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Spoja v. White

Supreme Court of Montana

January 14, 2014

ROBERT SPOJA, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
DUSTE WHITE, BRIAN CHARLES TIPP, and TIPP & & BULEY, P.C., Defendants and Appellees.

Submitted on Briefs: December 3, 2013

District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DV-2010-1136 Honorable Kathy Seeley, Presiding Judge

For Appellant: Robert Spoja, self-represented; Billings, Montana

For Appellee: Torrance L. Coburn, Tipp & Buley, P.C.; Missoula, Montana

OPINION

Michael E Wheat, Justice

¶1 Did the District Court err when it granted judgment as a matter of law, finding Spoja had presented no evidence of malicious prosecution?

¶2 Did the District Court err when it granted summary judgment on Spoja's abuse of process claim?

¶3 Did the District Court err when it granted summary judgment on Spoja's attorney deceit claim?

¶4 Did the District Court err when it required Spoja to pay the costs incurred and paid by Defendant Tipp, including costs associated with Tipp's expert witness?

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

¶5 The present civil suit stems from two prior legal proceedings; a sentencing hearing and another civil suit. In February, 2005, Public Defender Robert Spoja (Spoja) represented Duste White (White) regarding his probation revocation in Fergus County. At the sentencing hearing, Spoja recommended that White's sentence run concurrently with sentences from other jurisdictions. The court sentenced White to a term of five years commitment to the Department of Corrections (DOC) but made no reference as to whether the sentence was to be served concurrently with other sentences. T he court clerk's minute entry, however, notes that White's sentence was to be served concurrently with a sentence in Cascade County. Records at the prison calculated White's discharge date to be June 1, 2010. W hite petitioned the District Court to correct his sentence, citing the clerk's minute entry. On December 18, 2008, upon the motion of the deputy county attorney, a court entered an Amended Re-Sentencing Order. That order allowed White to serve his term concurrently with other sentences, which resulted in a discharge date of October 28, 2007 rather than June 1, 2010. White was subsequently released from Montana State Prison on December 24, 2008.

¶6 Based on this sentencing discrepancy, White believed that he was incarcerated for fourteen months longer than his actual sentence. Bryan Tipp of Tipp & Buley, P.C., represented White in a civil action against Spoja, Spoja's father, and the law firm of Spoja's father for breach of contract, malpractice and negligence related to the sentencing. Tipp brought the claim after meeting with White and reviewing the clerk of court's minutes from the sentencing hearing. Spoja retained counsel to defend against the suit. The parties disagreed about the applicable statute of limitations and whether White was unduly incarcerated. In March 2010, Tipp received transcripts of White's sentencing hearing. The transcripts showed that the sentencing court had not ordered concurrent sentences. Tipp moved to dismiss the case in June 2010, but never informed Spoja that he had dismissed the case.

¶7 All of this gave rise to the present lawsuit. Spoja filed a civil action for claims of attorney deceit, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process against Duste White, Tipp & Buley, and Tipp in his individual capacity. Spoja contended that Tipp had filed White's civil suit in clear violation of the statute of limitations and without any examination of the facts. Spoja further alleged that Tipp intentionally failed to inform him that the suit had been dismissed. Spoja deposed Tipp and Tipp's expert on attorney standard of care, Cynthia Ford (Ford).

ΒΆ8 The District Court entered summary judgment against Spoja's attorney deceit and abuse of process claims. After Spoja rested his case, the District Court granted Tipp's motion for judgment as a matter of law on the malicious prosecution claim. Finally, the District Court ordered Spoja to reimburse Tipp for filing fees, depositions of parties, and the ...


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