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Little Big Warm Ranch LLC v. Doll

Supreme Court of Montana

December 11, 2018

LITTLE BIG WARM RANCH, LLC, Movant and Appellant,
v.
CHERI L. DOLL and WILLIE L. DOLL, Claimants and Appellees.

          Submitted on Briefs: September 5, 2018

          Montana Water Court, Cause Nos. 40M-171, 40M-238 Honorable Russ McElyea, Presiding Judge.

          For Appellant: Hertha L. Lund, Christopher T. Scoones, Lund Law, PLLC, Bozeman, Montana

          For Appellees: Monica J. Tranel, Tranel Law Firm, P.C., Missoula, Montana

          OPINION

          James Jeremiah Shea, Justice.

         ¶1 Appellant Little Big Warm Ranch, LLC (LBWR) appeals the January 29, 2018 Order of the Montana Water Court, Lower Missouri Division, Beaver Creek Tributary of Milk River-Basin, denying its Motion to Reopen Proceedings and its request to substitute as an objector. We address the following issue:

Whether the Water Court erred in denying Little Big Warm Ranch's Motion to Reopen the case and in denying Little Big Warm Ranch's Motion to Substitute Objector.

         ¶2 We affirm.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 This case involves two water rights from Big Warm Springs Creek and Little Warm Springs Creek: Claim 40M 168788-00 for stockwater, and Claim 40M 168789-00 for irrigation. Cheri and Willie Doll (the Dolls) and LBWR are the current adjacent landowners and parties to this litigation. The water rights at issue have been the subject of litigation dating back to the 1990s.[1] On June 9, 2000, the District Court certified the underlying water rights to the Water Court for determination. In 2002, the presiding Water Master issued a Draft Water Master's Report (Draft Report).

         ¶4 In 2005, LBWR predecessors in interest, Lori and Steven Knudsen, sold their land and appurtenant water rights (the Property) to Leslie Greene and John Dudley (Greene/Dudley). On January 23, 2009, an "Interim Water Management Agreement" between the Dolls and Greene/Dudley was filed with the Phillips County District Court. On January 19, 2010, Leslie Greene filed objections to the Dolls' water rights in Claim 40M 168788-00[2] and Claim 40M 168789-00.[3] Greene's objections stated: "The Draft [] Report for WC-2000-05 and WC-2000-06 finds this claim to be invalid. The claim should be terminated or withdrawn." On June 13, 2013, Greene/Dudley sold the Property to Carthel Finch, Debbie Finch, W.G. Dement, and Jason Dement (Finch/Dement). Finch/Dement did not attempt to substitute as an objector, and Greene remained the objector in the case. On August 19, 2013, the Water Court issued "Post-Decree Abstracts of Water Right Claim[s]."

         ¶5 Finch/Dement and the Dolls negotiated a settlement agreement (Settlement Agreement) resolving the Water Court cases, including Cases 40M-171 and 40M-238. The Settlement Agreement stated, in relevant part:

. The certified Water Court cases, WC-2000-05 and WC-2000-06, would be discontinued and dismissed
. The parties would dismiss or withdraw any objections in Water Court as to the Subject ...

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