S.D. Supreme Court: Grazing land case isn’t ripe

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Court Gavel

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Supreme Court says a complicated dispute over ranch land in Butte County that’s been somewhat decided in circuit court still needs further resolution before the Supreme Court can consider an appeal.

The state’s high court on Thursday publicly released the 15-page opinion in John Nelson v. Estate of Gordon Campbell.

Other parties in the case are Redwater Grazing Association and Jared Capp.

Campbell contributed land to the grazing district when it was assembled in 2010. He died in 2017. His estate sought to sell the land. Capp, who wasn’t a district member, ultimately bid more than Nelson, who was a member.

Circuit Judge Michael Day on December 26, 2019, ordered Redwater to deliver a deed conveying the 54 acres back to Campbell’s estate.

However, that’s not the final word. The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal as premature.

Justice Mark Salter wrote, “Even though the circuit court granted summary judgment on some of
the parties’ claims, it did not determine all of the various claims among the parties, some of which were not the subject of pretrial litigation. Left unresolved are the Estate’s claims against Nelson and Redwater for tortious interference with its contract with Capp and the Estate’s claim that Nelson’s lis pendens filing slandered title to the Property. Also still pending are Capp’s claims against Nelson and Redwater, which include tortious interference with a contractual relationship, conversion, unjust enrichment, and breach of a fiduciary duty.”

The justice added, “So far as the record reveals, Redwater has not yet issued a deed for the Property to the Estate, and there is no indication the sale to Capp has occurred.”

Justice Salter said Judge Day in the 2019 decision acknowledged other issues remained open but didn’t fully follow a state law regarding judgment upon multiple claims or involving multiple parties: “Though the circuit court’s Rule 54(b) certification accounts for this fact, it did not contain a reasoned statement supporting it. Nor did it contain an application of the rules and factors from our Davis decision. Without this analysis, the court’s bare references to ‘judicial efficiency,’ ‘unnecessary litigation,’ and ‘no just reason for delay’ do not support the decision to certify the order granting the Estate’s motion for summary judgment against Redwater as final.”

Salter added, “We conclude the reasons for the Rule 54(b) certification are not readily apparent. This case presents a complex procedural grouping of parties and claims, and it is not evident to us that our review of the circuit court’s summary judgment order will further judicial economy or necessarily achieve efficiencies in the remaining litigation.”

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