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DA 20-0052 - GARY AND CAROLYN KAUL, Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant and Appellee.
Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana.
Kauls own an RV that was insured by State Farm. During a trip to Arizona in March and April 2017, the RV sustained a tear in the roof membrane that went unnoticed at the time. After this trip, the Kauls parked the RV at an outdoor storage facility in Missoula. Near the end of May, the Kauls noticed a small bubble in the passenger-side wall of the RV and they decided to keep an eye on it. In June, the Kauls noticed that the bubble had gotten larger and they investigated the cause. Gary Kaul discovered the roof tear and determined that rain must have gotten into the wall through it.
The Kauls sought to have the RV repaired, eventually taking it to a repair shop in Oregon because they could not find a Montana shop that could fix the damage. State Farm agreed to pay for the roof repair but not for the wall damage. State Farm argued that Kauls’ insurance policy only covered “direct, sudden and accidental” damage and that the wall damage had occurred gradually. State Farm also denied liability for the expenses the Kauls incurred in protecting and repairing the RV.
The District Court determined that State Farm was liable for the expenses the Kauls incurred in protecting and repairing the RV. However, the court concluded that State Farm was not liable for the repair of the wall damage because the water infiltration was not “sudden damage,” but occurred over a longer period of time after the water entered the RV wall.
The Kauls have appealed the District Court’s determination, arguing that State Farm is liable for the cost of repairing the RV wall under their insurance policy.
DA 19-0731 - STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. TRAVIS STAKER, Defendant and Appellant.
Oral Argument Oral Argument is set for Friday, March 26, 2021, at 9:30 a.m. in the George Dennison Theatre at the University of Montana in Missoula, with an introduction to the oral argument beginning at 9:00 a.m. Venue is subject to change pursuant to the health and safety guidelines in place on that date.
Staker responded to an internet ad that offered an “experience” with “Lily” by sending a text message to the phone number that appeared in the ad. Staker and “Lily” then engaged in a text conversation that resulted in Staker arranging to meet at a Bozeman hotel where Staker would pay “Lily” in exchange for sexual intercourse. When Staker arrived at the hotel, he was arrested and charged with prostitution. Staker learned that the ad he responded to was part of an undercover operation and that he had been exchanging text messages with a Homeland Security Special Agent. The arresting officers seized Staker’s cell phone but did not obtain a search warrant.
Staker moved to suppress the text message exchange, arguing that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the text conversation. While the Montana Supreme Court has never addressed the issue of whether a warrant is required for an undercover law enforcement officer to engage in a text message conversation with a potential suspect, Staker argued that a text message exchange should be treated the same as oral communication, were a warrant is required for law enforcement to listen to and record a conversation. In denying Staker’s motion, however, the District Court noted that the cases Staker relied upon involved instances in which a defendant and another party engaged in an oral conversation that was recorded by law enforcement, whereas here, Staker engaged in a written conversation directly with one of the arresting officers. The court further reasoned that Staker chose to engage in text messaging rather than a phone call, his messages were not surreptitiously recorded, and he knew or should have known the conversation was memorialized in written form and that “Lily” could voluntarily share his messages with law enforcement.
On appeal, Staker argues that the Montana Supreme Court should reverse the District Court’s ruling, hold that the search and seizure of his text messages was unlawful, and suppress all evidence in this case.