Reede Construction, Inc. v. South Dakota Dep’t of Transportation, 2017 SD 63. The South Dakota DOT contracted with Reede Construction to perform highway construction work in Sioux Falls. DOT refused to issue a letter of acceptance after requesting numerous repairs, many of which Reede never performed. Reede eventually left the job and demanded payment for the repairs it had completed. Reede sued, and DOT counterclaimed. At trial, the jury returned a verdict awarding no damages to either party. DOT filed a motion for a new trial, arguing insufficient evidence supported the jury’s verdict. The circuit court denied the motion, and the Court, per Chief Justice Gilbertson, affirmed.
At issue was whether a motion or a judgment as a matter of law must be made before a motion for a new trial based on insufficient evidence to justify the verdict. Reede argued that the DOT failed to preserve its right to appeal the question of the insufficiency of the evidence to support the verdict by not making a timely motion for judgment as a matter of law. While the Court held that Reede’s argument misconstrued the purpose of SDCL 15-6-559(f), which provides an avenue by which a party can obtain appellate review for insufficiency of the evidence absent a motion for a new trial, the Court nonetheless held that DOT’s failure to make a motion for a judgment as a matter of law foreclosed review of DOT’s claims because its insufficiency claim required the Court to make a judgment as a matter of law on issues of contract interpretation, breach, and causation. When asked at trial whether it wishes to make a motion for a judgment as a matter of law, DOT declined, claiming issues of fact existed on the question of the breach. Without determining as a matter of law whether Reede breached the contract or that such breach necessarily caused DOT damages, the Court could not say that the jury’s verdict was unsupported by any valid legal theory or evidence. Thus, the motion for a new trial could not properly be granted by the circuit court, or upheld on appeal.
State v. Patterson, 2017 SD 64. This case was argued during the Court’s October term. Joseph Patterson appealed from a judgment of conviction for second-degree murder. He claimed that the circuit court erred by (1) allowing the State to present other acts evidence to the jury; (2) permitting the State to argue a factual theory of guilt and motive not supported by the record; (3) allowing the State to present expert testimony which was impermissibly intrusive; (4) refusing to allow Patterson to present additional instances of child abuse committed by a possible third-party perpetrator; and (5) failing to grant Patterson’s motion for acquittal. He also argued that the Court did not have jurisdiction of the issues presented on the State’s notice of review. The Court held that it was error to allow the other acts evidence, but that Patterson was not entitled to a new trial on that basis; that the State’s closing remarks did not deprive him of a fair trial; that the expert testimony was not improper; that it was not error to exclude evidence of third-party perpetrator evidence; and that the evidence was sufficient to sustain his conviction. Additionally, because the State did not address the jurisdictional issue in its brief, the issue was waived on appeal.
State v. Martin, 2017 SD 65. Christopher Martin appealed from his conviction of unlawfully possessing a controlled substance. He contended that the State’s evidence was insufficient to prove that he knowingly possessed oxycodone. The Court, per Justice Zinter, affirmed.
Coloni v. Coloni & Springer, 2017 SD 66. This case was also considered in the Court’s October term. Laura Coloni sued John Coloni and Bryan Springer for injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. Almost two years after Laura filed her complaint, the circuit court granted Springer’s motion to dismiss. The court dismissed her case because she failed to comply with two discovery orders and did not pay an attorney’s fees sanction ordered for her failure to comply with a motion to compel discovery. Laura appealed, and the Court, per Justice Severson, affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in ordering the attorney’s fees sanction on the motion to compel and did not err in dismissing the complaint as a sanction for failing to produce IRS form W-2’s.
Adoption of J.Q.P., 2017 SD 67. This case was also considered in the Court’s October term. Mother and Stepfather petitioned to have Stepfather adopt Mother’s child without the biological father’s consent. The circuit court denied the petition, concluding that they had failed to show that the biological father had abandoned the child. On appeal, the Court, per Justice Zinter, affirmed, because the biological father was attempting to have a relationship with the child, but was thwarted by the Mother. Thus, Mother and Stepfather failed to show clear and convincing evidence that Father had given up or totally deserted J.Q.P.
Guardianship of Nelson, 2017 S.D. 68. This case was argued in the Court’s October term. Elizabeth nelson appealed a circuit court order approving the re-drafting of her husband Dean Nelson’s will. The new will eliminated a trust established for Elizabeth’s benefit consisting of Elizabeth’s lifetime, one-half interest in the residue of Dean’s estate. The change in the will was proposed upon the petition of Dean’s conservator after Dean was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Elizabeth raised on issue on appeal: whether the circuit court erred in permitting the conservator to adopt the new will eliminating Elizabeth’s interest in the residuary estate. The Court, per Justice Severson, reversed. The Court first noted that it was not to review the circuit court’s order de novo, and that, because SDCL 29A-5-420 specifically states that a court may authorize a conservator to revoke and redraft a will, and because it also plainly requires what the court must consider in making that authorization, the court’s decision to permit a conservator to amend a will is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. The record, however, was unclear as to the factual findings of the circuit court and the application of the facts to the statute, making the abuse of discretion standard alone inappropriate in this case. Ultimately, the Court held that it was clearly erroneous for the circuit court to make the important determination changing Dean’s estate plan without adequate factual findings based on record evidence, and that it was an abuse of discretion to grant the conservator the power to redraft a will without making factual findings based on record evidence.