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Landmark Cases

These are the cases that shaped us – and changed the fabric of Montanan legislation forever. Hover over the points below to view details on landmark cases.

Other important case results

McGarvey Law has worked on hundreds of cases in various fields. In most of these legal battles, we have fought against much larger opponents, representing clients in ‘David vs Goliath’ scenarios. The outcomes speak for themselves. 

Somers Clean Up

McGarvey Law obtained recoveries for property owners in Somers, Montana whose soil and groundwater were polluted by nearby railroad operations. Decades of wood treatment operations on BNSF’s railroad tie treatment plant without proper environmental management severely impacted neighboring properties. The Somers plaintiffs alleged that thousands of gallons of creosote, zinc chloride, benzene, toluene, and other toxic substances entered the soil, surface waters, and groundwater around the Somers Tie Treatment Plant and migrated onto plaintiffs’ properties. The case involved extensive hydrogeological sampling and modeling as well as substantial legal and technical analysis.

Plains Grains v. Power Company

McGarvey Law successfully blocked the construction of two controversial coal-fired power plants near Great Falls, representing the Helena-based Montana Environmental Information Center and about 40 landowners who opposed the project. At the request of a developer, Cascade County moved to rezone 668 acres from farmland to heavy industrial use so a power plant could be constructed on the land. MEIC and the landowners sued Cascade County, alleging illegal spot zoning. The county planning department acknowledged that the operation of a power plant was out of character with the neighboring agricultural land, but approved the rezoning anyway. The Montana Supreme Court ruled in favor of MEIC and the neighboring landowners because the requested heavy industrial use differed significantly from the current agricultural uses, the area to be rezoned was relatively small, and the benefits would accrue to a single landowner.

Plains Grains v. Bd of County Comm’rs 2010 MT 155

Ferguson v. SafeCo Insurance

Without notifying Ferguson of her right to be made whole before subrogation could be used to impair her auto damage claim, the Safeco Companies secretly asserted and recovered subrogation. On behalf of similar situated Montana insureds, McGarvey Law successfully sued in a class action with Ferguson as the lead Plaintiff. McGarvey Law has successfully prosecuted similar “wrongful subrogation” class actions against several other insurers resulting in a recovery of over $7 million for Montana insurers.

Robinson v. State Farm

North Fork Preservation Association v. Dept. of State Lands and CENEX

In 1985, Cenex was granted a drilling permit for an exploratory oil and gas well near Polebridge, Montana that sat just two miles from Glacier National Park. In 1988, we intervened to challenge the state of Montana’s environmental assessment and to address Cenex’s failure to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). We prevailed on summary judgment, but our decision was reversed by the Montana Supreme Court, which held that no EIS was necessary and that no violations of law had occurred. (238 Mont. 451, 778 P.2d 862 (1989)) In spite of this ruling, no well was drilled on this state lands parcel near Polebridge. An exploratory well drilled on adjoining private land in 1989 came up dry. We challenged that well because there had been no public notice and no public hearing; the Flathead County District Court ruled in our favor. The Montana Board of Oil and Gas’ permit was revoked until a public hearing could be held. Because of our advocacy, Cenex decided not to develop any of its leases in the North Fork, releasing them back to the Department of State Lands, and ensuring the preservation of the North Fork’s undeveloped lands.

Blasdel v. Montana Power

This was the classic case of the old farmer against the power company. Montana Power completed Kerr Dam at the south end of Flathead Lake in 1939. An “Environmental Impact Statement” was prepared by one R.L. Cady in 1934. The dam raised the average level of Flathead Lake by six feet. Based on data from observation wells, Cady predicted that as a result of the dam, the water tables in the lower valley area north of Flathead Lake would be raised 5.2 feet and that the water tables would stabilize in 1959. As it turned out, the water tables did stabilize at new levels in 1959. The new levels were 5.4 feet higher due to the dam. Based on 25 years of data from observation wells in the lower valley, the 1959 levels were demonstrated by our hydrologist Dr. Robert Curry. The accuracy of R.L. Cady’s prediction in 1934 was astounding. Jess Blasdel had 100 acres underwater and 450 acres damaged by salts rising. Montana Power always maintained that the rise in the water tables was due to excess rainfall in the 1940s and 1950s. And, it was true that the years 1948-1960 were very wet years, in comparison to the two decades before 1948. Jon Heberling got the Montana Power hydrologist to agree that based on his theory that it was all due to the rainfall, the water levels on the new lakes on the Blasdel farm should have been even higher in 1910-1920, the wettest period in recorded history. On rebuttal, we called the charming 93 year old Abby Mitton, who testified that in the 1910s she rode her horse past the Blasdel farm each day on her way to school. As to the areas now underwater, she testified that as of 1916 “oh no, there wasn’t any water there.” She also had a photo of her sister’s wedding in 1916 at the Grange Hall on the corner of the Blasdel farm. Unfortunately, the photo did not face toward the areas now underwater, but she testified that for the wedding cars were parked on the areas now underwater. We had two two-week trials on liability and damages. The judgment after a jury verdict of $409,000 was the largest in Flathead County history, up to that time. It was affirmed by the Montana Supreme Court.

Blasdel v. Montana Power Co., 196 Mont. 417, 640 P.2d 889 (1982)

Brown v. North Am Mfg. Co (1978)

A landmark product liability case in Montana, Dale McGarvey, and Jon Heberling represented Dean Brown who lost a leg in a defective ranch auger. Dale McGarvey was an expert in condemnation cases and brilliantly portrayed the case in damages as essentially as one of a taking of the ranch, due to the disability of the ranch manager, Dean Brown. Damages were in terms of loss of ranch earnings. The verdict of $325,000 was the largest in Flathead County history, up to that time. Brown is a fundamental case for strict liability in tort as it overrules the patent latent rule and is cited frequently in product liability cases in Montana.

Brown v. North American Manufacturing Co., 176 Mont. 98, 576 P.2d 711 (1978)

Kadillak v. The Anaconda Company, Department of State Lands, 198 Mont. 70, 643 P.2d 1178 (1982) (trial in 1977)

McGarvey Law represented 127 homeowners on the east edge of Butte whose homes and health were threatened when the Anaconda Company proposed a large toxic waste dump on neighboring land. After a complex three week trial involving multiple expert witnesses, the district judge ruled in Anaconda’s favor, a decision that was reversed by the Montana Supreme Court in a landmark case. The Supreme Court’s decision, and our advocacy, pushed Anaconda to create a new Environmental Impact Statement. Anaconda eventually committed to conveyor dumping, a safer alternative that cut air pollution by 75%.

Occupational Disease/ Worker’s Compensation Cases

McGarvey Law has prevailed in a number of precedent-setting occupational disease cases. We have established law that guides which employer is liable for an occupational disease claim, and we have particular experience in claims pertaining to asbestos exposure in Libby, Montana.

Rosling v. Associated Loggers Exchange, 2019 MTWCC 5

Atchley v. Louisiana Pacific Corp., 2018 MTWCC 17

Baeth v. Liberty NW Ins. Corp., 2014 MTWCC 10