Justia South Dakota Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's decision invalidating the will and codicil of Dora Lee Gaaskjolen on the basis of undue influence, holding that the circuit court's determination of undue influence was not clearly erroneous. Dora Lee and her husband, Marlin, executed reciprocal wills giving their property to one another upon death, and their daughters, Audrey and Vicki, were named as equal, alternate beneficiaries. After Marlin died, Dora Lee executed a new will and, later, another will and codicil that disinherited Vicki and left her entire estate to Audrey. After Dora Lee died, Vicki challenged the will and codicil, claiming that Dora Lee lacked testamentary capacity and that Audrey had unduly influence Dora Lee. The circuit court concluded that Dora Lee had testamentary capacity but that Dora Lee's last will and codicil were the result of undue influence by Audrey. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in finding the last will and the codicil invalid because of Audrey's undue influence. View "In re Estate Of Gaaskjolen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court in favor of Prussman Contracting, Inc., holding that the court did not abuse its discretion. Dennis Sedlacek commenced this suit against Prussman, alleging general negligence and failure to train and supervise its employees. Sedlacek sought damages for injuries he allegedly sustained while repairing a crane owned by Prussman. The jury returned a general verdict in favor of Prussman. On appeal, Sedlacek argued that he was prejudiced by the court's rulings restricting his ability to argue that Prussman violated Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standards. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that even if this restriction was outside of the circuit court's range of permissible choices, Sedlacek could not establish that the error produced the adverse verdict. View "Sedlacek v. Prussman Contracting, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court in favor of Excel Underground, Inc. on its breach of contract claim against the Brant Lake Sanitary District, holding that the circuit court did not err in any of its challenged rulings. The District contracted with Schmitz, Kalda, and Associates, Inc. (SKA) to engineer a sewer system and with Excel to install it. After delays, the District terminated Excel's contract. The District and Excel subsequently sued each other for breach of contract. The District also filed a third-party complaint against SKA for contribution and indemnity. Prior to trial, the trial court granted Excel's motion to dismiss the District's claim for liquidated damages and dismissed SKA from the suit. After a jury trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Excel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court did not err by dismissing the District's claim for liquidated damages; (2) despite any error in the district court's instruction that SKA was the District's agent, the District failed to establish prejudice; (3) the circuit court did not err by allowing testimony regarding the District's emergency bidding procedures; and (4) the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's damage award. View "Excel Underground, Inc. v. Brant Lake Sanitary District" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court affirming the decision of the South Dakota Department of Labor dismissing Plaintiff's petition seeking workers' compensation benefits for lack of prosecution, holding that Plaintiff engaged in activity within a year before the motion to dismiss was filed. Plaintiff filed a petition with the Department seeking disability benefits and medical expenses arising from her workplace injury. Eventually, Employer/Insurer filed a motion to dismiss for lack of prosecution under ARSD 47:03:01:09, asserting that there had been no activity for at least one year and that Plaintiff had failed to show good cause for the delay. The Department granted the motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Department abused its discretion in dismissing the appeal because its decision was based upon its erroneous conclusion that Plaintiff's participation in a vocational rehabilitation program was not "activity" under ARSD 47:03:01:09. View "Laplante v. GGNSC Madison, S.D." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court dismissing students' claims seeking to recover for lost funding for services denied to them under the GEAR UP program due to mismanagement and embezzlement, holding that the students lacked standing to bring their claims. The students in this case attended schools that GEAR UP was meant to serve and now attended college. The students claimed to have been denied GEAR UP benefits in their schools due to embezzlement and negligent supervision, among other claims. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, concluding that the students had standing to bring their claims but that the claims were preempted by federal law. The Supreme Court affirmed but on other grounds, holding the students failed to show standing because they failed to show how an award of monetary damages would redress the alleged past loss of supplemental educational services. View "Black Bear v. Mid-Central Educational Cooperative" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court granting Defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal on his aggravated assault conviction, holding that there was sufficient evidence on the record, and inferences that could have been drawn therefrom, to sustain a reasonable theory of guilt of aggravated assault by extreme indifference beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury convicted Defendant of aggravated assault and simple assault. The circuit court denied Defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal on both charges at the close of the State's evidence. The court, however, granted Defendant's renewed motion for judgment of acquittal on the aggravated assault conviction after the trial. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the circuit court with instructions to reinstate the jury's verdict, holding that the circuit court erred in granting Defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal because there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's guilty verdict. View "State v. Wolf" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court affirming the decision of the Department of Labor to award benefits to James Bonebright's widow, Stephanie, after Bonebright died from injuries he sustained in a work-related accident, holding that the workers' compensation claim was not precluded by willful misconduct. Bonebright's employer, the City of Miller, and the City's workers' compensation provider denied workers' compensation liability on the ground that Bonebright had engaged in willful misconduct. Stephanie petitioned the Department for medical and funeral expenses along with indemnity benefits as a surviving spouse. The Department awarded Stephanie benefits, concluding that although Bonebright had engaged in willful misconduct, the City had not established that Bonebright's failure to follow safety precautions was a proximate cause of his injury and death. The circuit court reversed the Department's willful misconduct finding. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Stephanie's claim was not precluded by willful misconduct because the City did not demonstrate bona fide enforcement of its safety rules. View "Bonebright v. City Of Miller" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court determining that Insurer's decision to deny coverage for a single-vehicle accident was not in violation of its duty, holding that the court did not err in concluding that the insurance policy did not provide coverage for Defendant's injuries. Appellant suffered serious injuries when a van in which he was a passenger rolled over in a single-vehicle accident. Appellant brought an action against the driver for personal injuries. The driver had purchased a motor vehicle insurance policy from Insurer. Relying upon policy provisions excluding coverage for any vehicle being used to carry people for a fee, Insurer denied coverage and refused to defend the driver. Insurer then brought this declaration action against Appellant and the driver to determine coverage. The circuit court determined that Insurer had no contractual obligation to defend the driver or provide indemnity for the accident. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding the circuit court did not err in concluding that Insurer's policy exclusions were applicable and denying coverage for the accident. View "Western Agricultural Insurance Co. v. Arbab-Azzein" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court dismissing as untimely Appellant's appeal of an order of the Board of Pardons and Paroles revoking Appellant's parole, holding that the circuit court did not err. Thirty-four days after the Board entered an amended order revoking Appellant's parole the clerk of court received and filed Appellant's pro se notice of appeal. The Board filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, claiming it was untimely. The circuit court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) did not err when it dismissed as untimely Appellant's appeal of the Board's decision revoking Appellant's parole; and (2) did not abuse its discretion by denying Appellant's request for a standby attorney at the hearing on the motion to dismiss his appeal. View "Abdulrazzak v. South Dakota Board of Pardons & Paroles" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendants' convictions of first-degree manslaughter and sentences of life imprisonment, holding that the circuit court did not err or abuse its discretion in either case. Daniel Ceplecha and his son, Rangler Ceplecha, each pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter pursuant to a plea agreement. Prior to sentencing, Defendants filed motions to withdraw their pleas, asserting that they acted in self-defense. The circuit court denied the motions. Thereafter, the circuit court sentenced each defendant to life in prison. The Supreme Court affirmed, that the circuit court (1) did not abuse its discretion in denying Rangler's motion for new counsel because he failed to establish a fair and just reason in support of his request; (2) did not abuse its discretion by denying Defendants' motions to withdraw their guilty pleas; and (3) did not abuse its discretion or violate the Eighth Amendment by imposing life sentences. View "State v. Ceplecha" on Justia Law