Hamlin Constr. & Dev. Co. v. Mont. Dep't of Transp.

Decision Date04 October 2022
Docket NumberDA 21-0370
Citation410 Mont. 187,521 P.3d 9
Parties HAMLIN CONSTRUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT COMPANY INC., a Montana Corporation; Jerry Hamlin and Barbara Hamlin, Individually and as Trustees of the Hamlin Family Revocable Living Trust, Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION; John Does 1-5; Jane Does 1-5; ABC Entities, Organizations or Agencies 1-5, Defendants and Appellees.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

For Appellants: Stefan T. Wall, Denny K. Palmer, Wall, McLean & Gallagher, PLLC, Helena, Montana

For Appellees: Christian T. Nygren, Hannah C. Woolsey, Montana Department of Transportation, Helena, Montana, Curt Drake, Drake Law Firm PC, Helena, Montana

Chief Justice Mike McGrath delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Hamlin Construction and Development Company, Inc., and owners Jerry and Barbara Hamlin individually and on behalf of their family trust (collectively, "Hamlin"), appeal several orders from the First Judicial District Court in Lewis and Clark County. Hamlin is developing a subdivision on property containing a floodplain within Lewis and Clark County (County), and the County required Hamlin to accommodate a certain 100-year flood discharge volume to receive a floodplain development permit. Doing so will require Hamlin to construct a detention pond where it had hoped to put houses. In 2009, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) reconstructed a public road, an arterial running adjacent to Hamlin's proposed subdivision. In the process, MDT upgraded the existing culverts under the road to have a greater capacity to drain water from the property, which had experienced flooding in the recent past. Hamlin argues that MDT should have upgraded the culverts to an even greater flow capacity, which Hamlin contends would have led to a more favorable County permitting decision and thereby maximized the profitability of the proposed development.

¶2 Hamlin appeals several unfavorable District Court orders, raising issues that we restate as follows:

Issue One: Did the District Court err in dismissing Hamlin's inverse condemnation claim?
Issue Two: Did the District Court err in dismissing Hamlin's unjust enrichment claim?
Issue Three: Did the District Court err in finding § 76-5-109(4), MCA, constitutional?
Issue Four: Did the District Court err in dismissing Hamlin's remaining nuisance claims?
Issue Five: Did the District Court abuse its discretion in declining to consolidate Hamlin's two lawsuits?

¶3 We affirm.


¶4 Hamlin's property sits at the intersection of Lake Helena Drive and Canyon Ferry Road in Lewis and Clark County. Hamlin's planned development (the Subdivision) has been in the works since Hamlin purchased the property in 2006. Hamlin and the County litigated plat approval for the subdivision for several years, settling that matter in 2014. However, because Hamlin's proposed development sits on a 100-year floodplain, final plat approval depends upon Hamlin satisfying the criteria to receive a floodplain development permit.

¶5 Hamlin submitted three floodplain permit applications, and the County approved the third in 2018. It had rejected the first two applications based on a finding that the projected 100-year flood flow rates that Hamlin had used—501.8 cubic feet per second (cfs) and 548 cfs, respectively—were "unreasonably low" and would increase the risk of flooding in the proposed subdivision. Hamlin's 2018 permit application projected a 100-year flood flow rate of 1300 cfs, following the County's recommendation. However, Hamlin asserts that accommodating this projected flood volume would require Hamlin to construct a large detention pond that would cut into developable acreage.

¶6 Years before Hamlin's 2006 purchase of the property, MDT had begun planning reconstruction of Canyon Ferry Road,1 which leads to and runs past Hamlin's proposed subdivision, in order to address safety concerns associated with the existing roadway. During MDT's environmental analysis, Robert and Colleen Garber, who then owned the property at issue, submitted a comment in 2003 noting the extent and depth of recent floodwater on the property, "with flooding over Canyon Ferry Rd.[ ] in spite of large culverts." The Garbers suggested that MDT consider incorporating something like a "flood carrying structure" over a canal adjacent to Lake Helena Drive. MDT responded to the Garber's comment and noted that it would continue to coordinate the flood control aspects of its project with the County and other agencies. MDT observed that where the area's drainage basin crosses Canyon Ferry Road, the "level terrain compounds the difficulty in providing corrective measures."

¶7 Later, in 2006, MDT and the Garbers were negotiating a right-of-way related to the reconstruction project, and the Garbers again described their flooding concerns, suggesting that MDT install four six-foot diameter culverts, instead of the four 73-inch by 45-inch (roughly equivalent to five-foot diameter) culverts it was planning to use. The Garbers again noted the depth and extent of recent floodwaters on their property and where water had overtopped Canyon Ferry Road. In response, MDT explained that the preexisting culverts were of "substantially lesser dimensions" and that its proposed new culverts would have "approximately 3 times more capacity than the existing pipes" at high water and would "exceed the 50-year, 100-year and near capacity to handle the 200-year flow." MDT noted that while the new culverts resulted in a roadway raised enough to allow emergency vehicles to pass during most flooding events, installing even bigger culverts as requested by the Garbers would require raising the road surface even further, which could exacerbate the problem.

¶8 Prior to engaging in its reconstruction project, MDT also needed to receive a floodplain development permit from the County, which was granted in 2008. The permit required MDT to construct culverts under the road that would accommodate a water flow rate of about 512 cfs. MDT carried out the reconstruction starting in 2009.

¶9 Hamlin sued MDT in 2018, seeking compensation from the agency for its alleged role in causing Hamlin to be required to accommodate the floodplain development permit requirements. Hamlin raised multiple legal claims against MDT, including public and private nuisance, inverse condemnation, negligence, and negligent misrepresentation. Hamlin later added a claim for unjust enrichment in its amended complaint. Hamlin also sued the County in a separate case, raising similar claims. Hamlin later filed a motion in the District Court seeking to consolidate the two cases.

¶10 On August 28, 2019, the District Court issued an order granting, in part, MDT's motion to dismiss Hamlin's claims. The District Court dismissed the negligence and negligent misrepresentation claims pursuant to § 76-5-109(4), MCA, which grants immunity to the State when suits for damages arise out of floodplain obstructions that were constructed pursuant to valid permits issued under specified code provisions. However, the District Court declined to dismiss Hamlin's nuisance claims to the extent they sought nonmonetary relief and likewise declined to dismiss Hamlin's constitutional inverse condemnation claim. The District Court subsequently issued an order denying Hamlin's separate motion for declaratory judgment that § 76-5-109(4), MCA, was unconstitutional as applied to preclude Hamlin's negligence and negligent misrepresentation claims.

¶11 On May 5, 2020, the District Court issued an order denying Hamlin's motion to consolidate the present case with Hamlin's parallel case against the County. On June 24, 2020, the District Court issued an order granting MDT's motion to dismiss the unjust enrichment claim. On March 29, 2021, the District Court denied yet another motion to consolidate. Finally, on June 29, 2021, the District Court issued an order granting summary judgment to MDT and dismissing Hamlin's remaining claims for inverse condemnation and nuisance. Hamlin appeals to this Court.


¶12 We review summary judgment rulings de novo. Thornton v. Flathead Cty. , 2009 MT 367, ¶ 13, 353 Mont. 252, 220 P.3d 395 (citation omitted). We also review de novo a district court's ruling on a motion to dismiss under M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), evaluating the court's legal conclusions regarding a complaint's failure to state a claim for correctness.

Cowan v. Cowan , 2004 MT 97, ¶ 10, 321 Mont. 13, 89 P.3d 6 (citation omitted). We exercise plenary review of constitutional issues. Mont. Cannabis Indus. Ass'n v. State , 2016 MT 44, ¶ 12, 382 Mont. 256, 368 P.3d 1131 (citations omitted) ( Mont. Cannabis Indus. Ass'n II ). We review a district court's decision on a motion to consolidate for abuse of discretion. In re Estate of McDermott , 2002 MT 164, ¶ 14, 310 Mont. 435, 51 P.3d 486 (citation omitted).


¶13 Hamlin appeals a number of District Court orders dismissing Hamlin's claims against MDT. The essence of Hamlin's argument is that MDT owes Hamlin compensation for having failed to install larger culverts during the 2009 Canyon Ferry Road reconstruction project, which Hamlin alleges would have led to a more favorable County floodplain permitting decision for Hamlin's Subdivision and would not have necessitated the construction of a large detention pond in order to proceed with development.

¶14 Issue One: Did the District Court err in dismissing Hamlin's inverse condemnation claim?

¶15 Hamlin challenges the District Court's grant of MDT's motion for summary judgment dismissing Hamlin's claim for inverse condemnation or taking. As below, Hamlin argues that MDT, by failing to install larger culverts during its work on Canyon Ferry Road, caused the County to condition permitting of Hamlin's proposed development project on the construction of a large stormwater detention pond. Hamlin asserts that MDT thereby conducted a constitutional...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT