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Judge rules against new attorneys in franchise fee suit against city of Billings

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Posted at 7:59 PM, Jun 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-25 09:38:12-04

A two-and-a-half-year old class-action lawsuit against the city of Billings will soon move forward, after a judge's ruling last week to keep the current attorneys.

Plaintiffs have been arguing against the city's franchise fees on water, sewer and garbage services.

According to court documents, the city started imposing the fees in 1992 and plaintiffs have been complaining for 25 years.

They say the fees are an illegal sales tax, since they go into the general fund and not toward those services.

The city removed the franchise fees in 2018.

Attorney for the plaintiffs, Matthew Monforton, said his clients want a stipulation or court order that the fees do not come back.

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In 2019, the judge certified the class being represented.

Since then, Heenan filed to intervene and take over representation.

The judge's ruling states that motion was not timely and lacked merit because the proposed intervenors failed to show the other group was inadequate.

"The idea that the franchise fee should be stopped, I think was a noble one at the start," said John Heenan, attorney for the proposed intervenors. "Good for them. But there was a lot easier way to get there and it didn't need to take so much time and it didn't need to cost so much money."

Heenan said taxpayers will have to pay attorney fees for both sides and he had proposed that he would not collect a fee.

"It means our clients will be able to proceed in their efforts to get refunds for city ratepayers, of the illegal sales taxes that the city has taken from them over the years," Monforton said. "The judge made clear that the class representatives were more than adequately representing the taxpayers of Billings, as were class counsel."

Monforton said he anticipates informing ratepayers about this case and their ability to either remain in the case or opt out, and the potential for refunds.

Read the full order here.