Jury Finds Montana Law Firm Liable for $1.5 Million in Malicious Prosecution Claims

KALISPELL, Mont. — Following a five-day trial and five hours of deliberation, a Flathead County jury has found that a local law firm acted maliciously and recklessly in pursuing a bank fraud claim against a West Glacier-based mortgage broker. The jury awarded Deanna McAtee a total of $1.499 million in compensatory and punitive damages against the firm of Morrison & Frampton, PLLP for initiating fraudulent accusations against her more than a decade ago. 


In that case, Morrison & Frampton represented the Whitefish Credit Union, which alleged that in 2008 Ms. McAtee had defaulted on a $523,000 loan to complete a residential construction project. When Ms. McAtee foreclosed on the original borrowers, as directed by the credit union, and obtained a loan from another source to complete construction, the law firm filed a civil complaint against her in 2011. That lawsuit alleged that Ms. McAtee committed fraud by gaining title to the property as beneficiary when the credit union was actually the beneficiary.  


In the verdict issued on the evening of April 28, the jury found that the law firm did not have probable cause to pursue the fraud claims and acted with malice in filing and maintaining those claims, based on the evidence.  


“Fighting these allegations for more than 10 years has obviously been a financial and emotional nightmare for Ms. McAtee, but we’re very gratified that she has achieved some measure of justice from that ordeal,” says her attorney, Ben Snipes of Kovacich Snipes Johnson in Great Falls. “Lawyers must be held to the highest professional standards, and as in this instance, must be held accountable when those standards are breached.”  


The case is Deanna McAtee v. Morrison & Frampton, Cause No. DV-1017D, heard in the 11th Judicial District Court for Flathead County before Hon. Dan Wilson. Attorneys Mark Kovacich and Ben Snipes have been litigating this case since 2014, after being associated by Butte attorney, Michael McKeon. The issues surrounding this case have been addressed by the Montana Supreme Court on three separate occasions, the last of which resulted in the case being remanded for trial in September of 2021.