Lacking trial transcript, South Dakota justices let decision stand in Graff v. Children’s Care case

Capitol News Bureau
KELO gavel court law

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — In a decision publicly released Thursday, the South Dakota Supreme Court said there wasn’t a transcript available and therefore declined to rule for either side in a lawsuit brought by a prominent Sioux Falls family on behalf of their son with disabilities against the Children’s Care Hospital and School.

Neil and Debra Graff on behalf of their son, Ben, took Children’s Care to court. Ben was enrolled at the facility at age 16, after he was suspended from the Sioux Falls public school system for his behavior, and was restrained more than 140 times during the seven months he was at Children’s Care.

Circuit Judge Larry Long, who has since retired, presided over the 15-day trial. The judge excluded South Dakota Department of Health surveys about Ben’s behavior, most of which were from before Ben was enrolled. The Graffs had wanted the surveys introduced as evidence.

The jury ruled for Children’s Care. The facility then sought $24,519.63 from the Graffs. The judge ruled partially for Children’s Care and against the Graffs, granting $7,606.54.

The Graffs in turn appealed and Children’s Care raised issues too.

But neither side provided a full transcript of the trial to the Supreme Court

Justice Mark Salter wrote the unanimous opinion for the five members of the high court. At one point in the 16 pages he stated:

“Without a transcript, we have no effective means of determining which of these partisan arguments better captures the potential impact of the Department of Health surveys. The trial in this case lasted fifteen days. Though we do not know how many witnesses were ultimately called, the parties had listed a combined eighty-two witnesses prior to trial. The clerk’s record contains nearly 600 exhibits, including roughly 17,000 pages of Ben’s records. It is certainly conceivable that the
impact of any error resulting from the exclusion of the surveys was rendered nonprejudicial over the course of the lengthy and involved trial, or perhaps not. Without the ability to read what occurred, we simply do not know.”

The full decision can be read here.

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