Flathead Landowner Loses Gravel Pit Appeal

By Beacon Staff

The Montana Supreme Court recently ruled against a Flathead property owner who wanted to extract gravel from his land, saying the man already had his chance to challenge the county’s decision to deny him the necessary permit.

The state’s high court said on April 8 that the Flathead County District Court was right to dismiss Robert Beasley’s two lawsuits against the county over a gravel-pit permit. Beasley, the court said, had already appealed the same case three years prior, and under the law can’t re-challenge the same decision.

Or as Flathead County Chief Deputy Attorney Jonathan Smith put it: “He started (the appeal process), didn’t follow through and you don’t get another shot at it.”

According to court documents, Beasley bought property on Farm to Market Road in Kalispell in 2005, and assumed a conditional use permit for a gravel pit operation would stay with the property. The previous owners had obtained the permit in 1997.

Flathead County Planning and Zoning Director Jeff Harris originally agreed the permit could be transferred. But the Flathead Citizens for Quality Growth, a coalition of neighboring landowners, appealed his decision to the county’s Board of Adjustment. The permit, they argued, had already lapsed because the previous owners had failed to meet its conditions.

The board agreed and denied the permit transfer.

In June 2006, Beasley appealed the board’s decision in District Court. But when the community group intervened in the case to defend the board’s decision, he moved to dismiss the appeal before the court had rendered its decision.

The case was dismissed “with prejudice” – a legal term meaning it’s a final, binding decision and that the case can’t be filed again.

“You only get to challenge things once in court once,” Smith said. “This keeps people who go to court and lose from just filing the same suits over and over again.”

Beasley’s lawsuits included 18 complaints for damages, a demand for a jury trial and alleged negligence by county employees, a taking of property and a violation of his constitutional rights. According to court documents, Beasley spent more than $2 million with the understanding that he’d be able to extract gravel from his property.

Beasley also said the county hadn’t offered a way to appeal the county board’s permit decision – a claim the state’s Supreme Court ultimately debunked.

“Beasley had a plain, speedy and adequate remedy available,” the court’s decision said, “thus rendering (his claims) inapplicable.”

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