New Judge Assigned to Case Between State Health Department and Flathead Businesses

Robert Allison appointed to take over for Dan Wilson after state asked for substitution

By Andy Viano
People appear in court for a hearing brought by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services asking the Flathead County District Court to compel five Flathead County business to comply with the state’s COVID-19 directives on Nov. 12, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Flathead County District Court Judge Robert Allison will hear the next round of arguments in the ongoing case between the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and five Flathead County businesses accused of ignoring a statewide mask directive.

The contentious legal fight will move into Allison’s court after attorneys for DPHHS asked that Judge Dan Wilson be substituted, a fairly common practice that is permissible under state law if requested within 30 days of the first summons being served. DPHHS asked for the substitution on Friday, Nov. 20, 28 days after initial summonses were served to the five defendants in the case. Wilson relinquished his role and Allison accepted the case on Monday.

The five local businesses — Ferndale Market, Scotty’s Bar and Casino, Remington Bar and Casino, Your Lucky Turn Casino, and Sykes Diner and Mercantile — won a decisive victory in Wilson’s court on Nov. 12 when the judge denied the state health department’s request for a preliminary injunction. DPHHS has thus far not appealed that decision, or indicated whether or not it will proceed any further with the case.

Lawyers for the five businesses made their own move by filing counterclaims against DPHHS on Nov. 18, asking for legal fees and damages to be awarded for what one attorney called the “frivolous” lawsuits brought against them. The accused businesses asked Wilson for similar fees and damages at the Nov. 12 hearing, something he denied but warned that he would be likely to award if the case proceeded to trial.

As of Tuesday morning, no additional hearings in the case have been scheduled.




Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.