The past several months have been pricey ones for Missoula County. Since last year, the county has paid hundreds of thousands dollars to fight and resolve allegations of legal wrongdoing stemming from a variety of claims including workplace discrimination, jail negligence and erroneous land-use law interpretations. A recent lawsuit filed by a Missoula couple leaves the county again tallying legal expenses.
On June 6, Petty Creek landowners Patricia and Larry Hayden alleged in Missoula Fourth Judicial District Court that the county misrepresented plans for a public right of way when seeking their permission to reconstruct a portion of Petty Creek Road alongside their property. The county's initial pitch worked. In 2011, the Haydens agreed to the construction. When the project commenced in 2013, however, the Haydens were shocked to find the road was being built eight feet above their property, which completely eliminated the Haydens' direct access to Petty Creek Road and all road access to one of two parcels, says Thomas Orr, the couple's Missoula attorney.
"It was a total surprise to the Haydens," Orr says.
Orr adds that the lost access to Petty Creek Road diminished the Haydens' property value and that the couple deserves compensation for what constitutes an unlawful taking. Orr says he's yet to calculate the value of the Haydens' loss, but "it's going to be fairly significant given the fact that they used to have access to these parcels and now they're virtually landlocked at least on one side."
On July 1, Missoula County responded to the Hayden suit, arguing in court filings that the construction was part of a federal road project and, as such, the Haydens should be suing the federal government.
In light of the federal involvement, Missoula County is asking the District Court to dismiss the case.
Orr says the county's defense is bunk. His clients never dealt with anybody from the federal government, he says. "This was entirely a county project," Orr says. "Our position is this is a local matter that we want to be addressing in a local court."