As a reminder, the plaintiff in that case, Alexis Nunez, was abused by her step-grandfather, Maximo Reyes, who have been disfellowshipped for one year for abusing his children. She sued the organization for failure to report the known abuse to police and was awarded $35 million by a jury while another plaintiff (her aunt) lost her case. The Supreme Court of Montana reversed the award, finding that congregation and Bethel elders were exempt from duty to report.
The plaintiff then asked the district court to allow her to sue the org again under another legal theory - common law negligence - which has been voluntarily abandoned by her counsel before the trial. The district court granted the motion; Watchtower appealed.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Montana denied the appeal. The Court unanimously found the res judicata rule doesn't apply here; by four votes to three, it also found the district court didn't abused its discretion since a good cause existed for not prosecuting the common law negligence theory in the first trial. The majority's reasoning on this key issue is contained in a single (¶23) paragraph of the 25 paragraph opinion.
Three justices dissented, stating that "the factual and legal rationales asserted by the District Court and this Court for not holding Nunez to her purely tactical decision to abandon her alternative common law negligence claim are unsound and indefensible under the particular circumstances of this case." In concluding his dissent, Justice Sandefur wrote:
Empathy is not a legal basis upon which to disregard the governing Rules of Civil Procedure, universally adopted for the purpose of ensuring fair and equal treatment and protection to all civil litigants, plaintiffs and defendants alike. While understandable, the Court’s empathy-driven, result-oriented holding today is not only erroneous and indefensible under the circumstances of this case, but further establishes terrible precedent that will surely foster similar unfair civil trial practice until we are inevitably forced to reverse or limit it as anomalous in the future under a less emotionally-gripping fact pattern. This is a classic case of the old adage that bad facts make bad law.
It is for the district court now to deal with the case.