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Kelley v. Church Universal and Triumphant, Inc.

Supreme Court of Montana

May 22, 2018

CHRISTOPHER KELLEY, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
CHURCH UNIVERSAL AND TRIUMPHANT, INC., EDWIN JOHNSON, and MONTANA GUIDE SERVICES, INC., Defendants and Appellees.

          Submitted on Briefs: April 18, 2018

          District Court of the Sixth Judicial District, In and For the County of Park, Cause No. DV-15-63 Honorable Brenda R. Gilbert, Presiding Judge.

          For Appellant: Christopher Kelley, Self-Represented, Emigrant, Montana

          For Appellee Church Universal and Triumphant, Inc.: Shane A. Vannatta, Jori L. Quinlan, Worden Thane, P.C., Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee Edwin Johnson: Vuko J. Voyich, Anderson & Voyich, P.L.L.C., Livingston, Montana

          For Appellee Montana Guide Services, Inc.: Thomas A. Marra, Marra, Evenson & Bell, P.C., Great Falls, Montana

          OPINION

          Beth Baker 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 Christopher Kelley brought various claims against Church Universal and Triumphant, Inc. (the "Church"), Edwin Johnson, and Montana Guides Services, Inc., alleging that the parties had interfered improperly with his right to access and cross the Church's property for hunting and recreational purposes. The Sixth Judicial District Court, Park County, granted summary judgment to all three Defendants. Kelley appeals the grants of summary judgment and other District Court orders. We affirm.

         ¶3 The Church employed Kelley from 1989 until he was terminated in 2002. As part of a severance agreement, the Church granted Kelley limited access to the Church's property for tracking and photographing mountain lions, together with the right to cross the Church's property to reach United States Forest Service lands for recreational purposes. Addendum A to the severance agreement, originally signed on December 24, 2002, granted Kelley access until December 31, 2014. Kelley alleges that this agreement was modified several times, in part to accommodate Montana Guide Services, which contracts with the Church to guide outfitted hunting trips on the Church's property. Johnson owns Montana Guide Services. Kelley alleges that Johnson and his employees harassed Kelley while he was using his access rights. After several years of escalating tensions between Kelley and Johnson, the Church notified Kelley in February 2014 that it would no longer allow Kelley to access its property. Kelley filed suit against the Church, Johnson, and Montana Guide Services, alleging breach of contract, tortious interference with contract, fraud, wrongful or malicious conduct, attorney fees, and punitive actions.

         ¶4 We review de novo a district court's grant or denial of summary judgment using the criteria in M. R. Civ. P. 56. Pilgeram v. GreenPoint Mortg. Funding, Inc., 2013 MT 354, ¶ 9, 373 Mont. 1, 313 P.3d 839. The moving party must demonstrate that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Gliko v. Permann, 2006 MT 30, ¶ 12, 331 Mont. 112, 130 P.3d 155. The burden then shifts to the non-moving party to provide substantial credible evidence that a genuine issue does exist. Gliko, ¶ 12. If no genuine issues of material fact exist, the court must then determine whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Gliko, ¶ 12. We review a district court's decision regarding the imposition of sanctions for an abuse of discretion. Schuff v. Jackson, 2008 MT 81, ¶ 15, 342 Mont. 156, 179 P.3d 1169. We review the denial of a motion to amend pleadings for an abuse of discretion. Kershaw v. Mont. Dep't of Transp., 2011 MT 170, ¶ 11, 361 Mont. 215, 257 P.3d 358.

         ¶5 The District Court found that Kelley failed to raise genuine issues of material fact that would preclude the grant of summary judgment in favor of the Church. It found that Kelley had "wholly failed to establish that the Church breached any contractual obligation to him." In regard to Kelley's fraud claim, the District Court found that Kelley relied upon his own allegations and speculation to support his fraud claim against the Church and thus failed to satisfy his burden under M. R. Civ. P. 56. Finally, the District Court held that Kelley failed to establish any monetary damages to support either claim.

         ¶6 Kelley argues that the District Court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the Church because he provided evidence of the Church's breach as attachments to his complaint, such as a February 2014 letter from the Church to Kelley, in which the Church informed Kelley that it would no longer allow him to access or to cross its property. He maintains, further, that the December 24, 2002 Addendum A was superseded by a new Addendum A signed two days later on December 26, 2002, as well as by an oral agreement in 2007 or 2008. The second Addendum A is the same as the first Addendum A except that it extends the access agreement until Kelley's youngest child turns eighteen. Kelley maintains that there is a dispute of material fact about the validity of the second Addendum A and his oral agreement with the Church. He further alleges that he demonstrated fraud because he testified during his deposition and in his interrogatories that the Church made promises to him that it never intended to keep.

         ¶7 The District Court did not address whether Kelley had raised an issue of material fact as to the validity of the second Addendum A or the alleged oral agreement, because it determined that Kelley failed to establish the Church had breached an obligation to Kelley under any contract. Upon de novo review of the record, we agree with the District Court that ...


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