SUMMER STRICKER, Personal Representative of the ESTATE OF ALLEN J. LONGSOLDIER JR., Plaintiff and Appellant,
BLAINE COUNTY, HILL COUNTY, and the STATE OF MONTANA Defendants and Appellees.
Blaine County moves to dismiss the appeal filed by Plaintiff
Summer Strieker, Personal Representative of the Estate of
Allen J. Longsoldier, Jr., arguing it exceeds the scope of
the District Court's Certification Order and Judgment.
Plaintiff objects to Blaine County's motion, arguing her
appeal is properly before this Court.
February 2, 2015, the Eighth Judicial District Court, Cascade
County, issued an Order that entered three partial summary
judgment rulings pertinent to the present dispute: (1) the
State of Montana is not vicariously liable for any negligence
for which Blaine County, Hill County, or Northern Montana
Hospital (NMH) may be vicariously or directly liable
regarding the post-arrest custody, care, and death of A. J.
Longsoldier; (2) Blaine County is not vicariously liable for
any negligence for which Hill County or NMH may be liable in
this matter; and (3) Hill County is vicariously liable for
any negligence attributable to NMH in this matter.
Hill County moved the District Court for relief from the
Order, asking the court either to set aside the "Order
of February 2, 2015 holding Hill County vicariously liable
for the negligence of Northern Montana Hospital," or
alternatively "to certify this issue to the Montana
Supreme Court." Hill County's supporting brief made
arguments only about the ruling that held it was vicariously
liable. Plaintiff opposed this motion, arguing the District
Court should not certify the question.
District Court considered the arguments raised, noting that
Hill County believed its ability to defend itself at trial
was undermined by the summary judgment ruling. The court
considered the factors for certification under M. R. Civ. P.
54(b)(1) as set forth in Weinstein v. Univ. of Mont,
271 Mont. 435, 898 P.2d 101 (1995), and ruled, "The
Court finds that certification of the Court's February 2,
2015, Summary Judgment Order is proper and appropriate."
County then moved for entry of judgment. On October 22, 2018,
the District Court issued the Judgment, which stated, in
part, "the February 2, 2015 interlocutory Order holding
Hill County had a non delegable duty ... and is therefore
vicariously liable for the medical negligence of [NMH] is
deemed final for purposes of appeal."
prior to Hill County initiating an appeal from the certified
judgment, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Appeal based upon the
Rule 54(b) Certification. Pursuant to M. R. App. P. 4(4)(b),
we reviewed the District Court's certification order for
compliance with M. R. App. P. 6(6), and ordered the appeal
may proceed. Hill County filed its Notice of Appeal from the
certified judgment thereafter, but we took no action because
the appeal had already been approved. Blaine County also
filed a Notice of Appeal but, in its notice, maintained it
did not believe the portion of the District Court's order
that granted summary judgment in Blaine County's favor on
the issue of vicarious liability was properly appealable at
this point, and that it filed a Notice of Appeal "out of
an overabundance of caution . . . simply to assert that
Blaine County is not a proper party to this Appeal . . .
." Blaine County then filed the Motion to Dismiss at
County and Plaintiff disagree on how to interpret the
District Court's Certification Order and Judgment. B1aine
County argues the District Court certified only its ruling on
Hill County's vicarious liability, and that reading the
order in context will confirm this conclusion. Plaintiff
argues the District Court certified the entire order, noting
the Order on its face certifies "the Court's
February 2, 2015, Summary Judgment Order," and, as a
practical matter, the only issue from that Order which the
District Court could have legitimately certified was the
summary judgment ruling in favor of the State, because the
ruling finding Hill County vicariously liable was only a
54(b)(1) provides, in relevant part, "When an action
presents more than one claim for relief... or when multiple
parties are involved, the court may direct entry of a final
judgment as to one or more, but fewer than all, claims or
parties only if the court expressly determines that there is
no just reason for delay" Contrary to Plaintiffs
position, nothing in this language precludes a court from
certifying a partial adjudication. It is true that
certification of a partial adjudication of a single claim is
disfavored. Weinstein, 271 Mont. At 441, 898 P.2d at
105. However, here, the District Court properly considered
this factor in determining certification was proper and
appropriate, and Plaintiff did not raise this argument below.
Furthermore, unlike Weinstein, Plaintiff does not
ask this Court to overturn the Rule 54 certification; she
simply pursues a broader interpretation of the certification.
reviewing the parties' arguments and the record before
us, we conclude that Blaine County is correct in its
interpretation of the certification order. Rule 54(b)(1)
provides that a court may direct entry of a final judgment as
to one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties if it
determines there is no just reason for delay. Here, the
District Court entered Judgment that, "the February 2,
2015 interlocutory Order holding Hill County... is therefore
vicariously liable for the medical negligence of [NMH] is
deemed final for purposes of appeal." The Judgment
clearly limits the certification to that ruling, and
therefore only that ruling is properly before this Court on
appeal at this time. Therefore, IT IS ORDERED that the appeal
by SUMMER STRICKER, Personal Representative of the ESTATE OF
ALLEN J. LONGSOLDIER JR., is DISMISSED, without prejudice.
FURTHER ORDERED that the appeal by BLATNE COUNTY is
DISMISSED, without prejudice.
FURTHER ORDERED that the appeal by HILL COUNTY from the
certification order, upon further review of the order for
compliance pursuant to M. R. App. P. ...