In Rare Win, Supreme Court Sides with Whitefish

By Beacon Staff

In what has been a tough year for the city of Whitefish in the courtroom, a recent Montana Supreme Court ruling in the city’s favor is a welcome reprieve.

Justice Jim Rice overturned a 2005 Flathead County District Court decision that ordered the city of Whitefish to pay $161,000 for a piece of condemned property and $94,788 in attorney fees to K & R Partnership. In his decision, Rice requested a new trial because he said the district court erred three times in its decision-making process.

The dispute over the condemned property began in 1995 when the city was looking to form connector streets from Baker Avenue to U.S. Highway 93. At the time, the state was widening the highway to four lanes.

In 1997, Whitefish sought to use 13th Street as the connector, but the street dead ended into a piece of property owned by the K & R Partnership, which consists of four families. The K & R property holds the Best Bet Casino and Dos Amigos Mexican restaurant. The city condemned the portion of the property it needed to form the connector street. Included in the 7,234-square-foot portion is the K & R parking lot.

After discussions, the two parties were unable to agree on a value for the condemned property and instead entered into an agreement that granted Whitefish possession of the property with the stipulation that the city pay K & R $130,000 as well as hand over an adjacent piece of city-owned land. The city also agreed to pave the property it gave to K & R for the purposes of a parking lot.

But during negotiations the two parties continued to disagree over the property’s value and severance damages, prompting K & R to file a lawsuit in 1999 against the city claiming inverse condemnation and breach of contract. In 2005 a jury ruled in K & R’s favor.

Rice ruled that the district court mistakenly interpreted the agreement and excluded pertinent evidence from the jury trial. Rice also ruled that the court erred by not constraining the testimony of Kent Frampton, one of K & R’s partners. Frampton’s son, Sean, is K & R’s attorney. The city hired James Goetz of Bozeman and William Driscoll of Helena.

“We conclude that the district court abused its discretion by not constraining (Ken) Frampton’s testimony in a manner consistent with the landowner-witness rule,” Rice wrote.