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Crow Allottees Association v. McElya

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

July 27, 2015

CROW ALLOTTEES ASSOCIATION, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MONTANA WATER COURT CHIEF JUDGE RUSSELL McELYA and ASSOCIATE WATER JUDGE DOUGLAS RITTER, Defendants.

OPINION and ORDER

SUSAN P. WATTERS, District Judge.

Before the Court are several motions related to the Plaintiffs' (collectively "Crow Allottees") claims against Defendants Montana Water Court Chief Judge Russell McElyea and Associate Water Judge Douglas Ritter (collectively "Water Judges"). Specifically, the Court is considering two Motions to Dismiss filed by the Water Judges and a Motion Requesting Leave of Court to File a Supplemented First Amended Complaint ("Motion to Supplement") filed by the Crow Allottees. For reasons discussed below, the Court finds that subsequent actions have mooted the claims for injunctive relief against the Water Judges. The Court also finds that the Crow Allottees' attempt to supplement their Amended Complaint would be futile. Accordingly, the Court denies the Crow Allottees' Motion to Supplement and grants the Water Judges' second Motion to Dismiss, thereby rendering the Water Judges' first Motion to Dismiss moot.

I. Background

For a more complete factual and procedural background, please see this Court's June 30, 2015 Opinion and Order that granted the Federal Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 59). The Court will only mention procedural facts necessary to put the Court's reasoning in context.

On October 24, 2012, the United States, Crow Tribe, and the State of Montana moved the Montana Water Court to issue a Final Decree pursuant to the Crow Tribe-Montana Water Rights Compact ("Compact"). In Spring 2013, at least 48 individual Crow allottees filed objections to the Compact. On May 15, 2014, the Crow Allottees appeared before the Water Court and moved to stay the proceedings.

Also on May 15, 2014, the Crow Allottees filed this action ("Federal Action"). In their First Amended Complaint, most claims were directed against the Federal Defendants. In Count VI, the Crow Allottees sought an injunction against the Water Judges to prevent further proceedings in the Water Court until this Court resolved the Federal Action. (Doc. 3 at 42-45).

On July 30, 2014, the Water Court dismissed the allottees' objections. On August 29, 2014, the Crow Allottees appealed the Water Court's decision to the Montana Supreme Court. The appeal is currently fully briefed, and the Montana Supreme Court will be deciding the case sitting en bane.

On December 8, 2014, the Water Judges filed their first Motion to Dismiss in the Federal Action. In this motion, the Water Judges advanced three theories to support their argument that this Court could not grant an injunction against them. This Court has not ruled on that motion.

On May 27, 2015, the Water Court dismissed the remaining objections and approved the Compact. On June 3, 2015, the Water Court granted certification pursuant to Mont. R. Civ. P. 54(b) and entered final judgment. The remaining objectors have 60 days from June 3 to appeal the Water Court's final decision to the Montana Supreme Court. See Mont. R. App. P. 4(5)(a)(i).

On June 4, 2015, the Water Judges filed their second Motion to Dismiss. The Water Judges argued that since they adopted the Compact, the Crow Allottees could not now obtain an injunction prohibiting them from doing so. Therefore, the Water Judges concluded that the Crow Allottees' request for an injunction is moot.

The Crow Allottees responded on June 18, 2015. In the response, the Crow Allottees conceded that the Amended Complaint's request for an injunction was mooted by the Water Court's approval of the Compact. However, the Crow Allottees stated that they would remedy this problem by supplementing their Amended Complaint to convert their request for injunctive relief to a request for declaratory relief.

The Crow Allottees filed their Motion to Supplement on June 22, 2015. In their proposed Supplemented First Amended Class Action Complaint, the Crow Allottees remove the request for an injunction. (Doc. 57-2 at 45-48). Instead, as pertaining to the Water Judges, the Crow Allottees seek a declaratory judgment that:

... k. The Montana Water Court has no jurisdiction to decide substantive issues of federal law;
l. The Montana Water Court exceeded its jurisdiction when it dismissed Allottees' ...

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