State ex rel. Wenzel v. Murray

Decision Date03 October 1978
Docket NumberNo. 14466,14466
Citation178 Mont. 441,585 P.2d 633
PartiesSTATE ex rel. William J. WENZEL, Relator, v. Frank MURRAY, Secretary of State of the State of Montana, Respondent.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

Hooks & Budewitz, Townsend, Thomas A. Budewitz (argued), Townsend, for relator.

Mike Greely, Atty. Gen., Helena, Mike McGrath, Asst. Atty. Gen. (argued), Helena, Steven J. Perlmutter, Helena, for respondent.

SHEEHY, Justice.

The prayer of relator for an injunctive order is denied and his complaint dismissed for the reasons expressed herein.

Relator, William J. Wenzel, filed on August 30, 1978, his complaint requesting this Court to issue a permanent injunction restraining and enjoining respondent Secretary of State, State of Montana, from taking any action to submit Initiative No. 80 to the electors at the general election to be held on November 7, 1978.

The original complaint of the relator, and his memorandum filed therewith, raised questions of sufficient import that a majority of this Court deemed it necessary that a response be ordered from the Secretary of State and the matter be set for adversary hearing. On September 6, 1978, we issued an order directing service of the complaint upon the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, requiring a response within fifteen days, and setting the matter for adversary hearing on September 22, 1978.

Responses and memoranda have now been received from all parties, as well as from Nuclear Vote, an applicant for intervention, and opportunity for oral argument granted to all parties.

Initiative No. 80 is a proposed act empowering Montana voters to approve or reject any proposed nuclear power facility certified under the Montana Major Facility Siting Act. The initiative was approved as to form and title by the Attorney General on March 14, 1978. On July 21, 1978, the Secretary of State notified the Governor that sufficient qualified electors had signed petitions to place Initiative No. 80 on the ballot for the upcoming general election.

As required by law (section 37-127(3), R.C.M. 1947), the Attorney General has drafted and submitted to the Secretary of State an explanatory statement as to Initiative No. 80, which will be submitted to the voters at the time they cast their votes for or against the proposed Initiative. That explanatory statement is as follows:

"The initiative would impose rigid restrictions before a nuclear facility could be built. Restrictions include:

"1. Posting a bond equaling not less than 30% Of the capital costs of the facility to insure against liability.

"2. A showing radioactive material can be contained with no reasonable chance of escape.

"3. Comprehensive testing of similar physical systems in actual operation.

"4. Approval by the Board of Natural Resources.

"5. Approval by a majority of Montana voters in an election called by initiative or referendum.

"The initiative would forbid limitations on the rights of persons to seek compensation for injuries resulting from operation of the facility."

Relator, as a Montana property owner, taxpayer, and registered elector, alleged in his complaint that Initiative No. 80 is illegal in that its title does not clearly express the subject matter of the Initiative, the Attorney General's explanatory statement does not give a true and impartial statement of the purposes of the Initiative, and the statement of the implications of the vote on the ballot form does not clearly explain the meaning of the vote for or against the issue. Relator further contends the Initiative is unconstitutional as special legislation and for the further reason that Congress has pre-empted the authority to regulate radiation hazards. On these grounds, relator contends the expenditure of public monies by the Secretary of State in putting Initiative No. 80 to a vote is illegal, unconstitutional, and injurious to relator and all other taxpayers and electors similarly situated.

It appears by affidavit of the Chief Deputy Secretary of State that since the filing of the action in this Court, but before oral argument thereon, the Secretary of State's office has certified, on September 8, 1978, all ballot measures to the county clerks, as required by section 37-135, R.C.M. 1947. It further appears that the duty of the Secretary of State to furnish a voter information pamphlet for all ballot measures must be distributed to the qualified electors 30 days prior to the election. The Secretary of State, because of the time requirement, has committed himself to order 500,000 such pamphlets, and submitted final proofs to the printer before September 12, 1978. The final press run on these pamphlets began on September 17, 1978, and the pamphlets will be shipped directly to the county clerks by the printer. Any change of the ballot form would require an insert to be prepared by the Secretary of State, requiring approximately 10,000 pounds of paper, and additional costs of printing and shipping. In addition, the inserts would have to be manually placed in each pamphlet by the county clerk and recorder in each respective county.

The ballot form to which relator objects as to the implication of a vote for or against the measure is stated in the following language:

( ) "FOR giving Montana voters power

to approve or reject any proposed

major nuclear power facility and

establishing nuclear safety and

liability standards

( ) "AGAINST giving Montana voters

power to approve or reject any proposed

major nuclear power facility

and establishing nuclear safety and

liability standards."

The principal issues argued by relator are (1) both the Attorney General's statement, and his statement of the implication of the vote for or against on the form ballot, are insufficient and inadequate because they do not inform the voters that a vote for the measure would in effect be a ban or prohibition of nuclear power plants in Montana; (2) to adopt Initiative No. 80 would be illegal because the Congress has pre-empted the field of nuclear power plant regulation.

The Secretary of State, the Attorney General and intervener counter these issues by defending the title of the Initiative, the form of the explanatory statement, and the ballot form. They contend further relator has no standing to sue in this action and that relator's complaint does not raise a justiciable controversy. The Attorney General further charges laches on the part of the relator.

The Title of the Act

The title of the Initiative as certified to the Governor by the Secretary of State, is follows:


The 1972 Mont. Const., Art. V, § 11(3), provides that an act "shall contain only one subject, clearly expressed in its title". Relator contends the foregoing title of the Initiative is misleading in that it does not clearly express the subject matter.

The source of relator's contention lies in section 4(1)(a) of the Initiative, which contains a requirement that no certificate to construct a nuclear facility may be issued by the board unless it first finds that no limits exist regarding the rights of a (person) to bring suit for and recover full and just compensation from the entities responsible for the nuclear plant and further that no legal limits exist regarding the total compensation recoverable from such responsible parties. Relator contends the clear import of the restrictions in section 4(1)(a) and other related provisions is to Ban the construction of any and all power facilities in the State of Montana. He further contends the provisions of the Price-Anderson Act, particularly Title 42, U.S. Code, § 2210, provides for a top total liability for a single nuclear incident of $560 million. Relator states this limitation of recoverable amount contained in the federal statute cannot be squared with the language in the proposed Initiative. Therefore, says relator, an applicant for a proposed nuclear facility in Montana could not comply with both the State and federal provisions respecting limits of liability and right to recovery, and in effect the passage of Initiative 80 would be a ban on the erection of any nuclear facilities in this State.

Respondent and intervention petitioners answer relator's contention in two ways. First, they claim under the Price-Anderson Act the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has the power to waive the $560 million limitation in exchange for a promise from an applicant for permission to build a nuclear plant, that the applicant waives the usual common law defenses and statutes of limitation with respect to possible claimants and accept "strict liability" as to the plan, design, direction, maintenance and operation of the plant. Therefore, respondents contend there is no impossible clash between the proposed Initiative and the Price-Anderson Act. Second, they maintain there is a presumption...

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10 cases
  • State ex rel. Cooper v. Caperton
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • February 29, 1996
    ...exercised the minimal level of constitutional interpretation as we are asked to provide in this case. E.g., State ex rel. Wenzel v. Murray, 178 Mont. 441, 585 P.2d 633 (1978); Opinion of the Justices, 267 Ala. 666, 104 So.2d 696 (1958). Moreover, the present case does not require us to answ......
  • Mea-Mft v. State
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    • Montana Supreme Court
    • March 25, 2014
    ...what is proposed ... discretion as to the choice of language ... is entirely [the Attorney General's].” State ex rel. Wenzel v. Murray, 178 Mont. 441, 448, 585 P.2d 633, 637–38 (1978). In Harper, 234 Mont. at 269, 763 P.2d at 657, we rejected a challenge to referendum ballot statements even......
  • Bopp v. City of Sandpoint, 15496
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    ...economic interest in having their tax dollars spent constitutionally is sufficient to grant them standing.); State ex rel. Wenzel v. Murray, 178 Mont. 441, 585 P.2d 633, 638 (1978) (Property owner had standing to sue to prevent waste of public money.); Clark County v. City of Las Vegas, 94 ......
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    • Montana Supreme Court
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    ...states in pertinent part: "Each bill ... shall contain only one subject, clearly expressed in its title." In State ex rel. Wenzel v. Murray (1978), 178 Mont. 441, 585 P.2d 633, the opponents to a ballot initiative argued that the ballot title and statements of implication were unfair. They ......
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