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MTSUN, LLC v. The Montana Department of Public Service Regulation

Supreme Court of Montana

August 6, 2019

MTSUN, LLC, Applicant, Petitioner, and Appellee,
v.
THE MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SERVICE REGULATION, MONTANA PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION, Respondent and Cross-Appellant, and NORTHWESTERN CORPORATION, d/b/a NORTHWESTERN ENERGY, Intervenor, Petitioner, and Appellant, and THE MONTANA CONSUMER COUNSEL, Intervenor.

          ORDER

         Appellant Northwestern Corporation, d/b/a Northwestern Energy (Northwestern) has filed a M. R. App. P. 22(2)(a) motion for relief from the District Court's Order denying its motion to stay judgment pending this appeal.[1] Northwestern seeks relief from the Order on the basis that the District Court did not correctly weigh the factors governing stays and failed to analyze whether a failure to grant a stay would cause North Western to suffer irreparable harm. Appellee MTSUN, LLC, opposes NorthWestern's motion.

         We review a decision of a district court granting or denying a stay for abuse of discretion. Terms v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 2011 MT 156, ¶ 17, 361 Mont. 129, 257 P.3d 352. The test for abuse of discretion is whether the trial court acted arbitrarily without employment of conscientious judgment or exceeded the bounds of reason resulting in substantial injustice. Jarvenpaa v. Glacier Electric Co-op, 1998 MT 306, ¶ 13, 292 Mont. 118, 970 P.2d 84. In reviewing the decision, we are guided by a number of considerations. First, the Court will be guided by Rule 22(2)(a)(i), which requires that an appellant demonstrate good cause for the relief requested. The Court also looks to the general factors governing stays of civil judgments articulated in Hilton v. Braunskill, 481 U.S. 770, 107 S.Ct. 2113 (1987). Those factors are: (1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and (4) where the public interest lies.

         In its Order denying the stay, the District Court ruled that: (1) it did not believe a reversal was likely on appeal; (2) Northwestern would not personally suffer any substantial harm, as it would pass any costs to its customers; (3) MTSUN would suffer harm if the stay was granted because its project had been delayed for several years and it was at risk of losing its funding and tax credits; and (4) although North Western's customers would pay the costs, public policy via both federal and state law encourages the development of projects such as that proposed by MTSUN. In weighing these factors, the court concluded that it was appropriate to deny Northwestern's motion for stay.

         In its motion before this Court, Northwestern argues that the District Court erred in its analysis of the factors. MTSUN disagrees. We thus consider whether the District Court acted arbitrarily without employment of conscientious judgment or exceeded the bounds of reason resulting in substantial injustice in analyzing the factors and reaching its conclusion.

         As to the first factor, Northwestern argues that it is likely to prevail on appeal, while MTSUN argues Northwestern is not. Our review of the briefing on this motion has not provided us with an impression as to the likelihood of Northwestern's success on appeal; however, we see no evidence that the District Court abused its discretion in concluding otherwise.

         As to the second factor, Northwestern does not disagree with the District Court that it will not suffer actual harm because it will pass any increased costs along to its customers. And, as to the third factor, Northwestern does not deny MTSUN's allegation of harm. Rather, it argues that MTSUN could move this Court to expedite this matter on appeal.[2]Thus, there is no evidence the District Court abused its discretion on its determinations of either of these factors.

         As to the fourth factor, Northwestern asserts that higher costs are not in the public's interest, while MTSUN argues that it is in the public's interest to follow federal and state law which set a public policy in favor of projects such as the one at issue here. Both of these valid considerations were recognized by the District Court, and thus there is no evidence of abuse of discretion here.

         Having considered the District Court's Order Denying Motion for Stay and the parties' arguments, we do not believe the District Court acted arbitrarily or exceeded the bounds of reason in weighing these factors and denying NorthWestern's motion for stay. Since the District Court did not abuse its discretion, we shall not disturb its ruling.

         IT IS ORDERED that the M. R. App. P. 22(2)(a) motion of North Western Energy for relief from the District Court's order is DENIED.

         The Clerk is directed to provide copies of this Order to all counsel of record.

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Notes:

[1] Although NorthWestern initially filed this motion with an application for expedited consideration prior to the District Court ruling upon NorthWestern's motion for a stay in that court, the District Court has since ruled and denied the stay under M. R. App. P. 22(1).

[2] A related case, Vote Solar v. The Montana Department of Public Service Regulation, DA 19-0223, is also before this Court on a Motion to Stay under M. R. App. P. 22(2)(a). These matters are distinguishable from each other as critical facts are different and the parties have raised different legal arguments in each case. Most notably, in this case, unlike the related case, the party objecting to the stay alleges it would personally suffer harm if the stay is granted. Furthermore, ...


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