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Letica Land Co., LLC v. Anaconda-Deer Lodge County

Supreme Court of Montana

February 5, 2019

LETICA LAND COMPANY, LLC, a Michigan limited liability company, and DON McGEE, an individual, Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
ANACONDA-DEER LODGE COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Montana, Defendant and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: December 5, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Third Judicial District, In and For the County of Anaconda-Deer Lodge, Cause No. DV-12-24 Honorable Randal I. Spaulding, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant Letica Land Company, LLC Martin S. King; Jesse C. Kodadek, Worden Thane, P.C., Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee Cynthia L. Walker; Mark A. Thieszen, Poore, Roth & Robinson, P.C., Butte, Montana

          Mike McGrath Chief Justice

         ¶1 Letica Land Company, LLC, (Letica) appeals the judgment of the Third Judicial District Court granting Anaconda-Deer Lodge County's motion for summary judgment. We affirm in part and reverse in part. ¶2 We restate the issues on appeal as follows:

1. Whether the District Court erred in concluding that Anaconda-Deer Lodge County's use of the upper branch of Modesty Creek Road did not amount to a taking under the United States and Montana Constitutions.
2. Whether Letica is constitutionally entitled to litigation expenses under Article II, Section 29 of the Montana Constitution.
3.Whether the District Court correctly ordered Letica to pay the costs previously awarded to Anaconda-Deer Lodge County as the prevailing party at trial.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 This case arises from a dispute over the status of Modesty Creek Road, located near the boundary between Anaconda-Deer Lodge County (County) and Powell County in the Flint Creek Range foothills approximately ten miles north of Anaconda, Montana. Modesty Creek Road consists of two sections, an upper branch and a lower branch, both of which are located on Letica's property.

         ¶4 In 2012, the Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Commissioners voted to reaffirm Modesty Creek Road as a county road. Immediately after reaffirming the road, the County cut locks on the two gates blocking the lower branch and removed a dirt berm from the upper branch.

         ¶5 Shortly thereafter, Letica filed a complaint and sought a preliminary injunction barring public use until a judgment established the existence of a public right-of-way over either or both branches. The District Court denied Letica's request for a preliminary injunction, concluding that both branches were likely statutorily created county roads established by petition. The District Court also sua sponte bifurcated Letica's Takings Clause claims from the public right-of-way claims. In 2014, following a five-day bench trial, the District Court held that a county petition established the lower branch of Modesty Creek Road, a public prescriptive easement established the upper branch as a public road, and the prescriptive easement had not been extinguished by reverse adverse possession. Letica and McGee appealed.[1] This Court affirmed the District Court's conclusion that the lower branch of Modesty Creek Road is a validly existing petitioned county road and confirmed the District Court's determination of the location of the lower road's terminus. However, this Court found that the public's prescriptive easement on the upper branch was extinguished by reverse adverse possession. The case was remanded for further consideration of Letica's outstanding takings claims.[2]

         ¶6 On remand, the District Court issued an order granting summary judgment in favor of the County and dismissing ...


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