Anti-annexation representatives respond to City brief

By: 
Charlie Denison
Reporter

Late last month, the attorneys for Landowners Rights Association, Inc. responded to the City of Lewistown’s brief, their last action before the case goes before at least five Montana Supreme Court justices.

Whether or not the Supreme Court will entertain the appeal is uncertain, but the petitioners insist that they have a case.

This issue has involved the courts for some time now, as Landowners Rights representatives first sued the City in September of 2015, claiming the “City violated several constitutional and stuatory provisions in annexing those who live adjacent to Castle Butte Road, Roundhouse Road and several subdivisions south of town.”

 

Two years of back and forth

Last June, Judge Brenda Gilbert sided with the City, stating the City was “within its rights” to annex the properties they annexed and handle the waivers of consent the way they handled them.

Thus began the LRA’s push to be heard by Montana’s Supreme Court.

In October, attorneys for Landowners Rights filed a brief with the Supreme Court, stating they feel the District Court “erred in granting summary judgment on several grounds.”

Landowners Rights representatives argue the City did not follow state statutes. It is Landowners’ Rights claim that not all property involved in the annexation is contiguous as defined by the state statutes, including “entire parcels of property in the middle of the annexation map that are left out.”

Furthermore, Landowners Rights representatives accuse the City of denying the residents in the area “equal protection of the United States and Montana Constitutions.”

“The City simply skipped certain landowners in the middle of the annexed area, creating two different classifications of similarly situated taxpayers,” attorneys for Landowners Rights, Inc. wrote in conclusion of their brief to the Montana Supreme Court. 

In December, attorneys representing the City responded, stating “the City Commission found the annexation to be in the best interests of the City and the inhabitants of the parcels to be annexed.” Regarding Montana law, the City legal counsel wrote, “an annexation is valid if the annexing city substantially complied with the statutory requirements for annexing the lands.” The City also claims it complied fully with the applicable statutes.

“The City had on file with the Clerk and Recorder…a certificate of survey (the corrected map) notifying the public of the precise lands to be annexed,” City attorneys wrote in the conclusion of their response. “The City also had on file with the Clerk and Recorder more than enough valid waivers of protest. Therefore, after the valid protests were tabulated, there were not enough protests to halt the annexation. Moreover, by choosing which properties to annex, the City did not violate equal protection of the law.”

There are a number of arguments made in the most recent reply brief the Landowner Rights legal counsel filed Jan. 30. According to the response, Landowners Rights representatives claim “the Westhoffs (a family annexed by the City in 2016) are being taxed for more acres than they actually own,” “Castle Butte Road does not make the annexation area contiguous,” and the City is “simply annexing portions of lots without a survey.”

Landowners Rights counsel is asking the Montana Supreme Court to “reverse the District Court’s granting of summary judgment, reverse the District Court’s determination that the City complied with the annexation statutes…and remand the case back to the District Court to apply the Supreme Court’s ruling and overturn the District Court’s decision.”

According to an appellate case manager at the Montana Supreme Court clerk’s office said, the classification order for the case should be ready in the next few weeks. How the Supreme Court will review the case and if oral arguments will be made is currently undetermined.

 

 

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