ROBERT SURAT, DOROTHY SURAT, KIRK SURAT, DESIREE SURAT and SURAT FARMS, LLC, Appellees,
AMERICA TOWNSHIP, BRULE COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, Appellants.
CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON APRIL 24, 2017
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIRST JUDICIAL CIRCUIT BRULE
COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE BRUCE V. ANDERSON Judge
W. CLAYTON Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorney for appellees.
LEIBEL Madison, South Dakota Attorney for appellants.
The America Township Board of Supervisors (Board) downgraded
a seven-mile stretch of road from full maintenance to minimum
maintenance. A portion of the road provided the Surat family
and Surat Farms, LLC (Surat) access to South Dakota Highway
50. Surat appealed the Board's decision to the circuit
court. The circuit court reversed the Board's decision,
and the Township appeals. We affirm in part, reverse in part,
and remand with instructions to remand the matter back to the
Board for a rehearing.
and Procedural History
Surat owns farmland in Brule County extending into both
America and Eagle townships. The property includes
Surat's large agricultural operation and a family
residence. Surat accesses its property from Highway 50 by
traveling east down 264th Street approximately one and a
quarter mile. Highway 50 runs through Chamberlain to the
north and Platte to the south.
On January 6, 2015, the Board discussed at its annual meeting
whether to designate certain roads as "minimum
maintenance." SDCL 31-13-1.1 provides that a township
board may designate a road as minimum maintenance "if
the board determines that the road or a segment of the road
is used only occasionally or intermittently for passenger and
commercial travel." Surat did not attend the Board's
meeting, and the parties dispute whether the Board provided
proper notice of the meeting as required by SDCL 1-25-1.1.
The Board had previously discussed whether to downgrade 264th
Street and other roads to minimum maintenance at prior
meetings. The Board evaluated factors including: the
escalating costs to maintain the roads; potential liability
concerns stemming from the condition of the roads; issues
arising out of Google Maps providing misleading information
as to whether roads existed or were traversable; and whether
the roads serviced school bus or mail routes or provided
access to a residence.
After discussion, the Board designated the section of 264th
Street between Highway 50 and 352nd Avenue, as well as other
roads not at issue in this appeal, as minimum maintenance.
Members of the Board later posted signs on the section of
264th Street providing access to Surat's property to
indicate its status as a minimum maintenance road.
On February 2, 2015, Surat filed an appeal to the circuit
court. On February 16, 2016, the court held a trial and
reviewed de novo the decision of the Board. At trial, Kirk
Surat testified about his use of the road for primary access
to his home and large farming operation. Kenneth Knutson, an
officer for the Township, explained the Board's
considerations in downgrading sections of 264th Street to
minimum maintenance. On cross-examination, Knutson admitted
that he did not consider "the amount of farm-related
travel that might have gone on" in making his decision.
On August 31, 2016, the court issued findings of fact,
conclusions of law, and an order reversing the Board's
decision designating the portion of 264th Street between
Highway 50 and 352nd Avenue as minimum maintenance. The court
found that 264th Street was a "vital road for civilian
use and farm businesses" for those in Eagle and America
townships and that Surat used the road almost daily for
"medical appointments, groceries, church, driving
children to school and going to work." The court also
found that farm supply dealers, business customers, school
buses, and mail carriers regularly used the road. Further,
the court observed that the road provided the only route
suitable for travel during inclement weather. Alternative
routes appeared to be dirt roads that would quickly become
treacherous when wet, exposing drivers to accidents, longer
travel times, and substantial inconvenience. With reference
to the Board's decision regarding the other roads
affected by the January 6 meeting, the court remanded the
matter to the Board for further consideration. The Township
appeals, asserting three issues for our review:
1. Whether Surat had standing to appeal the decision of the
Board to ...