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Bugli v. Ravalli County

Supreme Court of Montana

July 17, 2018

ZACKARY JAY BUGLI, TRACY BUGLI, WADE COX and CHARLENE COX; and VIOLET COX, as Trustee of the Cox Family Trust, Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
RAVALLI COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Montana, Defendant and Appellee

          Submitted on Briefs: March 28, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Twenty-First Judicial District, In and For the County of Ravalli, Cause No. DV-17-137 Honorable Jeffrey H. Langton, Presiding Judge

          For Appellants: Martin S. King, Jesse C. Kodadek, Worden Thane P.C., Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee: Bill Fulbright, Ravalli County Attorney, Daniel Browder, Deputy County Attorney, Hamilton, Montana

          OPINION

          MIKE MCGRATH CHIEF JUSTICE

         ¶1 Zackary Bugli, Tracy Bugli, Wade Cox, Charlene Cox, and Violet Cox (Landowners) appeal from a Twenty-First Judicial District Court opinion and order granting Ravalli County's (County) Rule 12 Motions to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Failure to State a Claim. We affirm.

         ¶2 We restate the issues as follows:

1. Whether the District Court erred when it dismissed this case concluding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction regarding Landowners' claim preclusion argument.
2. Whether the District Court was correct when it declined to address Landowners' request for declaratory judgment regarding the legal description of Hughes Creek Road.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 This is a dispute about where Hughes Creek Road (Road), a Ravalli County road created in 1900, ends and private property begins. In the 1970s, a gate was placed about nine miles up the Road from West Fork Road, preventing public access beyond the gate. In 1982, previous landowners abutting the Road filed a petition with the Ravalli County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to abandon the Road beyond the gate. The BOCC denied the previous landowners' petition, ordered that the gate be removed, and made a finding of fact that the Road was 11.8 miles long.

         ¶4 When the previous landowners failed to remove the gate, the County commenced an action against them seeking an order directing removal of the gate and a temporary restraining order. In 1984, Judge James B. Wheelis orally denied the county road supervisor's motion for a temporary restraining order. After being inactive for approximately nine years, the case was dismissed by stipulation of the parties. Jay Unrue, Road Supervisor for Ravalli Cnty. v. Royal Teton Ltd., et al., No. DV-84-248, Or. (21st Judicial Dist. Dec. 10, 1993).

         ¶5 In 2016, Landowners filed a new petition with the BOCC to abandon the Road at the same spot that was proposed by previous landowners in the 1982 proceeding. Landowners are alleged successors in interest to the previous landowners and others that own property accessed by the Road. Following a hearing on January 25, 2017, the BOCC denied the petition and directed the landowners to remove the gate no later than June 1, 2017. The BOCC found that, pursuant to § 7-14-2615(3), MCA, the Road provided public access to public lands or waters, and that no other public road or right-of-way provides substantially the same access to public lands or waters.

         ¶6 Two and a half months later, on April 10, 2017, Landowners filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief in the District Court. In their complaint, they presented four claims: (I) claim preclusion regarding removal of the gate; (II) declaratory judgment regarding the end of the Road; (III) declaratory judgment regarding the construction and application of § 7-14-2615(3), MCA; and (IV) unconstitutional taking of private property. On June 29, 2017, the District Court dismissed Landowners' ...


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