Justices rule for most of Healy family in ranch-ownership fight

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A ranching family from Brule County with semi-prominent links to South Dakota Democrats has prevailed in a legal dispute against a brother who didn’t want the ranch sold.

The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that a circuit judge issued the correct decision in the Healy family’s fight. The justices publicly released the decision Thursday.

The struggle had on one side Bret Healy, a past executive director for the South Dakota Democratic Party who didn’t want the ranch offered for sale.

He sued his mother, Mary Ann Osborne, two ranch businesses and his brothers, Barry Healy and Bryce Healy, who was elected in 2002 as a Democrat to the state office of school and public lands commissioner.

Bret Healy also sued the family’s attorney, Albert Steven Fox of Chamberlain.

The dispute was whether the ranch could be sold without agreement from Bret Healy, the oldest son. Circuit Judge Chris Giles ruled in the family’s favor.

In the Supreme Court decision, Justice Janine Kern wrote that the justices couldn’t consider Bret Healy’s claim of ownership “because the threshold issue in this case centers on the timeliness of Bret’s claims for conversion, breach of contract, fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, unjust enrichment, breach of fiduciary duties, and negligence. Each of these causes of action are subject to the six-year statute of limitations under SDCL 15-2-13.”

She continued, “Therefore, even if Bret retained an ownership interest in Healy Ranch through the 1986 partnership, he must nonetheless timely commence suit within the applicable statute of limitations.”

The justices also rejected Bret Healy’s claim the circuit judge erred by applying the shorter malpractice period against attorney Fox.

Among Bret Healy’s other claims, he challenged the circuit judge’s authority to award attorney fees to the defendants if his lawsuit was frivolous or malicious. The judge found in their favor on both.

Justice Kern said the judge ruled correctly.

“As soon as Bret began to disagree with his brothers, he made a conscious effort to maintain his control over the ranch and stop the sale. Bret wrote letters to various banks and journals asserting that the corporation did not have good title, which caused Healy Ranch, Inc. to default on its mortgage,” she wrote.

She continued: “During the short time this litigation was in discovery, Bret sent a total of 2,304 discovery requests to six different defendants. Bret filed the lawsuit for the purpose of preventing the sale of the property, not because he believed his partnership interest remained enforceable.”

Bret Healy has been a consultant in recent years to Four Directions, an advocacy group for Native American voting rights.

Justice Kern said his lawsuit arose from “a bitter family dispute over ownership and control of the Healy family’s ranch.” The full decision is here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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