Changing Political Leadership Leads to Greater Freedom for Montanans
In May 2020, the Gallatin County Health Board, sanctioned by the Bozeman City Commission and Gallatin County Commission, began discussions of mandatory masking in Gallatin County after enforcing a mandatory shut down of “non-essential” businesses in the county.
In June 2020, discussions continued, culminating in a public meeting of the Health Board on July 12, 2020, wherein the health board was ill-prepared for the number of unmasked individuals that showed up, and canceled the meeting on the spot. The following week, July 17, 2020, Governor Steve Bullock announced the state-wide Mask Mandate.
In response, Citizens of Montana organized and decided to fight back. Citizens in the Missoula area organized a group called Montana Title 50, with the intention of bringing a lawsuit against the Governor. Simultaneously, Stand Up Montana was in communication with the same attorney, Quentin Rhoades of Rhoades, Siefkert, and Erickson.
On December 14, 2020, Stand UP MT et al filed the lawsuit against Governor Steve Bullock and the Montana DPHHS.
Then, on December 21, 2020, he filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunctive Relief and a (rather long) Brief in support of that motion. Essentially, we asked that the governor and DPHHS cease their unconstitutional and harmful directives related to the covid epidemic.
When Governor Greg Gianforte took office in January 2021, the suit became Stand Up MT et al vs. Governor Greg Gianforte and the MT DPHHS.
On June 30, 2021, Governor Gianforte, by executive order, lifted Montana’s state of emergency issued by former Governor Bullock. Thanks to this and a number of bills passed and signed into law in 2021, we filed a motion to dismiss this case.
The 2021 Montana Legislative Session saw great success. With your help, and the help of many other groups and organizations, legislators were able to pass a number of freedom-protecting bills and get them to Governor Gianforte’s desk for signature.
Some of the legislation that passed covered many of the issues that our original case focused on. In light of this, Governor Gianforte’s legal team notified us they would be filing a Motion to Dismiss our case as moot. After much discussion with our team, we concluded that Judge Menehan would most likely dismiss the case as moot if the Governor’s lawyers were to file such a motion. So, we decided to drop the case against the Governor and DPHHS and focus on our case in Missoula.
Two such bills that impacted our suit are House Bill (HB) 230 and House Bill (HB) 257. HB 230 limits the duration of an emergency declaration issued by the Governor in response to an event other than an earthquake, flood, or wildfire to 45 days, unless extension of the declaration is approved by the legislature. All current emergency executive orders have either been rescinded or are set to automatically expire on July 1, 2021. HB 230 prevents the issuance of any future emergency declaration similar to that issued by Governor Bullock.
HB 257 was successful in removing the ability of local governments and health authorities to issue ordinances or resolutions that would deny customers access to a business’s goods or services. It also removes the ability to require a business to do so.
There are some limitations in HB 257, which we hope our Missoula case will address. For example, the bill does not address the overarching principle that a health officer cannot and should not bring any action, generally, against the uninfected or healthy. It also lacks guidelines for due process and consideration of special cases for those accused of coming under the authority of the health officer. Nevertheless, we consider the bill a win.
Action Against Unlawful Targeting of Businesses and Individuals
In early January, 2021, we were asked to be a plaintiff in a suit against the Missoula City-County Health Department and Health Officer for unlawful mandates and targeting of businesses and individuals. So on January 19, 2021 we filed a lawsuit in Missoula County. The Honorable Judge Marks has yet to take any action on this case.
Fighting for Parental Rights in Montana SchoolsSoon after suits were filed in Missoula and Bozeman, Mom’s of America, Stand Up Montana, and several parents filed a similar suit in Billings against SD2 and Elysian school districts.
A Win for Parental Rights
On August 24, 2021, Stand Up Montana and a number of parents filed a civil action against the Missoula County Public Schools to seek a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction against the Defendants’ mandatory masking rules implemented in their schools. An emergency hearing was requested and granted. Unfortunately, the Honorable Judge Marks in Missoula denied the request for injunction.
Soon after, on September 16, 2024, Stand Up Montana and a group of parents in Gallatin County filed a civil action against Bozeman School District 7, Monforton School District 27, and Big Sky School District 72. The filing in Gallatin County’s 18th District Judicial court was slightly different in that we asked for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction.
A hearing was held in Gallatin County 18th Judicial District court on October 5, and unfortunately the Honorable Judge McElyea also denied a request for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. One of the arguments presented in our complaint filed in Gallatin County was that the school boards violated the rights’ of parents to direct the education and health care of their children based upon the newly passed legislation SB400, which restricts government entities from interfering in “the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of their children…” Judge McElyea mis-interpreted the new law stating it referred to cases involving CPS where children had been removed from the home.
Parents in Missoula and Gallatin counties mutually agreed to appeal to the Montana Supreme Court and asked the court to join the cases. In addition, dozens of Montana Legislators in both the House and the Senate filed an Amicus brief on behalf of our case stating that Gallatin County District Court’s interpretation of SB 400 was inaccurate.
After a long wait, the case was finally assigned to a five-judge panel in May of this year. The panel made a unanimous decision that the lower district courts did not abuse their discretion to deny preliminary injunction. They did not, however, determine the merits of the case, so this case will go back to the lower courts to be judged on the merits. The Montana Supreme Court based their argument largely on a Supreme Court decision that mitigating the spread of COVID is a compelling government interest.
The good news? The Montana Supreme Court agreed that the lower court misinterpreted the meaning of SB 400, so this new law upholding parental rights has withstood its first legal challenge.