Oral Argument Schedule
The majority of cases before the Montana Supreme Court are decided based upon the written briefs submitted by the parties. However, the Court may decide that a case requires further discussion, in addition to what the parties have argued in their written briefs. In such cases, oral arguments are scheduled in open session before the Court. Approximately 30 cases a year are scheduled for oral argument.
Oral arguments are tightly structured and timed. The counsel for each party is allowed limited time to make an argument. The times typically range from 20 to 40 minutes and are set forth by the Court in the order setting oral argument.
While this format allows the counsel brief opportunity to further develop their arguments, it also gives the Court an opportunity to ask questions of the attorneys on points which the Court needs clarification.
A majority of oral arguments take place in the Montana Supreme Court Courtroom, located at 215 N. Sanders, Helena, Montana. The Court does schedule a few arguments to be heard in different cities around the State.
All of the oral arguments are open to the public.
--DA 12-0600 and DA 12-0278 RONALD L. KOHLER and BARBARA J. KOHLER, husband and wife; THOMAS F. JONES and RITA A. JONES, husband and wife; DENNIS A. ARNOLD and GERALDINE N. ARNOLD, husband and wife; and DEBRA L. SYKES, Plaintiffs and Appellees, v. KELLER TRANSPORT, INC.; WAGNER ENTERPRISES, LLC; AND DOES 1-10, Defendants. WESTCHESTER SURPLUS LINES INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellants. AND WESTCHESTER SURPLUS LINES INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. KELLER TRANSPORT, INC.; WAGNER ENTERPRISES, LLC; THOMAS F. JONES and RITA A. JONES, husband and wife; DEBRA L. SYKES; RONALD L. KOHLER and BARBARA J. KOHLER, husband and wife; and DENNIS A. ARNOLD and GERALDINE N. ARNOLD, husband and wife, Defendants and Appellees. ORAL ARGUMENT has been set for Friday, September 11, 2015, at 10:00 a.m. at the Holiday Inn Missoula Downtown, Missoula, Montana, with an introduction to the oral argument beginning at 9:30 a.m. Oral argument times shall be 40 minutes for the Appellant and 30 minutes for the Appellees.
These appeals arise from an April 2008 trucking accident and gasoline spill near Polson. Keller Transportation and Wagner Enterprises, the two trucking companies involved, both carried primary liability insurance with CCIC and excess liability coverage with Westchester Surplus Insurance.
In Kohler v. Keller, the owners of property damaged by the gasoline spill stipulated with the trucking companies to a $13 million judgment, which judgment the property owners agreed to recover solely from the insurance companies. Westchester moved to intervene in that action, but the Twentieth Judicial District Court denied that motion and ruled that the insurers’ liability would be determined in Westchester v. Keller.
In Westchester v. Keller, the trucking companies and the insurers litigated the extent of coverage provided by the insurance companies. The Fourth Judicial District Court ruled that Westchester’s coverage was double what the insurer argued for; that Westchester’s insurance policy established a duty to defend the insured trucking companies; that, by its actions, Westchester had assumed and breached a duty to defend the trucking companies; and that the insurers were liable for the stipulated judgment, which was reasonable.
Westchester is the appellant in both cases. CCIC settled. The Montana Trial Lawyers have filed an amicus brief regarding the standard of review of the reasonableness of a stipulated judgment.
--14-0780 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. ORAL ARGUMENT has been set for Wednesday, September 16, 2015, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana. Oral argument times shall be 40 minutes for the Appellant and 30 minutes for the Appellee.
This case arises out of a dispute about whether there is a county road (“Modesty Creek Road”) running across property owned by Don McGee and by Letica Land Company north of Anaconda. Based on evidence presented at trial, the District Court ruled that a public road was created in 1889 across the property now owned by McGee (the “lower branch”) by petition and declaration. The court ruled that a public road was created by prescriptive easement across the land now owned by Letica (the “upper branch”).
On appeal, both Letica and McGee argue that the 1889 conditional declaration of a public road was never satisfied and that, in deciding this case, the District Court considered evidence it should not have considered and failed to consider evidence it should have considered. In addition, they argue that the evidence was insufficient to establish a prescriptive easement and the court employed the wrong standard of proof for a prescriptive easement on the “upper branch,” that any prescriptive easement has been extinguished by locked gates since the 1980s, and that, at any rate, the District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because it failed to join the owner of other property across which the “upper branch” runs.
--14-0529 GENE R. CURRY, CHERYL S. CURRY, and CURRY CATTLE CO., Plaintiffs, Counterclaim-Defendants and Appellants, v. PONDERA COUNTY CANAL & RESERVOIR COMPANY, Defendant, Appellee and Cross-Appellant. ORAL ARGUMENT has been set for Wednesday, September 30, 2015, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana. Oral argument times shall be 40 minutes for the Appellanst and 30 minutes for the Appellee.
This is an appeal from an order regarding water rights in Birch Creek, which arises on the Rocky Mountain Front and then flows northeasterly to the Marias River. The Water Court concluded Pondera County Canal & Reservoir Co. (PCCRC) may claim a service area place of use and that PCCRC’s water rights entitle it to irrigate up to 72,000 acres within the service area. Appellants are other Birch Creek water users. They contend the Water Court erred (1) when it ruled water rights for the purpose of sale or rental are not limited by historic beneficial use; (2) by granting PCCRC a 377,555.5 acre service area rather than a place of use based upon historic beneficial use; (3) by ruling PCCRC’s storage rights were used on the Birch Creek Flats prior to 1973; and (4) by substituting its judgment for the trier of fact’s.
On cross-appeal, PCCRC argues the Water Court erred by not including volume quantifications in its tabulation of PCCRC’s and Appellants’ claims in the Ryan/Lauffer Ditch.
Montana Trout Unlimited has filed an amicus brief in support of Appellants, and the Montana Water Resources Association has filed an amicus brief in support of PCCRC.