The Montana Supreme Court ruled 6-1 on Oct. 25 that over 420 taxpayers do not have standing to sue Glacier County or the State of Montana. The decision upholds an earlier Lewis and Clark District Court ruling that dismissed the class action lawsuit filed in 2015 on the grounds the taxpayers lacked standing to sue the county or state.
The Supreme Court opinion was delivered by Justice Beth Baker with Justices Mike McGrath, Laurie McKinnon, James Jeremiah Shea, Dirk M. Sandefur and Jim Rice concurring.
Justice Michael Wheat dissented from the majority. In his opinion, “…the taxpayers have standing to go forward” and “…have alleged an actual threatened injury sufficient to allow them to proceed with their case.”
Elaine Mitchell, the lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit, said she was disappointed in the court’s decision. “If over 400 taxpayers don’t have standing, who does?” she questioned.
“I am very confused,” said Mitchell. “When I paid my taxes under protest for reasons other than property valuations, I was forced to file a class action suit within 90 days, which I did. Now the Supreme Court ruled that we don’t have standing.”
Mitchell and hundreds of other Glacier County residents have paid their taxes under protest since 2015. In a class action lawsuit, they sued Glacier County over alleged mismanagement of funds and the State of Montana over its failure to take legal action against the County.
The Glacier County Commissioners issued a brief press release on Oct. 26 via their “From the Desk of the Glacier County Commissioners” Facebook page on the Supreme Court’s decision.
“While we agree with the decision of the Montana Supreme Court, we still face other legal challenges that are pending. Glacier County will continue to aggressively defend any allegations against the County.”
According to the opinion written by Baker, “Taxpayers have not demonstrated that their claimed potential for increased property taxes in response to the County’s financial situation constitutes a concrete injury sufficient to confer standing in this case.”
Mitchell’s attorney, Lawrence A. Anderson, argued the prospect of increased property taxes constituted a future injury, but the majority of Justices disagreed.
In his dissenting opinion Wheat wrote, the “taxpayers have standing to go forward with the lawsuit…”
He continued, “Based on the deficiencies found within the audits, the taxpayers should be afforded the opportunity to fully explore and develop the alleged mismanagement of public funds. Standing requirements should not be barriers to justice…the taxpayers have alleged an injury that is not so speculative that we should reject it outright so as to deny taxpayers the opportunity to pursue their claims.”