Attorneys representing the city of Helena made good on city leadership's promise to file a counterclaim against Treasure State Internet & Telegraph.
The internet service provider and public utility company filed the initial lawsuit against the city in Montana First Judicial District Court on Aug. 27 and is seeking $1.5 million in damages, alleging city staff unlawfully interfered with its operations within city rights of way from the summer of 2015 to April 2020.
The city's counterclaim, filed April 19, asserts that TSI&T's allegations are baseless and that to "prevail on its claim for tortious interference, TSI&T must prove malice... The City did not act with malice."
The city government's outside legal counsel, Murry Warhank and Erin Lyndes of the local law firm Jackson, Murdo & Grant, also argue that monetary damages sought by TSI&T are limited by state law, and that the public utility failed to "exhaust administrative remedies" in the matter.
TSI&T claimed in its initial suit that city staff repeatedly failed to provide the city engineering standards that city officials said the utility was failing to meet as part of the utility's micro-trenching projects from 2015 to 2017.
In the city's counterclaim, it argues that city code defers to Montana Public Works Standard Specifications with regard to such work, which TSI&T did not adhere to.
According to the city's filing, TSI&T did not install conduit deep enough, did not reseal trenches, cut through curbs instead of drilling underneath them and did not clean work sites, leaving debris in the streets and conduit protruding from the ground.
The city's court filings also quote a TSI&T employee as stating in internal communications that the company "did a really poor job" repairing its cuts in the asphalt. It is unclear how the city's legal team obtained internal TSI&T communications.
The counterclaim further asserts that the utility's work has "resulted in damage to City infrastructure and additional costs to the City," and that TSI&T is "liable to the City for an amount to be determined at trial."
The utility's request for a jury trial in the matter was granted by presiding Judge Michael McMahon. Per McMahon's order, the trial is not scheduled to take place until the summer of 2022.
The Helena City Commission held a special closed-door meeting March 29 to discuss the matter. The closed session lasted from 6:07 to 6:24 p.m.
The commissioners then authorized City Attorney Thomas Jodoin to file that counterclaim during its April 5 meeting on a split vote of 3-2. City Commissioners Andres Haladay and Heather O'Loughlin cast the dissenting votes. No discussion pertaining to the decision took place during that meeting.
Both sides have declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.