$666,534.11 Judgment in Favor of Water District against Subdivision Developers

Source: Montana Law Week

WATER EASEMENT TRESPASS/NUISANCE: $622,196.56 damages, $29,991 attorney fees, $14,346.55 costs to Water District against subdivision developers for failure to build retaining wall to prevent erosion of earth protecting water & sewer lines consequently requiring new water line to town… $278,521.81 damages to homeowners… Cybulski.
Max & Sue Berg own Fort Yellowstone subdivision in Gardiner. Max Berg owned Berg Excavation for 25 years and has experience building subdivisions, water lines, sewer lines, roads, and retaining walls. Bergs applied in 1992 for the subdivision with water & sewer to be supplied by what is now known as Gardiner-Park Co. Water & Sewer Dist. The sewer line was an existing line serving Gardiner and Mammoth, but a water line extension needed to be constructed by Bergs to serve the subdivision. The DEQ-approved plans provided that a water line would be on a steep slope between Hwy 89 and the Yellowstone River. A road would be built between the water line and river to provide access to condos along the river. A retaining wall was to be built between the road cut and water line to stabilize the slope. Max Berg installed the water line and road in 1995, but did not install a retaining wall. A year after activating the water line, the Water Dist. noticed that he had punched in a road under the line. The Manager explained that the road “destabilized the slope. The main was essentially along a cliff face.” Despite this, Bergs did not install a retaining wall. Bergs sued Gaston Engineering in 1999 alleging negligence in locating the water line and road below it which resulted in Bergs being “forced to import and place fill as well as build a retaining wall.” Bergs and Gaston settled in 11/00. Great West Engineering warned in 5/07 that the water line was in jeopardy of rupturing because of erosion due to lack of a retaining wall. The District advised Bergs that it planned to disconnect the line and install a new one in the highway right of way. DEQ issued Bergs a violation letter in 3/08 for failure to construct the retaining wall, followed by multiple communications. In 4/08 Bergs advised that they had retained an engineer to design & install gabion basket walls instead of a retaining wall. DEQ approved the substitution. As of 7/09, the gabion baskets had not been installed. DEQ issued a notice of revocation to Bergs pertaining to the subdivision in 10/09 for failure to install the retaining wall. Bergs appealed. Board of Environmental Review affirmed the revocation. Bergs sued the Water Dist. in 12/08 for inverse condemnation, trespass, and quiet title. The District counterclaimed alleging trespass and nuisance and requesting injunctive and declarative relief. The District requests summary judgment.
Bergs trespassed on the District’s easements by causing erosion of the earth cover below the water & sewer lines resulting in no longer having the cover required by its easements. The trespasses also include Berg performing excavation work within the easement areas without permission and leaving boulders on the sewer line easement. The trespass is continuing by virtue of the continued erosion.

Bergs’ conduct that caused erosion of the earth supporting the lines amounts to a public nuisance. The eroding condition of the slope continues to be “injurious to health” “so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life.” §27-30-101(1). The Gardiner community was “affected” by the eroding condition and installation of a new water line at a cost of $100,000. At the very least, a “neighborhood” of Gardiner was “affected” in that the line installed by Bergs had to be abandoned and a new line installed in the highway right of way. The ongoing threat to the existing sewer line and abandoned water line continues to “affect” at the very least a “neighborhood” of Gardiner. Subdivision lot owners McInerney and Hoffers previously sued Bergs for failing to install a retaining wall resulting in inability to build on any properties. The Court granted summary judgment for them. Bergs created a private nuisance to the Water District by diminishing and damaging its rights to the water and sewer lines. Judgment for the Water Dist. is granted on its public and private nuisance claims.

Bergs are enjoined from causing further erosion below the water and sewer lines. The District is granted access to the Ft. Yellowstone property to inspect and maintain its lines and remediate the erosion.

Following a damages hearing, the Court awarded the Water Dist. $622,196.56 against Bergs, $29,991 attorney fees, and $14,346.55 costs, with interest at 10%.
McInerney and Hoffers were awarded $278,521.81 damages against Bergs, and the District recovered $912.50 costs against McInerney and Hoffers.

Fired Gallatin County deputy settles civil cases for $400K

Written by: Whitney Bermes, Bozeman Daily Chronicle

A former Gallatin County sheriff’s deputy, who a judge ordered to be reinstated after being fired in 2014, has settled his civil lawsuits against the county, agreeing to not come back to the department after receiving a settlement.

Gallatin County agreed to pay David Johnston $400,000 to settle his actions against the county.

Johnston sued the county following his firing, asking to be reinstated. Following a three-day trial in 2015, District Judge Brenda Gilbert of Park and Sweet Grass counties reinstated Johnston and ordered the county to pay him more than $125,000 in lost salary and benefits.

The county appealed the decision to the Montana Supreme Court. In the meantime, Johnston filed additional claims against the county in federal court.

This month, the parties settled all the suits with the county agreeing to pay $400,000. As part of the agreement, Johnston agreed to never seek reinstatement with the sheriff’s office.

Johnston was fired in 2014 after sheriff’s office administrators say he refused to turn over a tape recorder after Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin ordered him to immediately return it.

On that tape recorder was an interaction Johnston had with Deputy Kelly Munter, his ex-girlfriend. He claimed she became angry with him and berated him while the two responded to a call at Monforton School in July 2014.

Munter later filed a complaint against Johnston that led to Johnston being placed on administrative leave.

Two days after Johnston was put on leave, Lt. Jake Wagner requested that Johnston turn over his tape recorder. Johnston said he wanted to seek advice from an attorney first and make a copy prior to turning it over to Wagner.

That same day, accompanied by an attorney, Johnston returned the recorder to the sheriff’s office after making a copy of the audio for himself.

Later that month, following a disciplinary hearing, Johnston was fired.

During the trial, Gootkin testified that the recorder was county property that needed to be returned as soon as possible. But Johnston refused to comply with Gootkin’s order, the sheriff said.

And it is important for his deputies to follow Gootkin’s orders because the sheriff’s office is entrusted to the public, Gootkin testified.

“We have a huge responsibility to the people we serve. When you violate that trust, whether it be lying or disobeying an order,” Gootkin said, “I can’t allow that to occur.”

Johnston’s attorney, Todd Shea, on the other hand, argued that Johnston’s firing was a “punishment (that) simply didn’t fit this crime” and that Johnston was entitled to get a copy of the recorder’s contents.

The firing was “cooked up” by the sheriff’s office command staff as a way to get rid of Johnston, who had prior bad incidents with Munter following their breakup, Shea said.
Judge Gilbert sided with Johnston, saying Johnston’s firing was contrary to sheriff’s office policies and state law.

Johnston didn’t refuse to comply with the sheriff’s order, but rather made it clear that he wanted legal advice prior to giving the recorder back to the sheriff’s office.

“Johnston’s short delay in compliance with the sheriff’s order, under the circumstances presented to Johnston, do not equate with a refusal to comply with the order,” Gilbert wrote in her ruling.

And Johnston, a 10-year veteran in the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, was fired after a 10-20 minute hearing where no testimony was presented. Additionally, Gilbert noted the order that Johnston was accused of violating was given by Gootkin, who also conducted the disciplinary hearing and who testified that he was “upset, emotional and mad” during both Johnston’s disciplinary hearing and termination meeting.

“The termination hearing that resulted in Johnson’s termination does not pass muster in terms of basic due process rights afforded to any individual facing the potential loss of his or her livelihood,” Gilbert wrote.

Calvin Stacey, a Billings attorney who represented the county during the case, was out of town and unavailable to comment Thursday. Shea declined to comment on the settlement.