Justices reverse opinion in drainage dispute

Farm Forum

PIERRE — The South Dakota Supreme Court acknowledged on July 14 its justices have used an incorrect standard of review in some cases during the past four decades.

The justices made that determination in an appeal of a Hughes County drainage dispute.

The justices ruled unanimously that the dispute should return to circuit court for further action. They said the dispute didn’t meet the criteria in state law necessary for a permanent injunction.

After a November 2013 trial, the jury was found in favor of landowners Michael Magner and Denise Williams. They had sued Brinkman Arabian Stables and landowners Glenn Brinkman and Susan Brinkman.

The Brinkmans twice dug trenches in 2007 and 2008 and built a private road in 2010 to divert rainwater from the Brinkman property onto the neighboring land owned by Magner and Williams.

The jury awarded $9,950 in damages to Magner and Williams for the loss of cattle pasture.

The sides returned to court for a relief hearing last August. Circuit Judge Mark Barnett granted a permanent injunction as a way to keep the matter from resulting in more lawsuits in the future.

The judge awarded Magner and Williams an additional $28,936 against future damages.

The Brinkmans’ lawyer, James Carlon of Pierre, appealed to the Supreme Court. Carlon wanted the judge to throw out the case for lack of evidence and wanted the injunction overturned.

The Supreme Court decision said the judge properly acted in refusing to dismiss the case. But the justices also decided the injunction wasn’t legally appropriate as a means to avoid future litigation.

The justices said Magner and Williams could have sought compensation for future damages, in addition to past damages.

“The fact that they chose not to do so does not render an injunction necessary to prevent multiple suits,” the justices said.

Therefore, the judge’s injunction ordering the defendants to pay $28,936 was not statutorily authorized in the case.

The injunction also went too far in prohibiting any future alterations in drainage by the Brinkmans, the justices said.

State law allows landowners to drain onto other property, but must not create “unreasonable hardship or injury to the owner of the land receiving the drainage,” the justices said.

“Therefore, the second half of the injunction — as written — is overbroad and an abuse of discretion,” the decision said.

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