APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT MINNEHAHA COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA HONORABLE BRADLEY G. ZELL Judge
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Severson, Justice
CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON OCTOBER 3, 2011
[¶1.] Former students of a parochial school brought an action against the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, Inc. (PSHI) and other defendants, asserting claims of childhood sexual abuse. PSHI filed a motion to dismiss the action on the grounds that the former students failed to timely serve process on PSHI in accordance with South Dakota law. The circuit court denied PSHI's motion to dismiss, finding that the former students substantially complied with the applicable service-of-process statute. The circuit court also found service of process on PSHI was valid under SDCL 15-2-31. We affirm.
[¶2.] R.B.O., J.H.C., N.T.H., L.M., L.Z., K.T., J.J. and B.S. (Plaintiffs) are members of a recognized Native American tribe who attended St. Joseph's Indian Mission School (St. Joseph's) when they were minors. St. Joseph's is located on the Lower Brule Indian Reservation in South Dakota. While they attended St. Joseph's, Plaintiffs allege that employees or agents of the school sexually molested and assaulted them. Plaintiffs claim that St. Joseph's was operated by PSHI at the time of the alleged abuse.
[¶3.] On June 28, 2010, Plaintiffs delivered a summons to the Brule County Sheriff's Office with the intent that it be served on PSHI. On June 29, 2010, the Brule County Sheriff served a copy of the summons on Mike Tyrell, the Executive Director of Child Services at St. Joseph's. Tyrell is not the registered agent of PSHI and does not hold any office in PSHI.
[¶4.] During the 2010 Legislative Session, the South Dakota Legislature amended the applicable statute of limitations in civil actions for childhood sexual abuse. The amended statute went into effect July 1, 2010. It provides that "no person who has reached the age of forty years may recover damages from any person or entity other than the person who perpetrated the actual act of sexual abuse." SDCL 26-10-25.
[¶5.] On July 16, 2010, PSHI filed a motion to dismiss, alleging service of process on Tyrell was insufficient. Plaintiffs then delivered another summons and complaint to a private process server in Rapid City. On July 26, 2010, the private process server served Father Huffstetter, the President of PSHI and one of its directors.
[¶6.] In an order entered December 20, 2010, the circuit court denied PSHI's motion to dismiss. The circuit court found that the June 29, 2010 service on Tyrell substantially complied with SDCL 15-6-4(d)(1), South Dakota's statute governing the requirements for personal service on a business entity. The circuit court further held that service of process on PSHI was in compliance with SDCL 15-2-31.
[¶7.] "[W]hen a defendant moves to dismiss for insufficient service of process, the burden is on the plaintiff to establish a prima facie case that the service was proper." Grajczyk v. Tasca, 2006 S.D. 55, ¶ 22, 717 N.W.2d 624, 631 (citing Northrup King Co. v. Compania Productora Semillas Algodoneras Selectas, S.A., 51 F.3d 1383, 1387 (8th Cir. 1995)). We review a circuit court's determination regarding whether a plaintiff presented a prima facie case of sufficient service de novo, giving no deference to the circuit court's legal conclusions. Id. (citing Northrup King Co., 51 F.3d at 1387).
[¶8.] 1. Whether the circuit court erred when it determined that service on PSHI was ...