Montana Supreme Court Turns Away Pension Shutoff Appeal

December 7, 2009 ( – Two months after they upheld a $21.5-million jury award in a long-running pension benefit termination case, justices at the Montana Supreme Court have refused to take another look at a power company’s appeal.

The Associated Press reported the state Supreme Court’s action in a final appeal in the challenge by 15 former Montana Power Co. executives whose supplemental retirement benefits were halted without them being properly notified beforehand. According to the news account, plaintiffs were awarded their original $2.5 million in pension payments, another $15 million in compensatory damages, plus $4 million in punitive damages.

The case began when NorthWestern Corp. of South Dakota filed for U.S. Bankruptcy Court protection in 2004, stopped the pension payments, and asked court permission to terminate the contracts. The company had assumed the supplemental retirement contracts when it acquired Montana Power Co.’s transmission and distribution assets in 2002.  

The retirees holding the supplemental contracts claimed they never received proper notice of the cancelation and filed the suit alleging breach of contract.

NorthWestern spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch told the Associated Press the company had resumed the payments in November 2005.

The Montana Supreme Court’s October ruling is available here.