DOUGLAS L. PLOUFFE, Plaintiff and Appellant,
DENNIS SIMPSON, ARNE LEFDAHL, VIC LEFDAHL and JOHN DOES 1 through 10, Defendants and Appellees.
Submitted on Briefs: December 6, 2017
FROM: District Court of the Seventeenth Judicial District, In
and For the Comunty of Phillips, Cause No. DV 17-2 Honorable
Yvonne Laird, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Douglas L. Plouffe, self-represented; Chinook,
Appellees: Dennis Simpson, self-represented; Saco, Montana
Arne Lefdahl, self-represented; Malta, Montana Vic Lefdahl,
self-represented; Saco, Montana
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
non-citable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and
Douglas L. Plouffe (Plouffe) appeals from the dismissal of
his complaint, related to the Hot Springs near Saco, Montana,
for failure to state a claim, by the Seventeenth Judicial
District, Phillips County. Plouffe, proceeding pro se,
filed a Complaint against Appellees, individuals who are
serviced by a water system that Plouffe alleged he owned.
While the Complaint is difficult to understand, Plouffe
generally asserts criminal conduct by the Appellees, citing
to Title 45, MCA, including theft, burglary, criminal
trespass, and criminal mischief. Plouffe also alleged
misconduct by several county officials not named in the
Complaint, including failure to prosecute the Appellees. In
the prayer, Plouffe demanded criminal prosecution of the
Appellees as well as damages.
The Appellees, also proceeding pro se, filed several
motions to dismiss in the District Court. Their motions,
supported with affidavits and other documents, argued that
Plouffe is not the owner of the water system.
The District Court granted the motion to dismiss, holding
that, taking the allegations of the Complaint "as true,
even though they are less than well-pleaded, and viewed in
the light most favorable to Plouffe, 'it appears beyond
doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of [f]acts in
support of his claim which would entitle him to
relief.'" (citations omitted). The District Court
analyzed only the allegations of the Complaint, and did not
reference any of the outside information included with
Appellees' motion to dismiss. Plouffe appeals, and while
his briefing is difficult to understand, we discern two
issues: first, that the District Court erred by failing to
convert the motion to dismiss to a motion for summary
judgment, given the additional information regarding
ownership of the water system presented by the motion to
dismiss; and second, that the District Court erred by
concluding that Plouffe's Complaint failed to state a
claim upon which relief could be granted.
We review a district court's ruling on a M. R. Civ. P.
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss de novo.
Plouffe v. State I, ¶ 8 (citations omitted).
When presented with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the
district court has discretion to consider information outside
the complaint. Meagher v. Butte-Silver Bow
City-County, 2007 MT 129, ¶ 16, 337 Mont. 339, 160
P.3d 552. However, if the district court elects to do so, it
must treat the motion as one for summary judgment, allowing
the other party opportunity to respond. M. R. Civ. P. 12(d);
see also Meagher, ¶ 16 (citations
omitted). If the district court does not convert the
Rule 12(b)(6) motion into one for summary judgment, its
review is limited to the contents of the complaint.
Plouffe v. State I, ¶ 13 (citations omitted).
"[A] motion to dismiss under [M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)]
allows the District Court to only examine whether 'a
claim has been adequately stated in the complaint.'"
Plouffe v. State I, ¶ 13 (citations omitted).
Plouffe argues "it's reasonable to believe that the
District Court relied on the allegations of fact contained in
the parties briefs and/or material outside the pleadings[,
]" and thus the matter should have been converted into a
motion for summary judgment, giving him an opportunity to
respond to Appellees' factual contentions. Plouffe cites
to nothing in the record to demonstrate that the District
Court relied on any material outside of the Complaint, and
the order of dismissal confirms that the District Court
considered only the contents of the Complaint. Absent
indication otherwise, "[w]e accept at face value the
court's order that it was ruling on motions to dismiss
and that the court's order was based upon the allegations
in the complaint . . . ." Cowan v. Cowan, 2004
MT 97, ¶ 13, 321 Mont. 13, 89 P.3d 6 (citations
omitted). While Plouffe correctly notes that Appellees
presented outside evidence with their motions, the District
Court exercised its discretion to ignore that information,
and decided the issue on the basis of the Complaint alone.
Therefore, the District Court did not err by not converting
the motion into one for summary judgment.
A motion to dismiss must be granted if the complaint fails
"to state a claim upon which relief can be granted . . .
." M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The complaint is construed in
the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and all well
pleaded allegations of fact contained therein are taken as
true. Plouffe v. State I, ¶ 8 (citations
omitted). However, the court need not accept as true any
legal conclusions stated in the complaint. Cowan,
¶ 14 (citations omitted). A complaint must put a
defendant on notice of the facts the plaintiff intends to
prove, and such facts must disclose the elements necessary to
make the claim. Kunst v. Pass, 1998 MT 71, ¶
35, 288 Mont. 264, 957 P.2d 1 (citations omitted). We follow
liberal rules of pleading to allow for compliance with the
spirit and intent of the law, rather than a rigid adherence
to formula or specific words. McKinnon v. W. Sugar Coop.
Corp., 2010 MT 24, ¶ 17, 355 Mont. 120, 225 P.3d
1221 (citations omitted). However, liberal application of the
rules does not excuse omission of facts necessary to entitle
relief. Mysse v. Martens, 279 Mont. 253, 266, 926
P.2d 765, 773 (1996) (citations omitted). "[T]he
pleading must contain something more . . . than . . . a
statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion that the
pleader might have a legally cognizable right of
action." 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller,
Federal Practice and Procedure - Civil § 1216
(3d ed., 2004).
Plouffe argues that he pleaded wrongful acts committed by the
Appellees, citing specific provisions of the criminal code.
However, Plouffe proceeds under a fundamental
misunderstanding of the division between the criminal and
civil law. Crimes are wrongful acts against the public that
are prosecuted by the State to protect the safety and order
of society as a whole. A crime victim does not have a civil cause
of action based merely on the violation of a criminal