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Belanus v. Potter

Supreme Court of Montana

April 26, 2017

DUANE RONALD BELANUS, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
RAYMOND POTTER, LEO GALLAGHER, MELISSA BROCH, CATHY MURPHY, LEWIS AND CLARK COUNTY, and STATE OF MONTANA, Defendants and Appellees.

          Submitted on Briefs: February 15, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the First Judicial District, In and For the County of Lewis And Clark, Cause No. CDV-2013-655 Honorable Kathy Seeley, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Duane Ronald Belanus (Self-Represented), Deer Lodge, Montana

          For Appellees: Mitchell A. Young, Gregory L. Bonilla, MACo Defense Services, Helena, Montana

          OPINION

          Michael E Wheat Justice

         ¶1 Duane Ronald Belanus appeals from the First Judicial District Court's grant of Defendants' motion for summary judgment and the court's issuance of a pre-filing order based upon the District Court's declaration that Belanus is a vexatious litigant. We affirm.

         ISSUES

         ¶2 Did the District Court correctly determine that Belanus's case is barred by the statute of limitations?

         ¶3 Did the District Court correctly determine that Belanus's case is barred by res judicata?

         ¶4 Did the District Court abuse its discretion by finding Belanus to be a vexatious litigant and issuing a pre-filing order against him?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶5 This case originated, as did many others, with Belanus's June 2009 conviction of aggravated kidnapping and sexual intercourse without consent of his then-girlfriend, T.C. A principal piece of evidence presented to the jury in that case was a taped telephone conversation that occurred a few months before the assault during which a drunken Belanus threatened T.C. with death and bodily injury. Belanus objected to admission of the audio recording, asserting that its probative value "was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice." The District Court overruled the objection, admitted the recording into evidence, and on June 12, 2009, Belanus was found guilty. On August 13, 2009, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He appealed his sentence and in State v. Belanus, 2010 MT 204, 357 Mont. 463, 240 P.3d 1021, we affirmed the District Court's admission of the audio recording over Belanus's objection and held that Belanus failed to demonstrate that the District Court abused its discretion.

         ¶6 Subsequently, as we noted in our recent memorandum opinion, Belanus v. State, 2016 MT 262N, ¶ 3, No. DA 14-0782, 2016 LEXIS 923, Belanus sued his victim, the county attorney, deputy county attorney, law enforcement investigator, sheriff, multiple sheriff's deputies, probation officer, both of his attorneys, and a judge. He appealed the majority of these cases, without success, to the Montana Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.

         ¶7 One of these subsequent cases was initiated in May 2011 when Belanus filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Montana, Helena Division, against T.C., Potter, Gallagher, Broch, Murphy, and Jeffrey Sherlock. All of these defendants were participants in Belanus's 2009 criminal trial. T.C. was the victim, Potter was the Lewis & Clark County investigator, Gallagher and Broch were the County prosecutors, and Murphy was the Department of Corrections probation/parole officer who conducted the pre-sentencing investigation of Belanus. Sherlock was the presiding judge.

         ¶8 Belanus claimed that T.C. unlawfully taped their conversation, and the taping and subsequent use of the taped conversation by the defendants violated his Fourth Amendment constitutional rights and the federal wiretap statute, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2522. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted. The federal magistrate analyzed Belanus's claims under both federal and state constitutions and federal and state wiretapping statutes. The magistrate dismissed Belanus's complaint with prejudice, holding that Belanus failed to state a claim under any of the constitutional or statutory provisions raised and analyzed. Following Belanus's objection to the magistrate's ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Donald W. ...


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