After more than a decade and a “dizzying” number of land deals, the Montana Supreme Court says a Michigan company is the rightful owner of 15 acres at the top of Lone Mountain.
In a Jan. 2 opinion, the Supreme Court upheld a 2010 district court decision that awarded the land to Boyne USA, which owns and operates Big Sky Resort. The high court also upheld $600,000 in damages the lower court had ordered Spanish Peaks Development to pay Boyne.
Spanish Peaks Development and Lone Mountain Holdings appealed the decision by a Madison County District Court jury, filing a brief with the state’s high court in May.
The dispute dates back to 1998, when Big Sky Resort and Tim Blixseth’s Big Sky Lumber negotiated a deal in conjunction with the timber company’s large land swap with the Gallatin National Forest.
The land swap gave Blixseth the real estate that would become the Yellowstone Club and developer James Dolan the land where he would build the Club at Spanish Peaks. The swap also gave Dolan and Blixseth the 15 acres atop Lone Mountain.
In the 1998 agreement, Boyne USA agreed not to object to the Blixseth land swap as long as Big Sky Lumber turned around and sold the 15-acre peak property to Boyne.
Boyne contended, however, that it was never given a chance to buy the peak property.
In the meantime, Spanish Peaks Development took control of the property and argued that Boyne had not held up its end of the agreement, thus releasing Spanish Peaks from its obligation to sell the peak property.
However, the Madison County jury ruled that Spanish Peaks Development was the one in breach of contract and recommended that the company pay Boyne $600,000 in damages.
In its appeal to the state’s high court, Spanish Peaks Development disputed whether the Madison County court properly awarded damages and legal fees to Boyne and whether Boyne is entitled to legal fees on appeal.
In the high court’s opinion, Justice Brian Morris wrote that Spanish Peaks Development used “every procedural mechanism of our legal system to evade its contractual obligations, obfuscate, manufacture disputes and leverage its business position in a duplicitous manner.”
During the district court proceedings, Spanish Peaks Development didn’t deny abusing the legal process. It also didn’t deny deceiving Boyne. The company instead argued that Boyne suffered only nominal damages from any of its abuse or deceit.
“We cannot agree,” Morris wrote.
Spanish Peaks Development also argued against the more than $177,000 in attorney’s fees that were awarded to Boyne.
The Supreme Court also upheld those fees, saying the agreement between Boyne and Spanish Peaks Development “could not be more clear” with its provision for legal fees.
Boyne argued that the agreement also entitles the company to attorney’s fees on appeal, to which the high court also agreed, ordering the district court to determine reasonable fees.
Whitney Bermes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2648.