Is There A Winner In Fort Peck Legal Case?
A hearing was set for Thursday, July 31, but District Judge Blair Jones signed off on a motion for summary judgement, dismissing the plaintiff's claims without prejudice and awarding attorney's fees and costs to Jeffrey Robertson. While the battle might not be fully over, to this point it seems no one really won in this case that has lingered in Fort Peck for years.
The case started in 2009, when Fort Peck Town Council began working on a lot development project for storage of campers, boats and other vehicles that were clogging up the streets. Robertson said he regularly attended the meetings.
In August 2011, he stated in his complaint filed on June 18, 2012, that he learned that the town had correspondence with the manager of the community technical assistance program for Montana. He claimed the emails were never made public. Robertson requested from the town council copies of documents and information regarding the lot development proposal because he was concerned that all relevant information was not provided to the public.
Robertson had already received the emails in question, but he claimed the town should have provided copies of the correspondence as it pertained to the project and legal issues that pertained to the project. The town didn't dispute in court that it failed to provide him with the copies. Robertson also said the town refused to respond to his request made in January 2012 at the council meeting when he requested to read a resolution before it was passed at the meeting.
In the judgement that was just released July 23, it states that the resolution and the lot development project that Robertson opposed does not now exist, meaning the point is now moot. He further argued that he wanted to sit in on discussions with TransCanada over possible contracts for water and sewer for a proposed man camp related to Keystone XL pipeline construction. He was told that the discussion was not open to the public.
His complaints were that the lack of records requested and the denial of attending discussion went against the Montana Constitution, Article II, Section 8 and 9. Also known as the public's right to know and to participate.
During the court battle the complaint was amended twice as Robertson added that he was wrongfully removed from the town's parks and recreations board. In the judgement it was stated that if the plaintiff could show the town had repeatedly withheld documents, or information contained within documents from public disclosure, and then fully disclose those same documents upon the plaintiff's filing suit to enforce its right to know, the town would have a “very hefty burden in attempting to persuade the court.”
According to the judgment, Robertson said that he prevailed on his claims in litigation as he sought to bring the town into compliance with Robertson's right to know and participate. He said that he is entitled to attorneys' fees and costs incurred.
It was ordered that the town shall pay Robertson's reasonable attorney's fees and costs incurred in this action through February 2014. Any fees incurred after that date are the responsibility of Robertson.