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In re Petition of Missoula County Public Schools

Supreme Court of Montana

March 31, 2015

IN RE PETITION OF MISSOULA COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, MISSOULA, COUNTY, Petitioner and Appellee
v.
BITTERROOT STAR, MISSOULA INDEPENDENT, KECI, Respondents and Appellees and VALARIE ADDIS, Respondent and Appellant.

Submitted on Briefs: February 25, 2015

APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DV-14-151 Honorable Karen S. Townsend, Presiding Judge

For Appellant Robert C. Myers, Montana Resources and Asset Protection PC, Hamilton, Montana

For Appellee Missoula County Public Schools Elizabeth A. Kaleva, Megan D. Morris, Kaleva Law Office, Missoula, Montana

For Media Appellees Peter Michael Meloy, Meloy Law Firm, Helena, Montana

MIKE MCGRATH CHIEF JUSTICE

¶1 Valerie Addis appeals from the District Court's Order and Memorandum filed July 18, 2014. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

¶2 Addis was formerly employed as supervisor of food services by the Missoula County Public Schools (Schools), a public school district and a political subdivision of the State of Montana. During her employment in 2010 the Schools conducted an investigation of Addis and whether she had engaged in fraudulent or illegal financial transactions. Following that investigation the Schools instituted disciplinary action. Addis left the Schools position and filed a wrongful discharge suit.

¶3 The Ravalli County Commission appointed her to serve as Ravalli County Treasurer. Subsequently, the Ravalli County Commission investigated irregularities in Addis' performance as Treasurer and imposed sanctions against her.

¶4 In January 2014 the respondent media organizations, the Bitterroot Star and Missoula Independent (weekly newspapers) and KECI (a television station) requested that the Schools release documents related to Addis' termination as food services director, and particularly records concerning the investigation of fraudulent or illegal activity. The Schools notified Addis; she asserted that she had a right to privacy in the documents and that they should not be released. The Schools released Addis' resignation letter and separation agreement and, in February 2014, commenced the present action in District Court. The Schools sought an in camera review of the Addis documents and a determination as to whether they should be released. The Schools took no position on the release of the documents and stated that they had filed the petition to avoid being sued by either the media outlets or Addis. The media outlets counterclaimed that the Schools violated their rights by not immediately releasing all of the documents.

¶5 The media outlets moved for summary judgment, seeking an order that the Schools release the documents. Addis appeared by brief, contesting the release of the records. The District Court conducted an in camera examination of the Schools' records and concluded that Addis had a right of privacy in some of them and that those documents should not be released. However, the District Court determined that six documents that related to "misuse of public money, misuse of public facilities, and careless management practices" should be released. The District Court found that the Schools had acted prudently in filing the action, and granted summary judgment to the Schools on the media outlets' counterclaim. Addis appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶6 This Court reviews a district court's decision on summary judgment to determine whether it is correct, using the same criteria under Rule 56, M. R. Civ. P. Pilgeram v. GreenPoint ...


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