III. MEETING CATEGORIES -- OPEN OR CLOSED.

Excluding the privacy exception, there are no rules, judicially or legislatively imposed, that exempt certain discussions from the Montana open meetings law. Rather, the court will examine on a case-by-case basis the necessity for closing the meeting and the presiding officer's determination that the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure. The Montana Supreme Court, in that regard, has determined that the Montana Board of Regents may close its meeting when discussing matters related to the qualifications of individual applicants for presidency of any of the branches of the Montana University System. Missoulian v. Board of Regents, 207 Mont. 513, 675 P.2d 962 (1984). In construing the "individual privacy" provision of the Montana Constitution, the Montana Supreme Court has refused to extend the privacy protection to corporations. See Great Falls Tribune v. Mont. Pub. Serv. Commn., 319 Mont. 38, 82 P.3d 876 (2003).

In Associated Press v. Crofts, 321 Mont. 193, 89 P.3d 971 (2004), media organizations brought an action against the Commissioner of Higher Education, seeking a declaration that the meetings between the Commissioner and the state university policy committee, which was made up of senior university employees, were subject to open meetings laws and enjoining Commissioner from excluding the public from meetings. The Montana Supreme Court held that the meetings between the Commissioner and the university policy committee were subject to open meetings laws, and that the media organizations were not entitled to attorney’s fees.

In Goldstein v. Commission on Practice of Supreme Court, 297 Mont. 493, 995 P.2d 923 (2000), the Montana Supreme Court held that confidentiality provisions of Rules on Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement did not violate an attorneys' right to know or right to participate in government decisions by excluding attorney from the deliberations of Commission on Practice following the filing of formal complaint and held that Commission was not subject to open meeting requirements and sat in only advisory capacity to Supreme Court.

A woman who would testify in a personnel disciplinary proceeding that she had sex with the police chief in or near the patrol car while the chief was on duty had a constitutionally protected right of privacy which exceeded the merits of public disclosure, and the meeting could be closed. Goyen v. City of Troy, 276 Mont. 213, 915 P.2d 824 (1996).

The Montana Supreme Court has not yet addressed extension of the Montana open meetings law to hospital board discussions of patients, parole board meetings, or any other deliberation involving questions related to individual privacy. However, given the predilection of the court to protect individual privacy, any determination to close a meeting based upon privacy considerations will not likely be overturned.

Negotiations and collective bargaining of public employees. In Motta v. Philipsburg School Bd. Trustees, 323 Mont. 72, 98 P.3d 673 (2004), a citizen brought an action against a school district, alleging violation of open meeting laws. The district court granted the citizen's motion for partial summary judgment, but refused to void the collective bargaining agreement reached at the school board meeting, and did not award the citizen his costs. On appeal, the Montana Supreme Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it refused to void the agreement reached at the meeting held in violation of open meeting laws; remand was necessary so that district court could determine whether to award citizen his costs; and citizen prevailed, even though he did not receive all of the remedy he desired, and thus it was up to discretion of district court to determine whether to award citizen his costs.