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State v. Stark

Supreme Court of Montana

January 17, 2017

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
LEVI STARK, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: December 21, 2016

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Seventh Judicial District, In and For the County of Dawson, Cause No. DC 13-39 Honorable Richard A. Simonton, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Lisa S. Korchinski, Assistant Appellate Defender

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Tammy K Plubell, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Olivia Norlin-Rieger, Dawson County Attorney, Joel M. Thompson, Special Deputy Dawson County Attorney, Glendive, Montana

          OPINION

          JAMES JEREMIAH SHEA, JUSTICE

         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

         ¶2 Levi Stark appeals an order of the Seventh Judicial District Court, Dawson County, denying his motion for equitable relief. We address whether the District Court erred by denying Stark's motion. We affirm.

         ¶3 On May 2, 2013, the State charged Stark by information with three offenses, including deliberate homicide, a felony, in violation of § 45-5-201, MCA.[1] In a companion case, the State charged Stark's then-girlfriend, Jessica Miller-Grossman, by information with several offenses, including conspiracy to commit deliberate homicide. On February 20, 2014, the State reached a plea agreement with Miller-Grossman, whereby she pled guilty to a lesser offense of mitigated deliberate homicide by accountability. Stark then filed a motion for equitable relief, arguing that since Miller-Grossman pled guilty to mitigated deliberate homicide by accountability, the doctrine of judicial estoppel bound the State to this theory of prosecution and it therefore could not proceed to trial against Stark on the charge of deliberate homicide. The District Court denied Stark's motion. The case proceeded to a jury trial, and Stark was convicted of deliberate homicide and two other offenses. Stark appeals the District Court's denial of his motion for equitable relief.

         ¶4 In considering matters of an equitable nature, we review a district court's factual findings for clear error and its legal conclusions for correctness. Kauffman-Harmon v. Kauffman, 2001 MT 238, ¶ 11, 307 Mont. 45, 36 P.3d 408. "Further, this Court, sitting in equity, is empowered to determine all questions involved in the case and to do complete justice, including the power to fashion equitable results." Kauffman, ¶ 11 (citation omitted).

         ¶5 Judicial estoppel "is an equitable doctrine intended to protect courts from being 'manipulated by chameleonic litigants who seek to prevail, twice, on opposite theories.'" State v. Darrah, 2009 MT 96, ¶ 12, 350 Mont. 70, 205 P.3d 792 (quoting Nelson v. Nelson, 2002 MT 151, ¶ 20, 310 Mont. 329, 50 P.3d 139). The party claiming judicial estoppel must show that:

(1)the estopped party had knowledge of the facts at the time he took the original position;
(2)the estopped party succeeded in maintaining the original position;
(3) the position presently taken is inconsistent with the original position; and
(4)the original position misled the party so that allowing the estopped party to change its position would injuriously ...

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