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St. John v. City of Lewistown

Supreme Court of Montana

May 30, 2017

TOM ST. JOHN, LINDA GERLEMAN, FRANK WESTHOFF, SUZANNE WESTHOFF, et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
CITY OF LEWISTOWN, MONTANA, Defendant and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: February 22, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Tenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Fergus, Cause No. DV 2015-77 Honorable Brenda Gilbert, Presiding Judge

          For Appellants: James A. Hubble, Olive J. Urick, Hubble Law Firm, PLLP, Stanford, Montana

          For Appellee: Kevin C. Meek, Cathy J. Lewis, Ugrin, Alexander, Zaddick & Higgins, Great Falls, Montana

          OPINION

          Laurie McKinnon Justice.

         ¶1 Plaintiffs Tom St. John, Linda Gerleman, and Frank and Suzanne Westhoff, (collectively Land Owners) appeal from an order entered in the Montana Tenth Judicial District, Fergus County, granting summary judgment to Defendant City of Lewistown (City) and allowing the City to annex portions of Land Owners' properties. We affirm on all issues.

         ¶2 We restate the issues as follows:

1 .Whether the District Court erred in concluding that the City had met the statutory annexation requirements of Title 7, chapter 2, part 43, MCA.
2. Whether the District Court erred in concluding that the City had correctly determined there were less than a majority of valid protests.
3. Whether the District Court erred in concluding that Land Owners were not denied equal protection of the law.
4. Whether the District Court erred in concluding that Land Owners lacked standing to enforce a contract between the City and a subdivision developer.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 In 1982, the City passed Ordinance 1483 which addressed the provision of municipal services to areas outside of the City limits. Ordinance 1483 was amended by Ordinance 1630 and, together, these ordinances conditioned the provision of City water services outside the City's limits upon the property owners' execution of written waivers to protest future annexation by the City of their property. Some of the Land Owners signed such a waiver, and others did not. Regardless of whether a waiver was executed by Land Owners, all continued to obtain City water services.

         ¶4 On April 6, 2015, the City passed Resolution 3875, setting forth its plan for providing municipal services to annexed properties. On June 1, 2015, Resolution 3878 was passed stating the City's intent to annex contiguous land identified on the "Corrected Map for Annexation" (Corrected Map). The Corrected Map identified the partial lots that were at issue and which were being serviced by City water. Each partial lot was a smaller fraction of a larger lot belonging to Land Owners. The Corrected Map also identified contiguous lands connected by Castle Butte Road, portions of which were also part of the annexation, and proposed properties for annexation that were part of the Castle Ridge Acres subdivision. The Corrected Map was recorded with the Fergus County Clerk and Recorder, and bore the Clerk's seal and certification that it was a certificate of survey. Resolution 3878 specifically identified that the annexation would be conducted pursuant to § 7-2-4311, MCA, which allowed for annexation of contiguous land to an incorporated city or town. Further, Resolution 3878 stated the City had determined the proposed annexation was in the best interests of both the City and the inhabitants of the parcels to be annexed.

         ¶5 The City Clerk mailed notices to all registered voters and property owners in the areas being annexed and published the notice in the local paper. The notice explained how comments would be received and that the City would consider the annexation at its July 6, 2015 meeting.

         ¶6 The City was proposing to annex 89 lots. Of those 89 lots, 62 lots had a recorded waiver to the City's annexation. After disregarding protests from property owners who had executed a waiver, the City determined, pursuant to § 7-2-4314(d), MCA, that there were less than the 51% majority of protests needed to stop the annexation. Accordingly, at the meeting on July 6, 2015, the City adopted Resolution 3880 which finalized annexation. Resolution 3880 memorialized the City's determination that the annexation was in the best interest of the City and those being annexed. It also recognized that less than a majority of the real property owners of the area proposed for annexation had submitted valid protests.

         ¶7 On September 25, 2015, Land Owners challenged the City's annexation by applying for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order. The District Court issued an Order to Show Cause and Temporary Restraining Order on November 24, 2015. On February 10, 2016, the City filed a motion for summary judgment. Following briefing and oral argument, the District Court issued a Decision and Order on June 16, 2016, granting summary judgment in favor of the City on all issues.[1] Land Owners appeal the entry of summary judgment for the City.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶8 This Court reviews de novo a district court's summary judgment ruling, applying the same rule, M. R. Civ. P. Rule 56(c), as the district court applies. Modroo v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins., 2008 MT 275, ¶ 19, 345 Mont. 262, 191 P.3d 389. Summary Judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. M. R. Civ. P. Rule 56(c); Bennett v. Hill, 2015 MT 3, ¶ 9, 378 Mont. 141, 342 P.3d 691.

         ¶9 Section 7-2-4742, MCA, provides for court review of whether statutory annexation procedural requirements were followed and satisfied. "If all of the substantive and procedural requirements of the annexation statutes are included and complied with by a municipality in the annexation procedure, the law will necessarily have been followed." Gregg v. Whitefish City Council, 2004 MT 262, ¶ 20, 323 Mont. 109, 99 P.3d 151. We explained in Gregg that compliance with the annexation statutes must be "complete and municipalities must follow all of the directives of the statutes." Gregg, ¶ 20. However, if a statutory mandate contains a subjective component, "[c]ompliance must be substantial . . . [to allow] a municipality to exercise discretion in making its planning decisions." Gregg, ¶ 20.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶10 1. Whether the District Court erred in concluding that the City had met the statutory annexation requirements of Title 7, chapter 2, part 43, MCA.

         ¶11 Pursuant to § 7-2-4718(2), MCA, a municipality "may in its discretion select one of the annexation procedures in parts 42 through 47 that is appropriate to the circumstances of the particular annexation." The municipal governing authority must then follow "the specific procedures prescribed in the appropriate part." Section 7-2-4718(2), MCA. The City chose to conduct its annexation of Land Owners' properties pursuant to ...


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