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Judicial Branch

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.

Click Here to see list of previous Oral Arguments
 
List of Audio Files 

2015

JANUARY

--DA 14-0015  GREGORY A. CHRISTIAN, et al.,  Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. ATLANTIC RICHFIELD COMPANY, Defendant and Appellee.    ORAL ARGUMENT has been set for Wednesday,  January 14, 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 Appellants and 30 minutes for the Appellee.

A group of citizens of Opportunity, Montana, filed suit against the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) to recover damages for elevated arsenic levels in their soils and other injuries to their properties from ARCO’s former industrial activities in the area. The Second Judicial District Court granted ARCO’s motion for summary judgment on grounds that the statute of limitations had expired—ARCO’s industrial activities in the area ended in 1980.

In this appeal, the citizens argue that whether the statute of limitations has expired turns on a question of fact, not a legal question to be resolved by the court on summary judgment. They maintain that, under this Court’s opinion in Burley v. Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co., reasonably abatable pollution gives rise to a continuing tort, and the question of whether the pollution in Opportunity is reasonably abatable is a question of fact for a jury to decide. 

--DA 14-0253  ROBERT W. ANDERSON, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. BNSF RAILWAY, a Delaware Corporation, Defendant and Appellee.    ORAL ARGUMENT has been set for Wednesday,  January 28, 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.

After 33 years of employment with BNSF, Robert Anderson filed this action against his employer under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). Anderson claims BNSF negligently caused him to suffer cumulative trauma injuries to his back, culminating in a disabling back injury in 2008. The Eighth Judicial District Court submitted to a jury the question of whether the statute of limitations had run on Anderson’s claims, and the jury found that it had, precluding Anderson’s recovery of damages. Anderson appeals both the court’s decision to submit this question to the jury and the jury’s answer to the question. He also claims BNSF’s counsel made improper arguments and statements at the 7-day jury trial. Anderson asks this Court to construe FELA liberally in his favor and grant him a new trial.

FEBRUARY  

--OP 14-0685  BARRY ALLAN BEACH, Petitioner, v. STATE OF MONTANA, Respondent.  ORAL ARGUMENT has been set for Wednesday,  February 4, 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 Petitioner and 30 minutes for the Respondent.

Barry Beach asks the Court to grant him a writ of habeas corpus on grounds that the 100-year sentence he is serving at Montana State Prison for his 1984 conviction of deliberate homicide is invalid. He sets forth two grounds for relief:

1. At Beach’s sentencing, the court did not consider Beach’s age at the time the crime was committed (he was 17 years old) as a mitigating factor.

2. The sentence “leaves no meaningful opportunity for release.”

Beach asks the Court to vacate his sentence and send the case back to the District Court for resentencing in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent. In the alternative, he asks the Court to strike a provision of his sentence declaring him ineligible for parole. 

MARCH  

--OP 14-0786  SHARON MEEK, as Personal Representative of the ESTATE OF JUDY J. MEEK, Deceased, Plaintiff and Petitioner, v. MONTANA EIGHTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT, CASCADE COUNTY, THE HONORABLE JON A. OLDENBURG, Presiding Judge, Respondent.    ORAL ARGUMENT has been set for Wednesday,  March 11, 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 30 minutes for the Petitioner and 25 minutes for the Respondent.

Sharon Meek, Personal Representative of the Estate of Judy Meek, asks the Court to take supervisory control over the Eighth Judicial District Court in her action for survival and wrongful death damages arising out of Judy Meek’s injuries from a fall at a Great Falls business. Trial is set for April 13, 2015.

Specifically, Sharon Meek challenges the District Court’s pretrial ruling prohibiting her from presenting evidence of the amounts charged and billed by Judy Meek’s medical providers for treatment of her injuries. The District Court instead limited her to presenting evidence of, and recovering as damages, only the discounted amounts which were paid by Judy Meek’s insurers, Medicare and Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

The Montana Trial Lawyers and the Montana Defense Trial Lawyers both have filed amicus briefs.

APRIL

--DA 14-0260  MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. PRICELINE.COM, INC.; TRAVEL WEB, LLC; TRIP NETWORK, INC.; ORBITZ, LLC; EXPEDIA, INC.; HOTELS, COM, L.P.; HOTWIRE, INC.; TRAVELOCITY.COM, LP; SUITE59.COM, LLC; and DOES 1 through 1000, Inclusive, Defendants and Appellees.     ORAL ARGUMENT has been set for Friday,  April 10, 2015, at 10:00 a.m. at the George Dennison Theater, University of Montana, 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.

The First Judicial District Court granted summary judgment to Priceline and other online travel companies (OTCs) in this action for declaratory and injunctive relief concerning the Montana lodging facility use tax and sales tax on lodging and vehicle rentals. The Department of Revenue (DOR) appeals.

DOR raises the following issues on appeal:

  • Whether the District Court erred by upholding the OTCs’ calculation of taxes based on their wholesale cost, instead of on the total amount paid by a hotel guest or car renter.
  • Whether the District Court erred by disregarding the § 15-68-103(1), MCA, presumption of taxability.
  • Whether the District Court erred by treating the OTCs as taxpayers rather than as tax collectors.
  • Whether the District Court erred when it failed to rule on the OTCs’ practice of keeping all monies, including taxes, in “breakage” transactions (in which the guest or car renter paid for the room or car but then did not make the trip).

Friend-of-the-Court briefs have been filed by the Multistate Tax Commission (in support of DOR) and the Montana Chamber of Commerce and Montana Taxpayers’ Association (in support of the OTCs).

--DA 14-0089  STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. ROBERT E. SPADY, Defendant and Appellee.  ORAL ARGUMENT has been set for Monday, April 27, 2015, at 10:00 a.m. in the Strand Union Building, Ballroom A on the campus of Montana State University, Bozeman, 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 Appellee.

Robert Spady was granted pretrial release on misdemeanor DUI and careless driving charges. Conditions of his release included that he undergo twice-daily breath testing under the 24/7 sobriety program codified at Title 44, chapter 4, part 12, MCA.

Spady was later charged with criminal contempt of court based on his failure to comply, on three occasions, with the breath testing requirement. He moved to dismiss the contempt charges on several constitutional grounds, including violation of his rights to substantive due process and equal protection, and violation of the excessive bail clause. The Lincoln County Justice Court rejected Spady’s constitutional challenges, and Spady and the State of Montana entered a plea agreement under which he pled nolo contendere to the contempt charges. Spady then appealed to the Nineteenth Judicial District Court. The District Court concluded the 24/7 statutes on which the breath testing requirement was based (1) are void for vagueness; (2) amount to an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority; and (3) impose pretrial punishment in violation of due process. The State appeals.

Bypassing several procedural arguments, the Court has agreed to review the constitutional challenges to the 24/7 program under its power of supervisory control. In addition to the arguments raised previously, Spady’s counsel in this appeal argues that pretrial breath testing amounts to an unconstitutional search.