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Pierce v. Barkell

Supreme Court of Montana

March 20, 2018

ROBERT S. PIERCE, Petitioner and Appellant,

          Submitted on Briefs: February 28, 2018

          For Appellant: Robert S. Pierce, self-represented; Deer Lodge, Montana

          For Appellees: (for Anaconda Deer Lodge County) Mark A. Thieszen, Poore, Roth & Robinson, P.C.; Butte, Montana (for Tim Barkell, Bill Sather, and Steve Barclay)


          Ingrid Gustafson, Justice

         ¶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 Robert S. Pierce (Pierce) appeals from the order of the Third Judicial District Court, Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, granting motions for summary judgment made by: Tim Barkell (Barkell), Bill Sather (Sather), and Steve Barclay (Barclay); Malissa Raasakka (Raasakka) and M.R., Minor Child; and Anaconda-Deer Lodge County (ADLC). We affirm.

         ¶3 On April 25, 2013, a jury found Pierce guilty of Sexual Intercourse Without Consent and Sexual Assault of M.R., a minor under the age of 16. This Court upheld Pierce's conviction on appeal. State v. Pierce, 2016 MT 308, 385 Mont. 439, 384 P.3d 1042.

         ¶4 While Pierce's appeal was pending, he filed this civil suit in the Third Judicial District Court against Barkell, Sather, Barclay, Raasakka, M.R., and ADLC, alleging conspiracy, defamation, intimidation, false reports, and various civil rights violations, including both state claims and federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         ¶5 Barkell, Sather, and Barclay are law enforcement officers who were involved in the investigation of the criminal complaints against Pierce, and ADLC is their employer. M.R. is the victim of the offenses for which Pierce was convicted. Raasakka is M.R.'s mother.

         ¶6 After Pierce filed his civil suit, Barkell, Sather, and Barclay removed the action to federal court. The federal court dismissed Pierce's § 1983 claims as barred under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) (holding that a plaintiff cannot prosecute a § 1983 action for damages if the action's success would imply that the plaintiff's existing criminal conviction or sentence is invalid). The court then declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Pierce's remaining state law claims and remanded this case to state court.

         ¶7 After remand to the Third Judicial District Court, ADLC, Raasakka and M.R., and Barkell, Sather, and Barclay all moved for summary judgment. On June 5, 2017, the District Court granted summary judgment on each party's respective motion. Regarding ADLC, the court found Pierce had conceded that summary judgment in ADLC's favor was warranted. The court further determined the remaining parties were entitled to summary judgment because Pierce was collaterally estopped from re-litigating the issues already decided in his criminal case. This appeal followed.

         ¶8 We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, using the same standards applied by the district court under M. R. Civ. P. 56. Capital One, NA v. Guthrie, 2017 MT 75, ¶ 11, 387 Mont. 147, 392 P.3d 158 (citation omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Capital One, ¶ 11 (citing M. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3)). We review conclusions of law for correctness and the district court's findings of fact to determine if they are clearly erroneous. Lone Moose Meadows, LLC v. Boyne USA, Inc., 2017 MT 142, ¶ 7, 387 Mont. 507, 396 P.3d 128.

         ¶9 We review de novo a district court's interpretation and application of a statute and a district court's conclusions of law. This includes a district court's application of claim preclusion or issue preclusion (collateral estoppel), which is an issue of law that we review for correctness. Brilz v. Metro. Gen. Ins. Co., 2012 MT 184, ¶ 13, 366 Mont. 78, 285 P.3d 494 (citations omitted).

         ¶10 The doctrine of collateral estoppel precludes litigation of issues determined in an earlier action. Estate of Eide v. Tabbert, 272 Mont. 180, 183, 900 P.2d 292, 295 (citation omitted). We have expressly held collateral estoppel prohibits the litigation of an issue in a civil trial that has been litigated in a prior criminal trial. Eide, 272 Mont. at 183, 900 P.2d ...

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