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O'Connell v. State

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

March 10, 2014

DANIEL K. O'CONNELL and VALERY A. O'CONNELL, Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE OF MONTANA (MONTANA SUPREME COURT) and WITTICH LAW FIRM, Defendants.

ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

CAROLYN S. OSTBY, Magistrate Judge.

On February 27, 2014, Plaintiffs Daniel and Valery O'Connell filed this action against the Montana Supreme Court and the Wittich Law Firm ("Law Firm"), seeking to overturn a decision by the Montana Supreme Court. ECF 1, 2.

Their motion to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted but their Complaint should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

I. MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS

The O'Connells submitted a declaration sufficient to make the showing required by 28 U.S.C. §1915(a). Because it appears the O'Connells lack sufficient funds to prosecute this action, the Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis ( ECF 1 ) will be granted. II. ANALYSIS

A. State Court Actions

In 2010, the Law Firm sued the O'Connells in state district court, alleging that they failed to fully pay for the legal services performed. The suit alleged that the O'Connells owed $2, 232.56.

After the lawsuit was filed, the O'Connells paid $2, 138.57 but still owed $93.99. The state court entered a default judgment against the O'Connells in the amount of $902.79 - the $93.99 legal fees claimed, together with added interest and costs to recover those fees.

The O'Connells moved to vacate the default judgment pursuant to M.R.Civ.P. 60(b). The state district court denied the motion and ordered the O'Connells to pay the Law Firm $2860 for attorney fees and costs. The O'Connells appealed to the Montana Supreme Court, which affirmed on May 7, 2013. Wittich Law Firm, P.C. v. O'Connell, 2013 MT 122, 370 Mont. 103, 304 P.3d 375.

The O'Connells then filed a motion in the state district court pursuant to M.R.Civ.P. 60(d)(3) again seeking to vacate the default judgment on the grounds that the Law Firm had committed "fraud on the court." The district court denied the motion and, on January 28, 2014, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed on appeal. Wittich Law Firm, P.C. v. O'Connell, 2014 MT 23N, DA 13-0580 (Mont. S.Ct.). In that decision, the Montana Supreme Court indicated that the O'Connells have been held accountable for attorneys fees in the amount of at least $5, 019.79 related to the Law Firm's efforts to recover the $93.99 originally owed. Id. at ¶10.

B. The O'Connells' Allegations

The O'Connells allege that the Defendants subjected Daniel O'Connell to liability for a written contract to which he was not a party and which he never signed. They contend Defendants exceeded their jurisdiction and did not act reasonably in holding Mr. O'Connell liable as a non-party and then refused to remedy such liability. They allege that the Law Firm committed fraud on the state court and fraud between the parties to the state court action.

For their relief, they ask that the liability against Daniel O'Connell be reversed and the attorney fee reward be ...


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