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Morris Family LLC v. South Dakota Department of Transportation

Supreme Court of South Dakota

December 23, 2014

THE MORRIS FAMILY LLC, through its members; Carol Morris, Alan Morris, Kathleen Morrison and Ginny Yadegar, Plaintiffs and Appellants,

Considered on Briefs August 25, 2014

Page 866


MARK V. MEIERHENRY, CLINT SARGENT, CHRISTOPHER HEALY of Meierhenry & Sargent, LLP, Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorneys for plaintiffs and appellants.

RANDY S. BINGNER, KARLA ENGEL, Special Assistant Attorneys General, South Dakota Department of Transportation Pierre, South Dakota Attorneys for defendant and appellee.

GILBERTSON, Chief Justice. KONENKAMP, ZINTER, SEVERSON, and WILBUR, Justices, concur.


Page 867

GILBERTSON, Chief Justice

[¶1] The Morris Family LLC (Morris Family) initiated an action against the State of South Dakota and the City of Watertown, claiming unconstitutional taking or damaging of property for loss of access from their property to Highway 212, and violation of due process stemming from the State's and City's actions denying access. The State moved for summary judgment, asserting that the State was granted complete control of access for the land in question in a 1970 judgment. The circuit court granted summary judgment and dismissed the complaint. Morris Family appeals, claiming that it was not given proper notice that summary judgment on the due process issue was before the court and that the court erred in granting summary judgment. Specifically, Morris Family asserts there were genuine questions of material fact regarding whether the State was granted control of access as part of the 1970 condemnation action. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2] Morris Family owns certain property abutting U.S. Highway 212 in Watertown, South Dakota. In 1969, a state highway project sought to turn Highway 212 into a four-lane, controlled-access highway to serve as the primary entrance to the City of Watertown from Interstate 29. To carry out the plan of establishing this controlled-access highway, the State commenced a condemnation action against the plaintiff's predecessor in title. Through this condemnation action, the State sought to acquire the necessary " right of way and rights of access" in accordance with the project plans and specifications.

[¶3] Prior to the condemnation action, the driveway to the residence and farm buildings on Morris Family's property provided direct access to Highway 212. As part of the condemnation action, the driveway was moved to connect with a break in the control of access along the western edge of the property. This break in control of access was 24-feet wide and shared with the neighboring Endres property. The record reflects that the defendants to the condemnation action admitted that the State had the right to take the property under its right of eminent domain but contested the compensation to be paid, alleging " [t]hat the Plaintiff has failed to offer just compensation for that property taken from these Defendants and for deprivation of access to and from said property and the adjacent highway."

[¶4] The parties to the 1970 condemnation action eventually signed a Stipulation for Settlement and for Entry of Judgment compromising and settling the condemnation action for $6,000 and further agreeing " that of the $6,000, $1,440 is for the land and $4,560 is for severance damages." A judgment in the condemnation action in March 1970 granted the State " the right to control access to the right of way in accordance with Chapter 31-8 of the 1967 South Dakota Compiled Laws and amendments thereto" on the Morris Family land at issue in this case. The judgment delineated $6,000 in damages, stating that " $1,440 is designated as payment for the land taken and $4,560 is designated as damages to the remainder." [1] The judgment was never appealed.

Page 868

[¶5] In December 2010, Morris Family filed a three-count complaint against the City of Watertown and the State. Count One alleged " Error in Judgment," asserting that Morris Family retained " full access rights to State Highway 212" because the condemnation action never eliminated those rights. Count One also alleged that the words " in accordance with Chapter 31-8" in the judgment were an error that should be amended to read " in accordance with Chapter 31-19." Count Two of the Complaint was for " Constitutional Taking or Damage." It alleged that Morris Family was not compensated for the loss of total access to State Highway 212, and that " Plaintiffs [sic] highest and best use of their property has been destroyed by the failure of either the City or the State to grant it access to State Highway 212 upon a change in use of the property." Count Three alleged " Failure to Provide Due Process." It alleged that the State had taken all access without granting a hearing or any other method to contest the exercise of the State's alleged police power in denying all commercial access to the highway. It also alleged that the failure to have a procedure " whereby a landowner can petition to alter the declarations of the engineers and the Department of Transportation is a violation of the rights of due process under both the State and Federal constitution."

[¶6] In July 2011, Morris Family filed a " Motion to Correct Judgment under SDCL 15-6-15(a)," alleging that the State intended only to gain an ordinary right-of-way in the 1970 condemnation action and never bargained for complete control of access under SDCL chapter 31-8. The circuit court denied the ...

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