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Houston Lakeshore Tract Owners Against Annexation Inc. v. City of Whitefish

Supreme Court of Montana

March 21, 2017

HOUSTON LAKESHORE TRACT OWNERS AGAINST ANNEXATION INC., and STOCKING ADDITION OWNERS AGAINST ANNEXATION, INC., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
CITY OF WHITEFISH, Defendant and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: November 30, 2016

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District, In and For the County of Flathead, Cause No. DV-15-430(B) Honorable Robert B Allison, Presiding Judge

          For Appellants: Bruce A. Fredrickson, Rocky Mountain Law Partners, PLLP, Kalispell, Montana

          For Appellee: Angela Jacobs Persicke, Whitefish City Attorney, Whitefish, Montana

          OPINION

          Michael E Wheat Justice

         ¶1 Houston Lakeshore Tract Owners Against Annexation, Inc. and Stocking Addition Owners Against Annexation, Inc. (collectively Property Owners) appeal from the order of the Eleventh Judicial District Court, Flathead County, granting the City of Whitefish's (City) cross-motion for summary judgment. We affirm.

         ¶2 We restate the issues on appeal as follows:

Issue one: Did the District Court err in determining that the City may properly rely on Title 7, chapter 2, part 45, MCA, to annex the Houston Lakeshore Area?
Issue two: Did the District Court err in finding that the Houston Lakeshore Area is "wholly surrounded" by the City?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 The Property Owners collectively own numerous properties on or near Whitefish Lake in Whitefish, Montana (Houston Lakeshore Area). The Houston Lakeshore Area is located north of the City and consists of the Houston Lake Shore Tracts subdivision, the Stocking Addition Tracts B and C, and five parcels known as Tract 1AB, Tract 1ABA, Tract 1ABB, Tract 1ABC, and Tract 1G. The City has annexed ten tracts in the Houston Lake Shore Tracts and three tracts in the Stocking Addition Tracts C. The area is bounded by Whitefish Lake to the west and south and by City territory to the north and east. The Property Owners access the area via East Lakeshore Drive, which borders the Houston Lakeshore Area to the east. To access their individual properties, the Property Owners turn off East Lakeshore Drive and onto Houston Drive.

         ¶4 In 1981, the City passed Resolution No. B-916, annexing a section of East Lakeshore Drive between Reservoir Road and the North boundary of Lot 1, Block 1 of the Houston Point Subdivision. The City annexed this section of the road without receiving a request for annexation from the state of Montana. In 2005, upon petition by the State, the City passed Resolution No. 05-25, annexing Whitefish Lake to its low water mark. The resolution cited a 1987 Attorney General Opinion, which ruled that the bounding of Whitefish Lake on one or more sides of a tract or parcel does not preclude the area from being annexed under the "wholly surrounded" method of annexation.[1]

         ¶5 Piecing together a survey of the area provided in the record and the interactive parcel map maintained by the Flathead County GIS Department, the Houston Lakeshore Area is situated as follows:

         (IMAGE OMITTED).

         ¶6 On October 6, 2014, the City passed Resolution No. 14-49, which, in part, acknowledged the City's decision to advance the Houston Lakeshore Area to the first priority area for annexation. The City has not given or published a notice of annexation, nor has it passed a resolution of annexation for the area. On May 22, 2015, the Property Owners filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment that, under that Title 7, chapter 2, part 45, MCA: 1) the City has no statutory authority to combine separate tracts for purposes of annexation; and 2) the Houston Lakeshore Area is not wholly surrounded for the purposes of annexation. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment and, on March 14, 2016, the District Court granted the City's motion. The Property Owners filed a timely appeal.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶7 We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same criteria of M. R. Civ. P. 56 as the district court. Pilgeram v. GreenPoint Mortg. Funding, Inc., 2013 MT 354, ¶ 9, 373 Mont. 1, 313 P.3d 839. We review a district court's conclusions of law to determine whether they are correct and its findings of fact to determine whether they are clearly erroneous. Pilgeram, ¶ 9. Under Rule 56(c), summary judgment will be granted if the moving party can show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Roe v. City of Missoula, 2009 MT 417, ¶ 14, 354 Mont. 1, 221 P.3d 1200.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶8 Issue one: Did the District Court err in determining that the City of Whitefish may properly rely on Title 7, chapter 2, part 45, MCA, to annex the Houston Lakeshore Area?

         ¶9 The Property Owners first appeal the District Court's finding that Title 7, chapter 2, part 45, MCA, entitled "Annexation of Wholly Surrounded Land, " does not limit a city's annexation of wholly surrounded land to a single tract or parcel of land. The court determined that the statutory provisions allowing for annexation of wholly surrounded areas are triggered, not by the number of parcels a city seeks to annex, but instead by the geographic characteristics the freehold territory exhibits in relation to the city seeking to annex it. On appeal, the Property Owners urge this court to hold that the wholly surrounded annexation provisions be interpreted to limit a city's annexation powers to single tracts or parcels of land.

         ¶10 "[W]hen interpreting a statute, we seek to implement the objectives the Legislature sought to achieve, and if the legislative intent can be determined from the plain language of the statute, the plain language controls." Montanans v. State, 2006 MT 277, ¶ 60, 334 Mont. 237, 146 P.3d 759. "Furthermore, a statute 'must be read as a whole, and its terms should not be isolated from the context in which they were used by the Legislature.'" Eldorado Coop Canal Co. v. Hoge, 2016 MT 145, ¶ 18, 383 Mont. 523, 373 P.3d 836 (quoting Fellows v. Saylor, 2016 MT 45, ¶ 21, 382 Mont. 298, 367 P.3d 732) (citation omitted). Accordingly, we must interpret a statute "as a part of a whole statutory scheme and construe it so as to forward the purpose of that scheme" and "to avoid an absurd result." Eldorado Coop Canal Co., ¶ 18 (quoting Stokes v. Mont. Thirteenth Judicial Dist. Court, 2011 MT 182, ¶ 15, 361 Mont. 279, 259 P.3d 754) (citation omitted); In re Marriage of Shirilla, 2004 MT 28, ¶ 12, 319 Mont. 385, 89 P.3d 1. Further, while our role is "not to ...


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