Crazy Mountain Cattle Co. v. Wild Eagle Mountain Ranch, DA 21-0410

Citation509 P.3d 601
Case DateMay 24, 2022
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana

509 P.3d 601 (Table)

CRAZY MOUNTAIN CATTLE CO., Richard Jarrett, and Alfred Anderson, Plaintiffs and Appellants,
WILD EAGLE MOUNTAIN RANCH, Engwis Investment Company, Ltd., a Montana limited partnership; R.F. Building Company, LP, a Montana limited partnership, Defendants and Appellees.

DA 21-0410

Supreme Court of Montana.

Submitted on Briefs: March 30, 2022
Decided: May 24, 2022

For Appellants: Monica J. Tranel, Tranel Law Firm, P.C., Missoula, Montana

For Appellee Wild Eagle Mountain Ranch, LLC: Nicholas J. Lofing, Garlington, Lohn & Robinson, PLLP, Missoula, Montana

For Appellees Engwis Investment Company and R.F. Building Company: Stephen E. Woodruff, Huppert, Swindlehurst & Woodruff, P.C., Livingston, Montana, Elizabeth Greenwood, Inga L. Parsons, Greenwood Law, LLC, Pinedale, Wyoming

Justice Beth Baker delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

¶2 Crazy Mountain Cattle Co., Richard Jarrett, and Alfred Anderson (Landowners) appeal the Sixth Judicial District Court's dismissal of their claims against Wild Eagle Mountain Ranch, LLC, Rock Creek Ranch I LTD., Diana's Great Idea, LLC, Engwis Investment Company, LTD., and R.F. Building Company, LP (collectively Neighbors) for tortious interference with contract and economic business opportunities, abuse of process, and unjust enrichment.1 Landowners contend that their complaint is well-pleaded and that the District Court's dismissal of their claims pursuant to M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) was in error. We reverse and remand.

¶3 Jarrett and Anderson's families have ranched in Montana since the early 1900s. Jarrett and Anderson contracted with Pattern Energy Group 2 LP and its subsidiaries (Pattern) to develop a wind farm called Crazy Mountain Wind (CMW). Jarrett and Anderson began working on the project as early as 2004. Neighbors are corporate entities who own land surrounding and abutting Landowners’ properties.

¶4 In September 2018, Neighbors filed a complaint in the Sixth Judicial District Court, claiming, among other things, that CMW's construction constituted a public, private, and anticipatory nuisance and seeking injunctive relief and damages. Wild Eagle Mountain Ranch (WEMR) moved to intervene in December 2018. We summarized the facts of the underlying nuisance litigation in Diana's Great Idea, LLC v. Jarrett , of which we take judicial notice. 2020 MT 199, 401 Mont. 1, 471 P.3d 38.

¶5 Neighbors collectively moved for a preliminary injunction, which the District Court granted in March 2019. Landowners filed three amended answers in May and June, asserting numerous counterclaims and adding WEMR as a counterclaim defendant. Neighbors moved to dismiss the counterclaims, asserting that they were time-barred and compulsory.

¶6 In July, Pattern moved the District Court to dismiss it without prejudice from the lawsuit, explaining that because of the preliminary injunction, it was impossible to obtain the necessary financing to complete the project and to satisfy contractual obligations; Pattern thus was abandoning the development of CMW.

¶7 The District Court granted Neighbors’ motion to dismiss with prejudice. On appeal, we affirmed the District Court's dismissal of the counterclaims but determined that the dismissal should have been without prejudice. Diana's Great Idea , ¶ 35. On remand, the District Court dismissed the counterclaims without prejudice.

¶8 In September 2020, Landowners filed a complaint against Neighbors, alleging that they filed the nuisance suit to prevent the development of CMW and to obtain control of Landowners’ property. Landowners amended the complaint in December, and a month later, Neighbors filed individual motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Following oral argument, the District Court granted Neighbors’ motions to dismiss without prejudice.

¶9 Landowners filed a Second Amended Complaint in May 2021. Later that same month, Neighbors again moved to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). On July 22, 2021, the District Court granted dismissal with prejudice. Landowners appeal.

¶10 We review de novo a district court's ruling on a motion to dismiss, using the criteria set forth in Rule 12(b)(6). Puryer v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A. , 2018 MT 124, ¶ 9, 391 Mont. 361, 419 P.3d 105. We review for correctness a district court's conclusion of law that a complaint fails to state a claim for which relief may be granted. Plakorus v. Univ. of Mont. , 2020 MT 312, ¶ 8, 402 Mont. 263, 477 P.3d 311 (citation omitted). In evaluating a complaint, a district court "must take all well-pled factual assertions as true and view them in the light most favorable to the claimant, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the claim." Anderson v. ReconTrust Co., N.A. , 2017 MT 313, ¶ 8, 390 Mont. 12, 407 P.3d 692. When reviewing a district court's dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), we apply the same standard. See Scheafer v. Safeco Ins. Co. , 2014 MT 73, ¶ 14, 374 Mont. 278, 320 P.3d 967.

¶11 Landowners pleaded four counts in their Second Amended Complaint. Counts I and II allege that Neighbors tortiously interfered with Landowners’ contract and prospective business relationship with CMW. Count III alleges that Neighbors "willfully" abused the civil process by filing the nuisance suit and dismissing it without prejudice. Count III further alleges that Neighbors filed the suit for "the improper purpose of defeating the financing for Crazy Mountain Wind" and obtaining control over Landowners’ property. And Count IV alleges that Neighbors unjustly enriched themselves because they "received the benefit of controlling all of [Landowners’] property" without compensation. Landowners also requested prejudgment interest and punitive damages.

¶12 Relying solely on the factual allegations and these claims, the District Court concluded that Landowners’ Second Amended Complaint failed to set forth "a viable abuse of process claim" because they had not identified "a willful act in the use of process not proper in...

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