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Montana Independent Living Project v. State, Department of Transportation

Supreme Court of Montana

December 31, 2019


          Submitted on Briefs: October 16, 2019

          Appeal From District Court of the First Judicial District, In and For the County of Lewis and Clark, Cause No. ADV-2017-921 Honorable Mike Menahan, Presiding Judge.

          For Appellant: Elizabeth L. Griffing, Axilon Law Group, PLLC, Helena, Montana.

          For Appellee: Carol Grell Morris, Valerie A. Balukas, Special Assistant Attorneys General, Montana Department of Transportation, Helena, Montana.


          Mike McGrath Chief Justice.

         ¶1 Montana Independent Living Project ("MILP") appeals an April 4, 2019 First Judicial District Court order denying MILP's motion for summary judgment and granting the Montana Department of Transportation's ("MDOT") motion for summary judgment. We affirm.

         ¶2 We restate the issues on appeal as follows:

Issue One: Whether § 7-14-112(3)(a), MCA, unconstitutionally delegates legislative authority to MDOT by authorizing the disbursement of TransADE funds consistent with the State Management Plan.
Issue Two: Whether MDOT engaged in unauthorized rulemaking when adopting guidelines in the State Management Plan.
Issue Three: Whether MDOT violated the public's right to know and participate under Article II, Section 8, of the Montana Constitution when it developed the State Management Plan.
Issue Four: Whether the Montana Legislature's authorization of disbursement of TransADE funds violates Article VIII, Section 12, of the Montana Constitution.


         History of TransADE

         ¶3 The facts in this case are not in dispute. In 2001, the Montana Legislature passed S.B. 448, the Transportation Assistance for the Elderly and Disabled ("TransADE") program. The TransADE program provides operating assistance for bus transportation to state agencies serving elderly and disabled persons around Montana. The act authorized MDOT to administer the TransADE program and award special revenue grants using guidelines established in the State Management Plan for the purposes described in 49 U.S.C. §§ 5310 (formula grants for the enhanced mobility of seniors and individuals with disabilities) and 5311 (formula grants for rural areas).

         ¶4 In 2006, Congress passed a new federal transportation bill-the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users ("SAFETEA-LU")-increasing Montana's federal transit budget from $1.3 million to approximately $6.2 million and increasing the number of rural transit systems from nine to thirty-three providers. As a result of these increases, many transit providers required additional local funds. Consequently in 2007, the Montana Legislature passed S.B. 160, allowing TransADE funds to be used as match for federal operating grants pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 5311.[1]

         ¶5 Also, in 2006, in response to Montana's increased federal transportation budget, MDOT staff traveled to communities throughout Montana and held public meetings with community leaders, transit providers, county commissioners, non-profit organizations, and interested citizens.[2] These meetings focused on coordinating and efficiently distributing state and federal funds consistent with state and federal statutory requirements. Feedback received at these meetings shaped the policies and procedures set forth in the State Management Plan, allowing MDOT to use federal formulas for disbursing federal transit grants and the Legislature's formula for disbursing state TransADE grants.

         TransADE Fund Distribution

         ¶6 TransADE grants are formula grants. Unlike competitive grants, in which primarily private organizations submit applications and are subject to a competitive selection process, formula grants are noncompetitive and generally awarded to state and local governments. Three basic elements comprise MDOT's formula for determining TransADE grant awards: (1) the guidelines established in the State Management Plan, as required by § 7-14-112(3)(a), MCA; (2) the three factors dictating grant award priority, pursuant to § 7-14-112(3)(b), MCA; and (3) the criteria established in § 7-14-112(4), MCA, which MDOT utilizes for determining preference for state grant proposals.

         ¶7 Section 7-14-112(3)(a), MCA, provides,

Subject to the conditions in subsection (3)(b), the department of transportation is authorized to award [TransADE] grants to counties, incorporated cities and towns, tribal governments, urban transportation districts, and nonprofit organizations for transportation services using guidelines established in the state management plan for the purposes described in 49 U.S.C. 5310 and 5311.

         Since October 2007, TransADE funds have been administered consistent with the guidelines set forth in the State Management Plan. The Federal Transit Administration ("FTA"), an agency within the United States Department of Transportation providing financial and technical assistance to local public transportation systems, requires that the State Management Plan describe the policies and procedures for administering the transit program, incorporating the factors and criteria for awarding grants expressed in § 7-14-112(3)(b) and, (4), MCA. The State Management Plan details the State's transportation policies, including the coordination of transportation services in service areas through a Transportation Advisory Committee ("TAC").

         ¶8 Additionally, the State Management Plan dictates that for an applicant to receive either federal or state funding, it must provide "eligible services," i.e., "general public transportation services" and "consolidated human service transportation." For nonurbanized areas and intercity bus transportation projects, the TAC chooses a "lead agency" for submission of one grant application for each area. This streamlined application process allows the lead agency to administer the grant funding for each community, ensuring efficient coordination of services in an area and avoiding duplication of general public transportation services.[3] MDOT does not prioritize or monitor TransADE services at the local level or determine the entities that receive TransADE funds, but simply provides assistance to the lead agencies.

         ¶9 As noted, TransADE awards are further decided by the factors and criteria detailed in § 7-14-112(3)(b) and (4), MCA. Section 7-14-112(3)(b)(i)-(iii), MCA, provides three factors for determining priority in awarding TransADE grants:

(i) the most recent census or federal estimate of persons 60 years of age or older and persons with disabilities in the area served by a county, incorporated city or town, tribal government, urban transportation district, or nonprofit organization;
(ii) the annual number of trips provided by the transportation provider to persons 60 years of age or older and to persons with disabilities in the ...

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