Bugli v. Ravalli Cnty., DA 18-0509

Decision Date09 July 2019
Docket NumberDA 18-0509
Parties Zackary Jay BUGLI, Tracy Bugli, Wade Cox and Charlene Cox; and Violet Cox, as Trustee of the Cox Family Trust, Petitioners and Appellants, v. RAVALLI COUNTY, a Political Subdivision of the State of Montana, Respondent and Appellee.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

For Appellants: Martin S. King, Jesse C. Kodadek, Worden Thane, P.C., Missoula, Montana

For Appellee: William E. Fulbright, Ravalli County Attorney, Daniel Browder, Deputy County Attorney, Hamilton, Montana

Chief Justice Mike McGrath delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Zackary Bugli, Tracy Bugli, Wade Cox, Charlene Cox, and Violet Cox (Landowners) appeal from a Twenty-First Judicial District Court order denying Landowners' Verified Petition for a Writ of Review & Injunctive Relief. We affirm.

¶2 This Court restates the issue on appeal as follows:

Whether the District Court abused its discretion by denying Landowners' petition for a writ of review on the basis that Landowners failed to show the Board exceeded its jurisdiction in the proceedings related to Landowners' petition to abandon a portion of Hughes Creek Road.

¶3 This dispute concerns where Hughes Creek Road, a county road built in 1900, ends and private property begins. Hughes Creek Road begins at its junction with West Fork Road near the confluence of Hughes Creek and the West Fork of the Bitterroot River. Landowners, relying on a map created in 1965 (1965 Map), assert that the county portion of Hughes Creek Road extends roughly nine miles. The Ravalli County Board of County Commissioners (Board) found that Hughes Creek Road extends roughly twelve miles, and that the historical record, taken as a whole, contradicts the 1965 Map.

The Historical Record

¶4 Hughes Creek Road was built in 1900 to access mining claims held by the Woods Placer Mining Company. The petition creating the county road and an entry in an early road plat book reflect that Hughes Creek Road commenced near the post office in Alta, Montana, and ran east along Hughes Creek for "about twelve miles." Ravalli County (County) initially maintained the full length of Hughes Creek Road with a four-horse team and a County-owned grader. The historical record further evidences that the United States Forest Service (USFS) constructed a trailhead at the end of the road.

¶5 In 1965, the County and USFS entered into an agreement for the maintenance of Hughes Creek Road. The 1965 Map, created in conjunction with the 1965 road maintenance agreement, depicted the end of the county road at the western end of Mining Survey 5883, roughly nine miles from its junction with West Fork Road. In 1981, the County and USFS amended the 1965 maintenance agreement, for which the 1965 Map was created. The amended maintenance agreement stated that Hughes Creek Road was twelve miles long, with 8.4 miles graded and 3.4 miles primitive. The agreement was again amended in 2010, stating Hughes Creek Road was 11.8 miles long, with 7.8 miles graded and 4 miles primitive.

¶6 In the late 1970s, landowners erected a locked gate across Hughes Creek Road at roughly nine miles from the road’s junction with West Fork Road, consistent with the point depicted by the 1965 Map as the end of the county road.

¶7 In 1982, landowners on Hughes Creek Road, including Landowners and their predecessors in interest, petitioned the Board for abandonment of the road beyond the gate. The Board denied the petition, found that Hughes Creek Road extended 11.8 miles and provided access to a USFS trailhead and federally-managed public lands, and ordered the gate removed.

¶8 In 1984, the County filed suit seeking removal of two gates across Hughes Creek Road and a temporary restraining order for their removal. While the District Court orally denied the County’s request for a temporary restraining order, the case was later dismissed by stipulation, and no final judgment was entered. Bugli v. Ravalli Cty. , 2018 MT 177, ¶¶ 4, 12, 392 Mont. 131, 422 P.3d 131 ( Bugli I ).

¶9 Landowners' current gate obstructs Hughes Creek Road at roughly 8.5 miles from its junction with West Fork Road, whereas the 1965 Map depicts the end of the County Road at roughly nine miles.

Due to their reliance on the 1965 Map, Landowners acknowledged their gate obstructed four-tenths of a mile of the county portion of Hughes Creek Road.

Landowners' 2016 Petition for Abandonment

¶10 On, July 25, 2016, Landowners petitioned the Board to abandon the four-tenths of a mile of Hughes Creek Road between their gate and the exact point depicted by the 1965 Map. Landowners did not want to move their gate or create a new turnaround. Landowners asserted that abandonment affected only the landowners listed in the petition, and that the road, according to the 1965 Map, did "not reach or touch any public land in the area subject to abandonment." As such, the provisions of § 7-14-2615(3), MCA, were inapplicable.

The Board's Denial of Landowners' 2016 Petition for Abandonment

¶11 Upon receipt of Landowners' petition, the Board appointed road viewers and reviewed their report. On January 25, 2017, the Board held a public hearing and considered an extensive historical record, written comments, and public testimony regarding the road. At the hearing's conclusion, the Board made findings of fact and conclusions of law, including that the county portion of Hughes Creek Road was no less than 11.8 miles long and the locked gate was an encroachment on the County's road. The Board additionally found that the portion of Hughes Creek Road Landowners petitioned to abandon provided access to public lands or waters. Because no other road provided substantially the same access to those public lands or waters, the Board concluded it was precluded from abandoning that portion of Hughes Creek Road pursuant to § 7-14-2615(3), MCA. The Board denied Landowners' 2016 petition for abandonment and ordered the gate removed by June 1, 2017.

Landowners' first action: Bugli I

¶12 On April 10, 2017, Landowners filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief in district court. Bugli I , ¶ 6. Landowners specifically sought: (1) a declaratory judgment stating that the County's request that Landowners remove the gate and allow public access was barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion; (2) a declaratory judgment that Hughes Creek Road ended at or near the gate consistent with the 1965 Map; (3) a declaratory judgment regarding the correct construction and application of § 7-14-2615(3), MCA ; and (4) a determination that where Hughes Creek Road was private property beyond the gate, the County's actions constituted an unconstitutional taking requiring just compensation, damages, and attorney fees. Bugli I , ¶ 6. The County filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. On June 29, 2017, the District Court granted the County's motion.

¶13 Landowners appealed only their first and second claims to this Court, which upheld the District Court's dismissal of Landowners' complaint. Bugli I , ¶¶ 1, 6. Relying on alternative reasoning, we upheld the decision because Landowners had not satisfied the five elements of claim preclusion. Bugli I , ¶ 11. While Landowners argued that the issues in the 1984 action and Bugli I were the same, this Court disagreed, reasoning that the County brought the 1984 action to remove the gate, whereas Landowners filed suit in Bugli I to challenge the County's decision to deny their 2016 petition for abandonment. Bugli I , ¶ 11. Further, this Court held that no valid final judgment on the merits was ever entered in the 1984 case. Bugli I , ¶ 12.

¶14 In terms of Landowners' second claim requesting a declaratory judgment that Hughes Creek Road ended at or near the gate consistent with the 1965 map, this Court agreed with the District Court that re-establishing the length of Hughes Creek Road could not be done by the court without a petition for a writ of review. This Court held:

By submitting their petition to abandon the road, Landowners voluntarily chose, accepted, and submitted to the [Board's] jurisdiction and committed their road dispute to the statutory process [arising] from the statutory abandonment process, including necessary fact-finding. Landowners are now bound to that process, and cannot relitigate these issues in a separate forum.

Bugli I , ¶ 21. Landowners' proper course of action was to petition the District Court for a writ of review pursuant to § 27-25-102(2), MCA. Bugli I , ¶ 25.

The Current Issue

¶15 On July 31, 2017, while Landowners' appeal in Bugli I was still pending, Landowners filed a petition for a writ of review in District Court. In their petition, Landowners asserted that the Board exceeded its statutory jurisdiction to grant or deny Landowners' petition for abandonment by: (1) failing to consider whether claim preclusion barred the County from seeking removal of the gate; (2) determining that the county portion of Hughes Creek Road extended beyond the gate, and (3) misinterpreting § 7-14-2615(3), MCA. The District Court stayed Landowners' petition for a writ of review pending resolution of Bugli I .

¶16 On July 17, 2018, this Court issued its Opinion in Bugli I , and on July 28, 2018, the County filed a notice of issue asking the District Court to: (1) lift the stay in this case and determine the issues; (2) deny Landowners' petition for a writ of review; (3) grant the County's motion to dismiss Landowners' claim preclusion argument with prejudice; (4) grant the County's motion for order regarding the Board's authority and findings; and (5) dissolve or set a show cause hearing on the stipulated temporary restraining order.

¶17 On August 9, 2018, the District Court issued the order lifting the stay on the proceedings and denied Landowners' petition for a writ of review and accompanying application for preliminary injunction on the basis that the Board did not exceed its...

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2 cases
  • Fouts v. Mont. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • January 18, 2022
    ...substantive law based on the requisite facts as supported by substantial evidence. See Bugli v. Ravalli Cty., 2019 MT 154, ¶ 19, 396 Mont. 271, 444 P.3d 399 (noting that certiorari "is limited to whether the tribunal or board exceeded its jurisdiction" and court "cannot employ [it] to corre......
  • Williams v. Stillwater Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • June 29, 2021
    ...in determining the Board did not exceed its jurisdiction in abandoning a portion of Eerie Drive. Citing Bugli v. Ravalli County , 2019 MT 154, 396 Mont. 271, 444 P.3d 399 ( Bugli II ), the Plaintiff Landowners contend the review of whether the Board exceeded its jurisdiction under a writ of......

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