Montana's Attorney General Austin Knudsen announced today that he has ordered Gallatin County to dismiss its case against the Rocking R Bar in Bozeman.

The Attorney General has supervisory powers regarding legal matters involving counties in the state, and Knudsen directed County Attorney Marty Lambert to promptly dismiss Gallatin City-County Board of Health and Health Officer Matt Kelley v. Rocking R Bar. The Rocking R was currently being sued by Gallatin County for not closing at 10 p.m. as mandated by the Health Department's COVID-19 directives.

“The ten o’clock closure rule defies commonsense,"  said Attorney General Knudsen. "This type of government overreach is devastating to Montana workers and small businesses. Our action today is a clear message that we need to safely reopen our economy and will not allow overzealous local governments to hold Montana businesses and their employees hostage.”

Earlier this week, Governor Greg Gianforte issued a new order that will remove restricted hours for restaurants starting on Friday. However, local businesses will still be expected to follow local COVID-19 directives that are currently in place.

Here is the full letter that Attorney General Knudsen sent to Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert.

Dear County Attorney Lambert:

Pursuant to M.C.A. § 2-15-501(5), it is the duty of the Attorney General “to exercise supervisory powers over county attorneys in all matters pertaining to the duties of their offices.”  Consistent with this authority, I hereby exercise my supervisory powers with respect to the case entitled Gallatin City-County Board of Health and Health Officer Matt Kelley v. Rocking R Bar, Gallatin County Cause No. DV-20-1278B.

At your earliest convenience, but no later than 12:00 p.m. on January 15, 2021, I order and direct you to dismiss the above-entitled action in accordance with Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) of the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure.  Procedurally, the dismissal of the action eliminates any sufficient grounds for the preliminary injunction issued on December 18, 2020.  For that reason, I further direct you to coordinate with the defendant to ensure that it may file—simultaneously with or before the filing of the stipulated notice of dismissal—an application to dissolve the preliminary injunction, along with a supporting affidavit, as required by M.C.A. § 27-19-401.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.

Austin Knudsen
Attorney General of Montana

Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert issued the following statement this afternoon to Attorney General Knudsen's order:

"The State of Montana is not a party to the R Bar case. The Attorney General may lack authority to “order and direct” a county attorney to dismiss a case where a local government entity, and not the State of Montana, is the plaintiff.   

The Attorney General’s letter cites a rule of civil procedure providing that all the parties may sign an agreement to the dismiss a case. Today I talked to a party to the R Bar case, Health Officer Matt Kelley. Mr. Kelley does not agree to dismissal, so the rule cited by the attorney general cannot be employed to dismiss the case by noon on January 15, 2021.

 As to the bellicose remarks in the Attorney General’s press release, the Governor’s January 13, 2021, Directive recognized that local health authorities may enact rules or orders more restrictive than the Governor’s.

 My staff and I will continue to research the matter."

Aaron Flint who hosts Montana Talks spoke with Rocking R Bar owner Mike Hope this morning. You can listen to the interview by clicking on the button below:

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