In re Okland

Decision Date04 October 2022
Docket NumberDA 22-0521
PartiesIN RE THE MARRIAGE OF: ANDREA OKLAND, Petitioner and Appellant, and CHRISTOPHER OKLAND, Respondent and Appellee.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

Appellee Christopher Okland moves to dismiss this appeal because Appellant Andrea Okland filed her notice of appeal, through counsel, one day late. Andrea objects and asks the Court to allow her to present her appeal on the merits as a matter of equity.

At issue on appeal is the Twentieth Judicial District Court's August 10. 2022 order denying in part Andrea's motions under M. R. Civ. P. 52 and 59 to amend the court's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and decree of dissolution. Andrea acknowledges that the Montana Rules of Appellate Procedure required her to file a notice of appeal within thirty days of that order. M. R. App. P 4(5)(a)(v). She asserts that she did not receive notice of the August 10 order until August 13 and filed her notice within thirty days of that date.

Appellate Rule 4(5)(a)(v) provides that the time for appeal runs "from the entry of the order granting or denying" a post-judgment motion under either M. R. Civ. P. 52(b) or 59. Andrea's notice was due Friday, September 9, 2022. The Clerk of this Court received and filed Andrea's Notice of Appeal on Monday, September 13, 2022, one business day after it was due.

This Court has emphasized "the importance of applying procedural bars regularly and consistently." BNSF Ry. Co. v. Cringle, 2012 MT 143, ¶ 21, 365 Mont 304, 281 P.3d 203 (quoting Weidow v. Uninsured Employers' Fund. 2010 MT 292, ¶ 28, 359 Mont 77, 246 P.3d 704). "Firm deadlines for launching an appeal "advance the interests of the parties and the legal system in fair notice and finality."' Cringle, ¶ 21 (quoting Greenlaw v. U.S., 554 U.S. 237, 252, 128 S.Ct. 2559, 2569 (2008)). We held in Cringle that parties may be excused from noncompliance with a strict appeal filing deadline "only where the parties have acted with reasonable diligence to preserve their legal rights but have been prevented from doing so by circumstances reasonably beyond their control." Cringle, ¶ 22.

Andrea does not attempt to demonstrate circumstances reasonably beyond her control, admitting that she filed the appeal a day late. She argues, however, that the Court should hear her appeal on the merits to avoid a gross miscarriage of justice. As the dissolution of marriage is a matter of equity. Andrea urges the Court to not be "bound by slavish adherence to formality" and points out that the Court "is not obligated to prioritize form over substance."

This Court expects all litigants to abide by its rules of procedure. Greenup v. Russell, 2000 MT 154. ¶ 15, 300 Mont. 136, 3 P.3d 124. The Court also, however prefers to resolve disputes on their merits and considers prejudice to opposing parties when asked to strictly enforce a procedural deadline. See In re Estate of Mills, 2015 MT 245, ¶ 12,380 Mont. 426, 354 P.3d 1271 (noting "our policy that cases should be tried on...

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