Hous. Lakeshore Tract Owners Against Annexation, Inc. v. City of Whitefish

Decision Date21 March 2017
Docket NumberDA 16-0297
Citation391 P.3d 86,387 Mont. 83
Parties HOUSTON LAKESHORE TRACT OWNERS AGAINST ANNEXATION, INC., and Stocking Addition Owners Against Annexation, Inc., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CITY OF WHITEFISH, Defendant and Appellee.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

For Appellants: Bruce A. Fredrickson, Rocky Mountain Law Partners, PLLP, Kalispell, Montana

For Appellee: Angela Jacobs Persicke, Whitefish City Attorney, Whitefish, Montana

Justice Michael E Wheat delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Houston Lakeshore Tract Owners Against Annexation, Inc. and Stocking Addition Owners Against Annexation, Inc. (collectively Property Owners) appeal from the order of the Eleventh Judicial District Court, Flathead County, granting the City of Whitefish's (City) cross-motion for summary judgment. We affirm.

¶2 We restate the issues on appeal as follows:

Issue one: Did the District Court err in determining that the City may properly rely on Title 7, chapter 2, part 45, MCA, to annex the Houston Lakeshore Area?
Issue two: Did the District Court err in finding that the Houston Lakeshore Area is "wholly surrounded" by the City?
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

¶3 The Property Owners collectively own numerous properties on or near Whitefish Lake in Whitefish, Montana (Houston Lakeshore Area). The Houston Lakeshore Area is located north of the City and consists of the Houston Lake Shore Tracts subdivision, the Stocking Addition Tracts B and C, and five parcels known as Tract 1AB, Tract 1ABA, Tract 1ABB, Tract 1ABC, and Tract 1G. The City has annexed ten tracts in the Houston Lake Shore Tracts and three tracts in the Stocking Addition Tracts C. The area is bounded by Whitefish Lake to the west and south and by City territory to the north and east. The Property Owners access the area via East Lakeshore Drive, which borders the Houston Lakeshore Area to the east. To access their individual properties, the Property Owners turn off East Lakeshore Drive and onto Houston Drive.

¶4 In 1981, the City passed Resolution No. B-916, annexing a section of East Lakeshore Drive between Reservoir Road and the North boundary of Lot 1, Block 1 of the Houston Point Subdivision. The City annexed this section of the road without receiving a request for annexation from the state of Montana. In 2005, upon petition by the State, the City passed Resolution No. 05-25, annexing Whitefish Lake to its low water mark. The resolution cited a 1987 Attorney General Opinion, which ruled that the bounding of Whitefish Lake on one or more sides of a tract or parcel does not preclude the area from being annexed under the "wholly surrounded" method of annexation.1

¶5 Piecing together a survey of the area provided in the record and the interactive parcel map maintained by the Flathead County GIS Department, the Houston Lakeshore Area is situated as follows:

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¶6 On October 6, 2014, the City passed Resolution No. 14-49, which, in part, acknowledged the City's decision to advance the Houston Lakeshore Area to the first priority area for annexation. The City has not given or published a notice of annexation, nor has it passed a resolution of annexation for the area. On May 22, 2015, the Property Owners filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment that, under that Title 7, chapter 2, part 45, MCA: 1) the City has no statutory authority to combine separate tracts for purposes of annexation; and 2) the Houston Lakeshore Area is not wholly surrounded for the purposes of annexation. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment and, on March 14, 2016, the District Court granted the City's motion. The Property Owners filed a timely appeal.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶7 We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same criteria of M. R. Civ. P. 56 as the district court. Pilgeram v. GreenPoint Mortg. Funding, Inc ., 2013 MT 354, ¶ 9, 373 Mont. 1, 313 P.3d 839. We review a district court's conclusions of law to determine whether they are correct and its findings of fact to determine whether they are clearly erroneous. Pilgeram , ¶ 9. Under Rule 56(c), summary judgment will be granted if the moving party can show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Roe v. City of Missoula , 2009 MT 417, ¶ 14, 354 Mont. 1, 221 P.3d 1200.

DISCUSSION

¶8 Issue one: Did the District Court err in determining that the City of Whitefish may properly rely on Title 7, chapter 2, part 45, MCA, to annex the Houston Lakeshore Area?

¶9 The Property Owners first appeal the District Court's finding that Title 7, chapter 2, part 45, MCA, entitled "Annexation of Wholly Surrounded Land," does not limit a city's annexation of wholly surrounded land to a single tract or parcel of land. The court determined that the statutory provisions allowing for annexation of wholly surrounded areas are triggered, not by the number of parcels a city seeks to annex, but instead by the geographic characteristics the freehold territory exhibits in relation to the city seeking to annex it. On appeal, the Property Owners urge this court to hold that the wholly surrounded annexation provisions be interpreted to limit a city's annexation powers to single tracts or parcels of land.

¶10 "[W]hen interpreting a statute, we seek to implement the objectives the Legislature sought to achieve, and if the legislative intent can be determined from the plain language of the statute, the plain language controls." Montanans v. State , 2006 MT 277, ¶ 60, 334 Mont. 237, 146 P.3d 759. "Furthermore, a statute ‘must be read as a whole, and its terms should not be isolated from the context in which they were used by the Legislature.’ " Eldorado Coop Canal Co. v. Hoge , 2016 MT 145, ¶ 18, 383 Mont. 523, 373 P.3d 836 (quoting Fellows v. Saylor , 2016 MT 45, ¶ 21, 382 Mont. 298, 367 P.3d 732 ) (citation omitted). Accordingly, we must interpret a statute "as a part of a whole statutory scheme and construe it so as to forward the purpose of that scheme" and "to avoid an absurd result." Eldorado Coop Canal Co. , ¶ 18 (quoting Stokes v. Mont. Thirteenth Judicial Dist. Court , 2011 MT 182, ¶ 15, 361 Mont. 279, 259 P.3d 754 ) (citation omitted); In re Marriage of Shirilla , 2004 MT 28, ¶ 12, 319 Mont. 385, 89 P.3d 1. Further, while our role is "not to insert what has been omitted or to omit what has been inserted," the general rules of statutory construction also dictate that "[t]he singular includes the plural and the plural includes the singular." Sections 1-2-101, -105(3), MCA.

¶11 Under Montana statutory law, cities are authorized to annex freehold properties without prior request or petition if the property: 1) is contiguous to, or shares a common border with, city territory; or 2) is wholly surrounded by city territory.2 Sections 7-2-4301 thru -4331, MCA (annexation of contiguous land); §§ 7-2-4501 thru -4511, MCA (annexation of wholly surrounded land). The contiguous land method differs from the wholly surrounded method in that the contiguous land method allows either the majority of registered voters or the majority of real property owners in the proposed annexation area to vote against3 or override4 the annexation, while the wholly surrounded method does not. Sections 7-2-4314 (1)(c), (d), -4502, MCA.

¶12 Under the wholly surrounded method of annexation of Title 7, chapter 2, part 45, MCA, "A city may include as part of the city any platted or unplatted tract or parcel of land that is wholly surrounded by the city upon passing a resolution of intent, giving notice, and passing a resolution of annexation." Section 7-2-4501, MCA. Section 7-2-4502, MCA, reiterates the mechanism by which wholly surrounded freehold territory is deemed annexed by a municipality:

Wholly surrounded land is annexed, if so resolved by the city or town council, whether or not a majority of the real property owners of the area to be annexed object. The question of annexing the wholly surrounded land is not subject to being voted on by the registered voters of the area to be annexed.

Section 7-2-4502, MCA (emphasis added). Additionally, § 7-2-4504, MCA, states:

Tracts or parcels of land proposed to be annexed to a city or town under the provisions of this part shall be deemed contiguous to such city or town even though such tracts or parcels of land may be separated from such city or town by a street or other roadway, irrigation ditch, drainage ditch, stream, river, or a strip of unplatted land too narrow or too small to be platted.

Section 7-2-4504, MCA (emphasis added).

¶13 The contiguous and wholly surrounded annexation provisions were previously codified at § 11-403, RCM (1947). Prior to 1959, cities were only authorized to annex contiguous tracts and parcels of land. See § 11-403, RCM (1947) (amended by 1957 Mont. Laws 533-35). The 1959 amendment to § 11-403, RCM (1947), as introduced by House Bill 317, added the following language to the statute:

Provided also, that cities ... may include as part of such city any platted or unplatted tract or parcel of land that is wholly surrounded by such city upon passing a resolution advertising and upon passing a further resolution or following such advertising, all in the manner aforesaid, and such land shall be annexed, if so resolved, whether or not a majority of the resident freeholders, if any, of the land to be annexed object....

1957 Mont. Laws 533-35 (codified at § 11-403, RCM (1947)). The title to HB 317 stated, in pertinent part:

An act to amend section 11-403, Revised Codes of Montana, 1947, ... relating to extension of boundaries to include contiguous platted tracts or other parcels of land by cities ...; to provide for the annexation of platted or unplatted tracts or parcels of land wholly surrounded by cities ....

H. Journal, 36th Leg., Reg. Sess. 181 (Mont. 1959) (emphasis added).

During the discussion of HB 317 in the Senate Committee on City and Town Affairs, one of the bill's sponsors...

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    ...be determined from the plain language of the statute, the plain language controls." Houston Lakeshore Tract Owners Against Annexation, Inc. v. City of Whitefish , 387 Mont. 83, 391 P.3d 86, 86 (2017) (internal quotation marks omitted). Statutes should be read "as a whole, without isolating ......
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