In reviewing proceedings of an equitable nature, under Mont. Code Ann. § 3-2-204(5), the court's duty is to review all questions of fact arising upon the evidence presented in the record, whether presented by specifications of error or not and to determine the same as well as questions of law. Mont. R. Civ. P. 52(a) requires findings of fact made by the district court to be upheld unless they are clearly erroneous. Rule 52(a), does not make any distinction between causes of an equitable nature and cases at law, as far as the appellate review of the district court findings of fact is concerned. In appeals of equity causes, the court will review both questions of law and questions of fact, but the court will not reverse the trial court in an equity case on questions of fact unless there is a decided preponderance of the evidence against the findings of the trial court. However broad those statements may appear, they should not be taken to mean that the court will dodge the statutory duty fastened on it to make an independent review of questions of fact in equity cases. The court cannot shirk the statutory duty. Rather, in equity cases, where the issues are close, a degree of deference will be accorded the findings of the trial court since it is in a better position to make decisions of fact.
Plaintiff cabin owners had licenses from the prior owners of the land to keep their cabins on the land. Defendant land owner purchased the land and sent notices of termination of their licenses to plaintiffs. Plaintiffs then commenced their action for interlocutory and permanent injunctive relief against the land owner. Sitting in equity, the district court placed a constructive trust on the cabins in favor of plaintiffs and gave plaintiffs six months to exercise an option to accept payment for the cabins from defendant. Plaintiff and defendant both appealed.
Is a purchaser of land liable to lessees to continue their occupancy, if they had no interest in the land, but had permission from the prior owner to place cabins on the land, if the purchaser was not an innocent purchaser for value?
Upon review, the court give plaintiffs an additional six months to exercise their options, and affirmed the modified judgment. The court held that the district court's finding that defendant was not an innocent purchaser who took the land without notice of the licenses was supported by the evidence. The court also found that the evidence supported the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs had no title or interest in the property under the doctrine of adverse possession or prescriptive right because their occupancy was based on permission by defendant's predecessors.