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Schuster v. Northwestern Energy Co.

Supreme Court of Montana

December 30, 2014

LARRY G. SCHUSTER, Petitioner,


Petitioner Larry G. Schuster (Schuster), appearing as a self-represented litigant, has petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari that challenges the Thirteenth Judicial District Court's citation holding him in contempt. As ordered, Respondent Northwestern Energy Company (Northwestern) has filed a response to the petition.

The matter arises out of litigation between the parties. Schuster filed a lawsuit against Northwestern in 2012. NorthWestern filed a motion to dismiss, which the District Court granted. Schuster appealed, and this Court reversed the order of dismissal. Schuster v. NorthWestern Energy Co., 2013 MT 364, ¶ 17, 373 Mont. 54, 314 P.3d 650. During the appeal, this Court imposed sanctions upon Schuster for failing to participate in the mandatory mediation process in the amount incurred for the mediator's work in preparing for the mediation and discussing the matter with the parties, and the time and travel costs incurred by NorthWestern's representatives for the mediation. In our order of May 15, 2013, we remanded the matter to the District Court "to determine the reasonable costs incurred by [the mediator] and [NorthWestern's] representatives."

On August 22, 2013, the District Court issued an order finding that Schuster was required to pay NorthWestern $1, 784.93, and setting an installment schedule that would result in full payment to NorthWestern by December 30, 2013. When Schuster failed to make any payment, Northwestern moved for contempt. After a hearing, the District Court issued a citation holding Schuster in contempt on October 6, 2014. The order required that Schuster pay the originally imposed costs as well as the costs incurred by Northwestern pursuing the contempt, and set a payment schedule beginning December 1, 2014. The order provided that Schuster's compliance with the court's payment schedule would purge the contempt. To date, Schuster has paid nothing.

On November 20, 2014, Schuster filed, pursuant to § 3-1-523, MCA, the present petition for writ of certiorari challenging the contempt citation. He argues that, pursuant to M. R. App. P. 6(5)(e), the "August 2013 sanction order" was not an appealable order and, therefore, he must wait until final judgment is entered before he can challenge the order on appeal. Schuster argues that he could not pay any amount because it would moot the issue, and states that he objects to the amount imposed by the District Court.

Schuster was held in contempt on October 6, 2014, but did not file a petition for writ of certiorari until November 20, 2014. As Northwestern notes, a petition for writ of certiorari must be filed "within 30 days of the date the district court enters its order finding contempt." Jones v. Nineteenth Jud. Dist. Ct., 2001 MT 276, 307 Mont. 305, 37 P.3d 682.[1] We declined to "establish a precedent that allows review of contempt proceedings to be delayed until the underlying cause is resolved." Jones, ¶ 5. We dismissed the petition in Jones as time barred. Jones, ¶ 27. Likewise, Schuster's petition here is untimely.

Further, this Court imposed the original sanction and remanded only for the factual determination of the amount to be paid. This was not a sanction imposed by the District Court that was dependent upon entry of a final judgment before appellate review could be sought under M. R. App. P. 6(5)(e). Schuster's concern over mooting the issue could have been addressed by seeking a stay pending review, but he did not. Therefore,

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the petition for writ of certiorari is DENIED.

The Clerk is directed to provide copies of this Order to counsel for all parties in Yellowstone County Cause No. Cause No. DV-12-0021, and to the Honorable Mary Jane Knisely, presiding District Judge.

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