356 P.3d 441 (Mont. 2015), DA 14-0465, Harrington v. Energy West Inc.

Docket Nº:DA 14-0465
Citation:356 P.3d 441, 380 Mont. 298, 2015 MT 233
Opinion Judge:Beth Baker, Justice.
Party Name:JONATHAN HARRINGTON, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. ENERGY WEST INC., and DOES 1-4, Defendants and Appellees
Attorney:For Appellant: John E. Seidlitz, Jr., Seidlitz Law Office, Great Falls, Montana. For Appellees: Oliver H. Goe, Kimberly A. Beatty, Christy S. McCann, Browning, Kaleczyc, Berry & Hoven, P.C., Helena, Montana.
Judge Panel:BETH BAKER. We concur: MIKE McGRATH, MICHAEL E WHEAT, LAURIE McKINNON, JIM RICE. Justice Beth Baker delivered the Opinion of the Court. We concur: MIKE McGRATH, MICHAEL E WHEAT, LAURIE McKINNON, JIM RICE.
Case Date:August 11, 2015
Court:Supreme Court of Montana
 
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Page 441

356 P.3d 441 (Mont. 2015)

380 Mont. 298, 2015 MT 233

JONATHAN HARRINGTON, Plaintiff and Appellant,

v.

ENERGY WEST INC., and DOES 1-4, Defendants and Appellees

DA 14-0465

Supreme Court of Montana

August 11, 2015

Submitted on Briefs June 10, 2015.

Page 442

APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighth Judicial District, In and For the County of Cascade, Cause No. DDV 13-159. Honorable Dirk M. Sandefur, Presiding Judge.

For Appellant: John E. Seidlitz, Jr., Seidlitz Law Office, Great Falls, Montana.

For Appellees: Oliver H. Goe, Kimberly A. Beatty, Christy S. McCann, Browning, Kaleczyc, Berry & Hoven, P.C., Helena, Montana.

BETH BAKER. We concur: MIKE McGRATH, MICHAEL E WHEAT, LAURIE McKINNON, JIM RICE. Justice Beth Baker delivered the Opinion of the Court.

OPINION

Page 443

[380 Mont. 299] Beth Baker, Justice.

[¶1] Jonathan Harrington sued Energy West, Inc. for claims relating to the termination of his employment. The Eighth Judicial District Court, Cascade County, dismissed Harrington's suit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Harrington appeals. We address the following issues on appeal:

1. Whether the District Court correctly considered evidence outside the pleadings in disposing of Energy West's M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss ;

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2. Whether the District Court correctly dismissed Harrington's suit.

[¶2] We affirm the District Court's resolution of facts and its determination that Ohio law applies to Harrington's contract claims, but we vacate its dismissal and remand for further proceedings.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

[¶3] Energy West is a Montana corporation with its principal place of business in Montana. It is a corporate subsidiary of Gas Natural, Inc. Gas Natural is an Ohio corporation with corporate offices in Ohio and Montana.

[¶4] In February 2011, either Energy West or Gas Natural--the parties dispute which--hired Harrington as a corporate controller. While he held this position, Harrington resided and worked primarily in Ohio. Harrington provided services to Gas Natural's several corporate subsidiaries, including Energy West, and he made four business trips to Montana over the course of eighteen months. Energy West's human resources department manages payroll and benefits for employees of Gas Natural and some of its subsidiaries. Energy West issued Harrington's paychecks and Energy West paid Harrington's payroll taxes, withholdings, and insurance premiums to the State of Ohio.

[¶5] Harrington's employment at Gas Natural's Ohio office was terminated in October 2012. Harrington applied for and received unemployment benefits through the State of Ohio. In February 2013, [380 Mont. 300] Harrington filed suit against Energy West in Montana's Eighth Judicial District Court, alleging wrongful discharge under the Montana Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (WDEA), § 39-2-904(1)(b), MCA; negligent infliction of emotional distress; and defamation. Energy West moved under M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Harrington opposed the motion, requested a hearing, and requested limited discovery on issues related to Energy West's motion. The District Court permitted limited discovery.

[¶6] On July 1, 2014, the District Court held a non-evidentiary, oral argument hearing on the motion. The court ruled from the bench, granting Energy West's motion and dismissing the action. The court relied primarily on Burchett v. Mastec N. Am., Inc., 2004 MT 177, 322 Mont. 93, 93 P.3d 1247, in analyzing subject-matter jurisdiction under Restatement (Second) Conflict of Laws § § 187 and 188 (1971). The court determined that Ohio law governs Harrington's claims. The court then dismissed Harrington's action, holding that, because Ohio law governs, it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, or, in the alternative, that the exercise of jurisdiction was not appropriate in Montana. The District Court entered a written order that same day dismissing the action " due to lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and/or that the State of Ohio is the appropriate forum for exercise of subject-matter jurisdiction in this case." Harrington appeals.

STANDARDS OF REVIEW

[¶7] We review a dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction de novo. In re Marriage of Sampley, 2015 MT 121, ¶ 6, 379 Mont. 131, 347 P.3d 1281. We also review de novo a district court's conflict-of-laws determination of the law that will govern a case. Masters Grp. Int'l, Inc. v. Comerica Bank, 2015 MT 192, ¶ 33, 380 Mont. 1, 352 P.3d 1101. We affirm a district court's factual findings unless clearly erroneous. Stewart v. Rice, 2013 MT 55, ¶ 15, 369 Mont. 203, 296 P.3d 1174.

DISCUSSION

[¶8]1. Whether the District Court correctly considered evidence outside the pleadings in disposing of Energy West's M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss.

[¶9] When presented with a M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, if the plaintiff's complaint fails to " state[] facts that, if true, would vest the court with subject matter jurisdiction," a court may dismiss based on the complaint alone. Gen. Constructors, Inc. v. Chewculator, Inc., 2001 MT 54, ¶ ¶ 16, 39, 304 Mont. 319, 21 [380 Mont. 301] P.3d 604,

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overruled on other grounds by Big Spring v. Conway, 2011 MT 109, ¶ 45, 360 Mont. 370, 255 P.3d 121. A court also has discretion to receive evidence of facts bearing on the M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) motion and determine that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction based on that evidence. See Sampley, ¶ 9.

[¶10] Harrington appears to argue that, in resolving Energy West's motion, the District Court improperly determined factual issues. To the extent that Harrington is arguing that the District Court could not rely on the affidavits and documents submitted by the parties to resolve the M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) motion, he is mistaken. See Sampley...

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