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Duram v. Ploeger

Supreme Court of Montana

January 24, 2017

DANIEL M. DURAM, Plaintiff and Appellant,
NOL GARRETT PLOEGER and DEBBIE PLOEGER, Defendants and Appellees.

          Submitted on Briefs: December 14, 2016

         APPEAL 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

          For Appellant: Daniel M. Duram (Self-Represented), Evergreen, Montana

          For Appellees: Grant S. Snell, Crowley Fleck PLLP, Kalispell, Montana


          Michael E Wheat 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 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.

         ¶3 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.

         ¶4 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.

         ¶5 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. We affirm.

         ¶6 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 citation omitted).

         ¶7 We first address whether the Justice Court erred in concluding that the Ploegers wrongly retained Duram's security deposits.

         ¶8 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.

         ¶9 Section 70-25-201, MCA, sets forth under what circumstances a landlord may deduct money from a tenant's security deposit. Section ...

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