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Salminen v. Morrison & Frampton, PLLP

Supreme Court of Montana

December 2, 2014

DON AND SUSAN SALMINEN, Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
MORRISON & FRAMPTON, PLLP; CENTENNIAL CONTRACTING AND DEVELOPMENT, LLC; and LEONARD INVESTMENTS, LLC, Respondents and Appellees. [1]

SYNOPSIS OF THE CASE

Centennial Contracting and Leonard Investments obtained a civil judgment in 2009 against Don and Susan Salminen for $482, 499. Centennial and Leonard were represented by the Frampton law firm (Frampton) in that litigation. Frampton began collection activities on behalf of his clients. The Salminens filed a declaration of personal exemptions from seizure, as provided by Montana law. On March 9, 2010, Frampton obtained a warrant of execution from the District Court. The Salminens allege that Frampton enlisted the aid of a Deputy Sheriff, a locksmith and a moving company, and appeared at the Salminens' home when they were away. After the locksmith opened the locked door, an attorney for the law firm entered the home and directed the movers to take everything that was not nailed down. The movers seized virtually the entire contents of the house, including dirty clothes, the contents of the kitchen including open containers of food, dirty dishes, medications, games and toys, and the ashes of Susan Salminen's deceased aunt. Frampton had the seized items placed into storage.

The District Court held a hearing on the Salminens' claim that their personal property was exempt from seizure to satisfy the underlying judgment. The District Court eventually ordered that all the Salminens' personal property was exempt and ordered all of the property seized by Frampton returned.

In August 2011 the Salminens sued Frampton, Centennial, and Leonard, contending that Frampton wrongfully obtained the warrant authorizing entry into their home and seizure of their property, and that Frampton initiated the process to harass the Salminens and not to satisfy the judgment. The Salminens contended in their complaint that the entry into their house and the seizure of their exempt property were unlawful and constituted wrongful levy, abuse of process, and conversion of their property. The District Court granted Frampton's motion to dismiss the complaint, concluding that the Salminens failed to state a legal claim upon which relief could be granted.

The Salminens appealed and the Montana Supreme Court reversed. The Supreme Court examined the facts alleged in the complaint, which under the law are deemed to be true at this early point of the case, and concluded that the Salminens sufficiently stated legal claims to allow the case to proceed against Frampton, Centennial and Leonard. The Supreme Court determined that the allegations of the complaint alleged sufficient facts which, if proven by the Salminens, could establish that Frampton's entry into their home and seizure of its contents were not authorized by law. In addition, the Salminens' complaint sufficiently alleged claims for abuse of legal process, conversion and wrongful levy to allow the case to proceed.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to the District Court for further proceedings on the Salminens' complaint against all three defendants.


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