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Pintar v. State

Supreme Court of Montana

December 31, 2019

CARRIE A. PINTAR, d/b/a AMAZING TAXI, Petitioner and Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MONTANA, MONTANA HUMAN RIGHTS BUREAU, and MONTANA PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION, Respondents and Appellees.

          Submitted on Briefs: November 6, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Sixth Judicial District, In and For the County of Park, Cause No. DV 2018-107 Honorable Brenda R. Gilbert, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Carrie A. Pintar, Self-represented, Livingston, Montana

          For Appellee: Justin Kraske, Luke Casey, Public Service Commission, Helena, Montana

          OPINION

          INGRID GUSTAFSON, JUSTICE

         Â¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

         ¶2 Petitioner and Appellant Carrie A. Pintar, d/b/a Amazing Taxi (Pintar), appeals the Decision and Order Affirming Decision of Human Rights Commission issued by the Montana Sixth Judicial District Court, Park County, on January 9, 2019. We affirm, addressing the following dispositive issues: (1) whether the District Court erred by affirming the Final Agency Decision of the Montana Human Rights Commission (HRC); and (2) whether the District Court abused its discretion by not conducting oral argument.

         ¶3 On March 6, 2017, Lyft, Inc. (Lyft) filed an Application for Certificate of Compliance for Class E Transportation Network Carriers with the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC). Pintar formally protested Lyft's application, alleging that Lyft did not meet the standard of fitness required for a Class E carrier. The PSC subsequently scheduled a hearing on Lyft's application for June 5, 2017, pursuant to § 69-12-321(1)(b), MCA. Prior to the hearing, PSC staff prepared a hearing script to be used by the Commissioner presiding over the hearing-in this case PSC chairman Brad Johnson (Johnson). On June 3, 2017, PSC staff sent a copy of the Lyft hearing script to Pintar. The hearing script noted the hearing was to be confined to evidence related to Lyft's fitness as a motor carrier, and asked the parties to confine their "case-in-chiefs [sic] to under an hour."

         ¶4 Pintar appeared before the PSC for the hearing on Lyft's application on June 5, 2017. Though the hearing script asked the parties to contain their arguments to one hour, the hearing ultimately lasted nearly four hours. Pintar asked Commissioner Travis Kavulla to recuse himself from the hearing, but Kavulla did not recuse himself and participated in the hearing. Pintar appeared pro se, while Lyft was represented by counsel. At various times during the hearing, counsel for Lyft objected to Pintar's lines of questioning- typically for going beyond the scope of the hearing. Chairman Johnson would then allow Pintar to explain why her questioning was relevant to Lyft's fitness as a motor carrier before ruling on the objection. After the completion of the hearing, Pintar requested a new hearing in front of the PSC and filed a complaint before the Montana Human Rights Bureau (HRB), alleging that the PSC unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of sex.

         ¶5 When a complaint alleges illegal discrimination, HRB is required to "informally investigate the matters set out in the complaint promptly and impartially to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the allegations are supported by a preponderance of the evidence." Section 49-2-504(1), MCA. In this case, the HRB investigator conducted an informal investigation, in which he obtained position statements from Pintar and the PSC; reviewed a transcript of the June 5, 2017 hearing; and watched the nearly four-hour video of the June 5, 2017 hearing. Following this informal investigation, the HRB investigator issued a Final Investigative Report on February 1, 2018, which found no reasonable cause to believe unlawful discrimination occurred as charged in Pintar's complaint. After receipt of the Final Investigative Report finding no unlawful discrimination occurred, HRB issued a notice of dismissal pursuant to § 49-2-504(7)(b), MCA, on February 2, 2018. In accordance with § 49-2-504(7)(b)(i), MCA, Pintar elected to continue with the administrative process and appealed to the HRC on February 8, 2018.

         ¶6 Section 49-2-511(1), MCA, requires objections be filed with the HRC within 14 days after HRB issues its notice of dismissal. In this case, however, Pintar was unable to open the HRB record and complete her brief, so she dismissed her appeal on March 5, 2018. HRC issued an Order of Dismissal on March 7, 2018. After Pintar explained to the HRC that she dismissed her appeal due to the issues with the transmission of the HRB record-not voluntarily-to the HRC, the HRC issued an Order Nunc Pro Tunc Re-Setting Briefing Schedule, allowing Pintar's objections to proceed. The HRC set a briefing schedule and noted it had meetings scheduled for the week of May 14, 2018, in Helena. After the parties briefed the matter, the HRC noted no party requested oral argument on Pintar's objections. The HRC considered the matter at its May 18, 2018, meeting, and subsequently issued its Final Agency Decision pursuant to § 49-2-511(2)(b), MCA, which overruled Pintar's objections and affirmed the findings of the HRB, on May 29, 2018.

         ¶7 In accordance with § 49-2-511(3)(b), MCA, Pintar appealed the decision of the HRC to the District Court by filing a Petition for Judicial Review on June 26, 2018. On August 24, 2018, the District Court issued an Order Setting Briefing Schedule, which, in relevant part, stated that "[a]ny party may request oral arguments at any time after all briefing is complete." Pintar thereafter requested oral argument on her Petition in her opening brief but did not request oral argument in either her reply brief or "after all briefing is complete." The District Court did not hold a hearing on the Petition, and issued its Decision and Order Affirming Decision of Human Rights Commission on January 9, 2019. Pintar appeals.

         ¶8 As a preliminary matter, we note the PSC urges this Court to utilize the standard of review "applicable to informal agency decisions" rather than the standard of review for agency decisions provided by the Montana Administrative Procedures Act (MAPA) at § 2-4-704(2), MCA. Because Pintar petitioned the District Court pursuant to § 49-2-511(3)(b), MCA, for judicial review of HRC's § 49-2-511(2)(b), MCA, notice of dismissal, she was entitled to review of the decision "pursuant to part 7" of MAPA. Section 2-4-604(5), MCA. Part 7 of MAPA provides for judicial review of contested cases. Section 2-4-702, MCA. Thus, even though Pintar appeals the results of HRB's informal investigation, which were upheld by the HRC, we review this appeal as though it were a contested case and not simply an informal agency decision.

         ¶9 In accordance with the foregoing discussion, we note that MAPA governs actions before the HRC. Bollinger v. Billings Clinic, 2019 MT 42, ¶ 26, 394 Mont. 338, 434 P.3d 885. MAPA ...


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