissioners adopted the policy during a closed meeting and then failed to provide adequate notice to the public, violating his statutory and constitutional rights to know and participate in local government. Schoof claims that despite his diligent attendance at the Commissioners' meetings, he was not advised of this decision until four years after it was made.

At the time the Commissioners allegedly held their closed meeting, the applicable statutes of limitations required Schoof to bring his claims within 30 days of the decision. Because Schoof did not file suit for over four years, the District Court granted the County's motion to dismiss his claims as untimely filed.

Schoof argued on appeal that the Montana Supreme Court should excuse his non-compliance with the 30-day requirement for filing suit because, as alleged, the Commissioners had essentially concealed their decision from the public. Schoof asserted that he had no way of knowing about the decision and therefore could not have brought the suit within the required time.

The Court agreed with Schoof and reversed the District Court's ruling. The Court first determined that Schoof had standing to bring his right to know and right of participation claims, overruling previous precedent that required litigants to state a personal stake in the government decision at issue beyond mere lack of notice or opportunity to participate. Then, looking to federal equitable tolling rules for guidance, the Court also held that non-compliance with the 30-day filing period can be excused in exceptional circumstances where a defendant's actions have concealed a matter from the plaintiff, despite reasonable diligence on the part of the plaintiff. The Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of Schoof's case and remanded it for further proceedings wherein Schoof will have the opportunity to prove that the 30-day period should be tolled and that he is entitled to relief.

Two justices concurred separately in the Court's decision. They concluded that Schoof had not raised federal equitable tolling rules, in the trial court or on appeal, as a basis for tolling the 30-day statute of limitations. Instead, they concluded that Schoof had relied on a particular Montana statute, § 27-2-102(3), MCA, as a basis for excusing his non-compliance with the filing deadline. The Concurrence determined that tolling was proper under the statute Schoof had cited and, thus, that the District Court's dismissal of Schoof's case should be reversed.


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