Appellate Results

In the last six years, the attorneys at Boland Aarab have handled 36 appeals to the Montana Supreme Court. They have won jury verdicts for civil plaintiffs and defended those verdicts on appeal, they have gotten wrongful criminal convictions reversed, they have assisted civil rights groups in public policy advocacy before the Court, and they have changed the law. Here are some highlights of their work before the Montana Supreme Court:

Voegel v. Salsbery: On June 18, 2018, Cheryl Voegel was in a motor vehicle collision caused by a 17-year-old driver in Malta, Montana. After four years, Cheryl still had unresolved pain from the collision, so she brought personal injury claims. The case went to trial in May, 2022. After hearing three days of testimony from many witnesses, the Malta jury returned a verdict in Cheryl’s favor of $168,500 for pain and suffering and loss of established course of life.

The defense sought a new trial on appeal, arguing that Cheryl cheated by implying to the jury that the young defendant had insurance coverage with which to pay a large verdict. Cheryl did no such thing; she just told her story and her community believed her. The insurance defense industry has used a similar tactic for years: they argue that a jury of one’s peers would not possibly render a fair and reasonable verdict in favor of a plaintiff if the plaintiff’s lawyer isn’t allowed to cheat by showing the jury that an insurance company would actually be picking up the bill. The Montana Rules of Evidence already prevent this from happening, and Cheryl didn’t need to cheat to earn the trust of her community.

The Montana Supreme Court reiterated in Cheryl’s case what they have said before: “[t]he notion that the mere mention of insurance can move a jury to ignore the law and award a windfall to the plaintiff is an ancient myth unsupported by any empirical data.” The Court concluded that “[t]here was ample evidence to support the jury’s verdict [. . .] and counsel did not suggest [the defendant] had insurance to pay the damages Voegel asked the jury to award.” We succeeded in safeguarding Cheryl’s verdict.

State of Montana v. Zeimer: Michael Zeimer was parked in the parking lot of the Town Pump in Glendive on April 15, 2019, when a police officer knocked on his truck door. Zeimer had driven overnight from Miles City and had fallen asleep in his truck while he waited for his sister to meet him. The officer asked for his driver’s license and then began to question Mr. Zeimer at length about his personal history and associations. The officer “observed no confirmatory particularized indicia of actual alcohol or drug impairment” and had no “particularized basis upon which to suspect that Zeimer may have been armed and dangerous,” but the officer ordered him out of the truck and performed an invasive pat-down search. The officer then detained Mr. Zeimer in the back of a patrol vehicle while he searched his truck. The interrogation and detention lasted 47 minutes.

When his case went up to the Montana Supreme Court on appeal, the Court reaffirmed the bedrock principle that “Government searches and seizures are lawful only if constitutionally reasonable. See Mont. Const. art. II, § 11; U.S. Const. amend. IV.” The Court articulated a rule that safeguards all citizens from unwarranted detention and invasions of privacy: “At the point that the investigating officer has either dispelled the predicate particularized suspicion that justified the initial stop within its lawful scope and duration, or failed to observe or discover additional specific and articulable facts justifying expansion of the scope or duration of the stop based on a new or expanded particularized suspicion of criminal activity, the stop must end without further delay.” Mr. Zeimer’s wrongful criminal conviction was reversed.

You can read about all the appeals the attorneys at Boland Aarab have handled on the Montana Supreme Court’s website.