PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A Brookings County circuit judge shouldn’t have dismissed a childhood sexual-abuse lawsuit that a woman brought against her former father-in-law and it should be reinstated for further action, according to the South Dakota Supreme Court.
Three justices on the state’s high court reached the decision in an opinion publicly released Thursday. Two justices dissented.
South Dakota law requires that a childhood sexual-abuse suit must commence within three years of the date that a person discovered or reasonably should have discovered an injury and its cause.
At issue was whether the three-year period had expired for the woman, Marty K. Syrstad, when she filed the lawsuit in 2019. Justice Patricia Devaney, writing for the majority, said the three years had not expired..
In 1993, Marty, at age 14, began dating Jeremy Syrstad. Marty alleged that Jeremy’s father, Michael J. Syrstad, committed a variety of physical acts, such as touching and kissing her, during the 1990s while Marty was a minor.
Marty and Jeremy married in 1999. When Marty was 21, she began having consensual sex with Michael, who at the time had become her father-in-law.
Marty and Michael had sex about a dozen times until spring 2002. In spring 2005, Marty told Jeremy she had been having sex with Michael. In March 2015, Jeremy filed for and obtained a divorce from Marty.
In 2017, Marty went to an Arizona trauma-treatment facility. There, she allegedly began to understand the effect that Michael’s actions, while she was a minor, had on her life.
She filed the lawsuit against Michael in February 2019, after hearing another person’s story on December 31, 2018.
Circuit Judge Dawn Elshere dismissed the child sexual-abuse allegations on November 2, 2020, saying Marty should have filed the action within the three-year period after 2005.
Chief Justice Steven Jensen and Justice Mark Salter joined Justice DeVaney in finding that the circuit judge had erred and the case should be returned to court for further action.
Wrote Justice DeVaney, “Genuine issues of material fact exist regarding whether Marty could have reasonably believed until 2017 that the consensual adult extramarital affair with Michael and the concern that he might be the father of one of her children were the events that precipitated the breakdown of Marty’s marriage and caused her emotional injuries, rather than the alleged sex abuse that occurred
when she was a child.”
Justice Janine Kern wrote a dissenting opinion that was joined by Justice Scott Myren. Justice Kern pointed to a variety of dates, ranging from 2002 through 2015, when Marty would have reasonably seemed to understand what the justice described as “the causal connection between Michael’s acts of abuse and her injuries.”
Wrote Kern, “Because the law includes a clear period of statutory limitation, despite the disturbing nature of this child sexual abuse claim, we cannot abide an indefinite delay for those aggrieved to fully discover the extent of their injuries without rendering the statute meaningless.”