We spoke with Bozeman's Rockin' R Bar owner Mike Hope on Thursday morning. Now, we have breaking news. Montana's Attorney General Austin Knudsen (R-MT) is ordering the dismissal of Gallatin County's case against the bar. We also have an updated response from Gallatin County as of 3 p.m. Thursday.

On Wednesday, Governor Greg Gianforte (R-MT) announced that he was lifting restrictions forcing restaurants, bars and other small businesses to close at 10 p.m. Despite the governor lifting the restrictions, Gallatin County's Health Officer said restrictions would remain in effect for Bozeman. The Rockin' R Bar has been in a continuing legal battle with the county over the restrictions.

According to a press release from Attorney General Austin Knudsen, the AG "exercised his supervisory powers in the Gallatin City-County Board of Health and Health Officer Matt Kelley v. Rocking R Bar case. Knudsen directed County Attorney Marty Lambert to promptly dismiss the case against the Bozeman business that had refused to adhere to the mandate that businesses close at 10:00 p.m."

AG KNUDSEN: The ten o’clock closure rule defies commonsense. 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.

With the state lifting restrictions, but Gallatin County keeping their restrictions in place, we wanted to get reaction from Bozeman business owners still being harmed by the restrictions. We spoke with Rockin R' owner Mike Hope Thursday morning, prior to the AG's announcement. Click here for the full podcast of our conversation.

At 3 p.m. Thursday, Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert, who represents the Gallatin City-County Health Board, says his staff "will continue to research the matter." He also issued this statement:

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.

 

Here's the full text of the letter from the attorney general:

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