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

A two and a half year old class action lawsuit against the City of Billings will resume soon after a judge ruled last week to keep the current attorneys.

Plaintiffs argue against the city’s franchise fees for water, sewer and garbage services.

According to court records, the city began collecting the charges in 1992 and plaintiffs have been suing for 25 years.

They say the fees are an illegal sales tax as they go into the general fund, not these services.

The city abolished franchise fees in 2018.

Plaintiffs attorney Matthew Monforton said his clients are demanding a clause or court order that fees are non-refundable.

KTVQ

In 2019 the judge certified the class represented.

Since then, Heenan has requested to intervene and take over the representation.

The judge’s judgment states that the request was not timely and unfounded because the proposed interveners had failed to show that the other group was inadequate.

“The idea that the franchise fee should stop was initially a noble idea I thought,” said John Heenan, attorney for the proposed interveners. “Good for her. But there was a much easier way to get there and it didn’t take that much time and it didn’t have to cost that much money.”

Heenan said taxpayers would have to pay legal fees on both sides and he had suggested not charging any fees.

“It means our customers can continue their efforts to reimburse city taxpayers for the illegal sales taxes the city has levied on them over the years,” said Monforton. “The judge made it clear that the class representatives represent the Billings taxpayers more than adequately, as do the class attorneys.”

Monforton said he expected to inform fee payers of this case and their option to either stay on the case or opt out, as well as the possibility of refunds.

Read the full order here.

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