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Reinlasoder v. City of Colstrip

Supreme Court of Montana

May 9, 2017

LARRY REINLASODER, Plaintiff and Appellant,
CITY OF COLSTRIP, Defendant and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: April 5, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause No. DV 14-340 Honorable Russell C. Fagg, Presiding Judge.

          For Appellant: William A. D'Alton, D'Alton Law Firm, P.C., Billings, Montana.

          For Appellee: Michael J. Lilly, Berg, Lilly & Tollefsen, P.C., Bozeman, Montana.



         ¶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 Larry Reinlasoder appeals the Order and Decision of the Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone County, issued October 5, 2016. We affirm.

         ¶3 Reinlasoder was the Chief of Police for the City of Colstrip from May 2004 until May 2012 when he was terminated for misconduct, including sexual harassment, intimidation, and distributing pornography through the City's email. Reinlasoder sued the City asserting numerous claims, including wrongful discharge. The City moved for summary judgment and the District Court denied the motion as it pertained to Reinlasoder's wrongful discharge claim but granted it as to the other claims. A jury trial began on May 5, 2015, and at the close of Reinlasoder's case-in-chief, the City moved for a directed verdict. It argued that the undisputed evidence demonstrated that the City had good cause to discharge Reinlasoder; therefore, the elements of a wrongful discharge claim were not met. The District Court denied the City's motion and on May 8, 2015, the jury ruled in favor of Reinlasoder and awarded him damages in the amount of $300, 000. Reinlasoder subsequently filed his Bill of Costs under § 25-10-101, MCA, seeking $6, 184.80. After adjusting the amount, the District Court awarded him $5, 719.80.

         ¶4 The City moved for a new trial and the District Court denied its motion. The City appealed and, in July 2016, we reversed the judgment, holding that the District Court had erred in denying Colstrip's motion for judgment as a matter of law. Reinlasoder v. City of Colstrip, 2016 MT 175, 384 Mont. 143, 376 P.3d 110 (Reinlasoder I). We concluded that "the undisputed facts" of the case precluded Reinlasoder from establishing the absence of "good cause, " a crucial element in a wrongful discharge claim. Reinlasoder I, ¶ 18. We remanded the matter for entry of judgment in favor of the City of Colstrip. Reinlasoder I, ¶ 19.

         ¶5 On remand the District Court entered judgment for Colstrip on August 10, 2016. The City promptly filed its Memorandum of Costs under § 25-10-102, MCA, on August 15, 2016, seeking $6, 971.75. Reinlasoder objected. The District Court concluded that just as the statute authorized the awarding of costs to Reinlasoder when he was the prevailing party, it authorized the award of costs to the City as prevailing party following appeal. It ordered Reinlasoder to pay the City an adjusted amount of $5, 354.10. Reinlasoder appeals. We affirm.

         ¶6 We review a district court's application of a statute in determining entitlement to costs for correctness. Total Indus. Plant Servs. v. Turner Indus. Group, LLC, 2013 MT 5, ¶ 61, 368 Mont. 189, 294 P.3d 363. We review a district court's denial or award of costs for an abuse of discretion. Hitshew v. Butte/Silver Bow Cnty., 1999 MT 26, ¶ 29, 293 Mont. 212, 974 P.2d 650.

         ¶7 Section 25-10-101, MCA, sets forth when costs to a plaintiff are allowed and includes payment of costs to a plaintiff who prevails in an "action for the recovery of money or damages, exclusive of interest, when plaintiff recovers over $50." Section 25-10-101(3), MCA. Initially, Reinlasoder was entitled to his costs, having prevailed in the District Court in his action to recover money damages greater than $50.

         ¶8 Section 25-10-102, MCA, sets forth when costs to a defendant are allowed and states: "Costs must be allowed, of course, to the defendant upon a judgment in the defendant's favor in the actions mentioned in 25-10-101." After our ruling in Reinlasoder I, the City of Colstrip was the prevailing party and was entitled to its costs as identified in § 25-10-201, MCA.

         ¶9 Reinlasoder argues on appeal that the City should not receive its costs because, based upon our ruling in Reinlasoder I, the trial should never have taken place. In other words, had the District Court granted the City's motion for judgment or directed verdict, trial costs would not have accrued. Reinlasoder's argument is unpersuasive. The express language of ยง 25-10-102, MCA, authorizes costs to a defendant "upon a judgment in the defendant's favor . . . ." As Reinlasoder's cause of action was an action for damages exceeding $50, ...

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