Annexation lawsuit over; judge rules in favor of City

By: 
Deb Hill
News-Argus Managing Editor

Livingston Presiding District Judge Brenda Gilbert ruled in favor of the City of Lewistown in the hotly contested annexation case. The ruling was filed in Lewistown with the District Court on Monday.

“Speaking for myself and not the city or the commission, the judge's ruling was gratifying and was what we hoped for,” City Commissioner Dave Byerly said. “The list of issues the complainants presented to the court was long, and required a great deal of time to respond to. It was nice to see that the judge ruled for the City on each and every one. I hope this resolves this annexation question and that the community can now move forward together.”

A group of residents from the annexed areas sued the City last fall after the City Commission voted to approve the annexation last July. The case was moved out of the Lewistown area by request of both sides. A summary judgment was granted to the City, meaning a judge would make the final decision rather than going to a jury trial.

In her decision and order, Gilbert addressed several legal points raised by the property owners.

With regard to whether or not the annexation was in the best interest of the inhabitants, the judge cited several court rulings which left that decision in the hands of the city council.

Those opposing annexation argued property owners were required to sign waivers of consent in order to get City services such as water or sewer, and that some of the waivers were dated after the services were being supplied. Those waivers should be considered invalid, they argued. The judge found precedent showing the City was within its rights with regards to how the waivers were handled.

In response to concerns that the annexation included only portions of some properties, the judge ruled Montana law allows for  annexation of a “… tract, parcel or portion of a tract or parcel…” The judge also ruled the City properly followed the statutory requirements regarding to the procedures used during an annexation.

“Obviously we thought what we were doing was legal and the judge agreed,” City Manager Kevin Myhre told the News-Argus Monday evening.

The property owner plaintiffs also argued the City violated principles of equal protection under the law by annexing some properties and not annexing other, similar properties. “In every imaginable instance there will be property similarly situated to the annexed property that is not annexed,” the judge wrote, adding that if the annexation process were overturned each time that happened, the statues for annexation would be “rendered meaningless.”

The judge’s ruling addressed other points raised by the plaintiffs, finding in favor of the City each time.

“The Defendant City of Lewistown’s Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in favor of the Defendant and against the Plaintiffs as to all claims set forth in the Plaintiff’s Complaint,” the ruling said.

The attorney for the Plaintiffs, James Hubble of Stanford, declined to comment on the ruling or whether an appeal would be filed.

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