Submitted on Briefs: September 5, 2018
Montana Water Court, Cause Nos. 40M-171, 40M-238 Honorable
Russ McElyea, Presiding Judge.
Appellant: Hertha L. Lund, Christopher T. Scoones, Lund Law,
PLLC, Bozeman, Montana
Appellees: Monica J. Tranel, Tranel Law Firm, P.C., Missoula,
Jeremiah Shea, Justice.
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
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.
AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
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. 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).
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 and Claim 40M 168789-00. 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should be terminated or withdrawn."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]."
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
. The parties would dismiss or withdraw any
objections in Water Court as to the Subject ...