Commissioner of Political Practices v. Bannan

Commissioner of Political Practices v. Bannan, 2015 MT 220 (Aug. 4, 2015) (Cotter, J.) (7-0, appeal dismissed)

Issue: Whether the Lewis & Clark County District Court had subject matter jurisdiction over the commissioner’s enforcement action against Bannan.

Short Answer: Yes, the district court had subject matter jurisdiction. The real issue on appeal is an issue of statutory interpretation, and this appeal is premature.

Appeal dismissed

Facts: Terry Bannan was an unsuccessful candidate for the Montana Legislature in the 2010 primary. Commissioner Motl issued a decision in January 2014, concluding there was sufficient evidence to demonstrate Bannan had violated various campaign practices and finance law warranting civil adjudication.

The commissioner forwarded his decision to the Lewis and Clark county attorney for consideration of pursuing an action against Bannan. A week later, Bannan filed a declaratory judgment action in Gallatin County, alleging the commissioner acted unlawfully by referring the sufficiency findings o the Lewis and Clark county attorney rather than the Gallatin County district attorney. A few weeks later, the Lewis & Clark county attorney waived his right to participate in the action.

The commissioner filed an enforcement action against Bannan in Lewis & Clark County, and Bannan moved to dismiss on the basis that the First Judicial District lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the commissioner was obligated to assert the claims in the Gallatin County action.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The First Judicial District denied Bannan’s motion to dismiss. Bannan appeals, and the Supreme Court dismisses the appeal.

Reasoning: Bannan argues that § 13-37-124, MCA, obligates the commissioner to refer its sufficiency findings to the county where the alleged campaign violations occurred – Gallatin County — and that his failure to do so deprives the First Judicial District of jurisdiction. The Court disagrees.

Under the state constitution, state district courts have original jurisdiction over all civil matters. Moreover, the statute here provides, “All prosecutions must be brought in the state district court for the county in which a violation has occurred or in the district court for Lewis and Clark County.” Bannan’s appeal raises an issue of statutory interpretation, not subject matter jurisdiction. As such, it does not fall under Rule 6(3)(c) of the appellate rules. Orders denying motions to dismiss are not appealable as interlocutory orders. M.R. App. P. 6(5)(b). Bannan’s appeal is dismissed as premature.