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PPL Mont., LLC v. Montana

ELR Citation: 40 ELR 20099
Nos. No. DA08-0506, (Mont., 03/30/2010)

The Supreme Court of Montana affirmed a lower court’s award of almost $41 million in damages to the state of Montana from a wholesale electric generator for its use of state-owned riverbeds at its hydroelectric generation facilities.  The court held that title to the riverbeds passed to Montana when it became a state in 1889.  Based on historical evidence, the rivers were “navigable in fact” at the time of Montana statehood and, under the navigability for title test, Montana has held title to these riverbeds since then. The lower court erred in concluding that the riverbeds were “school trust lands;” they are “public trust lands” under the Montana Constitution.  This does not, however, change the lower court’s overall conclusions because the state still had a fiduciary obligation to administer the lands for the public’s benefit.  Finally, the Hydroelectric Resources Act is not federally preempted by the Federal Power Act and provided an appropriate mechanism with which to assess damages owed by the generator to the state.