S.D. justices: Buffalo Chip wasn’t incorporated

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A campground that hosts thousands of motorcyclists each summer at the east edge of Sturgis doesn’t qualify as an incorporated municipality under state law, a majority of South Dakota Supreme Court justices has agreed.

In a decision publicly released Thursday, the high court said now-retired Circuit Judge Gordan Swanson didn’t err in ordering Buffalo Chip to stop acting as an incorporated municipality. Justice Janine Kern wrote the unanimous decision that state government had standing to bring the action.

The state’s high court divided 4-1 however on a second question of interpreting the law regarding the requirements for a municipality that were in effect in 2015. Justice Patricia DeVaney, writing for the majority, said that both 100 residents and 30 registered voters had to be met. Buffalo Chip didn’t have 100 residents when the incorporation vote occurred.

“Under either scenario, a municipality is not allowed to incorporate. A municipality is prohibited from incorporating if it contains less than one hundred residents or if it contains less than thirty voters,” Justice DeVaney wrote.

The Legislature raised the voter threshold to 45 in 2016. DeVaney said the amendment came “likely in response to this very grammatical debate that arose in conjunction with the litigation here.”

Chief Justice David Gilbertson disagreed, saying only one or the other was necessary. “Today the majority fails to give heed to our long-honored canons of statutory interpretation. It is untethered without a thread of case law to support it,” Gilbertson wrote.

Justice Kern, supporting the majority, wrote a special concurrence about grammar that focused on the differences between “and” and “or.” She wrote, “Certainly, our founding fathers did not intend to allow the government to deprive people of their property without due process so long as life and liberty were preserved.”

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