DANIEL M. DURAM, Plaintiff and Appellant,
NOL GARRETT PLOEGER and DEBBIE PLOEGER, Defendants and Appellees.
Submitted on Briefs: December 14, 2016
FROM: District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District, In
and For the County of Flathead, Cause No. DV-16-285(B)
Honorable Robert B Allison, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Daniel M. Duram (Self-Represented), Evergreen,
Appellees: Grant S. Snell, Crowley Fleck PLLP, Kalispell,
Michael E Wheat Justice.
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
Daniel Duram and others rented a Kalispell residence from Nol
and Debbie Ploeger beginning July 1, 2012. Duram paid a
security/pet deposit of $1, 175.00. Duram and the other
tenants vacated the premises in August 2015. The Ploegers
conducted a move-out inspection and noted several items
requiring additional cleaning or repair. The Ploegers
undertook the necessary cleaning and repairs and withheld
Duram's security deposit to cover some of the costs.
Several weeks later, the Ploegers presented Duram with an
itemized list of cleaning and repair expenses. After
subtracting Duram's security deposit, the Ploegers
presented Duram with a bill for $1, 953.44.
Duram brought an action against the Ploegers in the Justice
Court for Flathead County. He demanded a refund of his
security and pet deposits and asserted harassment and
extortion claims against the Ploegers. He claimed the values
of his harassment and extortion claims were $2, 925.00 and
$2, 900.00 respectively. The Ploegers, through their business
entity Buffalo Rock Properties, LLP, counter-sued Duram for
breach of contract and damage to property, and demanded the
right to retain the security deposit. They further requested
the remaining costs for cleanup and repair plus prejudgment
interest, costs, and attorney's fees.
Following a bench trial, the Justice Court ruled that the
Ploegers forfeited their right to retain Duram's security
deposit by failing to provide the itemized list of damages to
Duram within 30 days as required by §§ 70-25-202
and -203, MCA. The court dismissed Duram's claims of
extortion and harassment as being without merit and ruled
that the Ploegers were entitled to recover a net judgment in
the amount of $778.44. This amount is the difference between
the Ploegers' demand for $1, 953.44 and Duram's
security deposits of $1, 175.00. Lastly, the Justice Court
awarded the Ploegers prejudgment interest on the net judgment
and their request for attorney's fees and costs which
amounted to $7, 866.00 and $60.00 respectively.
Duram appealed the Justice Court's February 25, 2016
order to the Eleventh Judicial District Court, Flathead
County. He argued that the Ploegers' failure to comply
with § 70-25-201, MCA, precludes a damages recovery
under § 70-24-422(5), MCA. He further asserted that the
Justice Court erred in awarding the Ploegers'
attorney's fees. On September 12, 2016, the District
Court affirmed the Justice Court's ruling. Duram appeals.
When a justice court decision is appealed, the district court
functions as an intermediate appellate court and its review
is confined to the record and issues of law. Sections 3-5-303
and 3-10-115, MCA. On appeal of the district court's
decision, this Court reviews the record independently,
applying the clearly erroneous standard to the justice
court's factual findings and reviewing discretionary
rulings for abuse of discretion. State v. Davis,
2016 MT 206, ¶ 5, 384 Mont. 388, 378 P.3d 1192 (internal
We first address whether the Justice Court erred in
concluding that the Ploegers wrongly retained Duram's
Duram argues on appeal that § 70-25-201(3), MCA,
requires a landlord to give a departing tenant 24 hours to
perform any cleaning and repairing of the premises identified
in the move-out inspection. He asserts that the Ploegers'
embarked on cleaning and repairing without giving him the
statutorily-required opportunity to do so. He claims that
such a failure precludes the Ploegers from being able to
collect any damages incurred for cleaning and
repairing as authorized under § 70-24-422(5), MCA.
Section 70-25-201, MCA, sets forth under what circumstances a
landlord may deduct money from a tenant's security
deposit. Section ...