JANUARY 8, 2019
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FOURTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT MEADE
COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA The Honorable Gordon D. Swanson Judge
D. LEACH Attorney for petitioner and appellant.
B. ANDERSON JUSTIN L. BELL of May, Adam, Gerdes and Thompson,
LLP Attorneys for respondent and appellee.
Gilbertson, Chief Justice.
Debra Lee Anderson and Deborah Cady were committed partners
who worked for the Rapid City Police Department (RCPD). Cady
retired from the department in May 2012. The couple married
on July 19, 2015. Cady passed away on March 10, 2017. Upon
Cady's passing, Anderson applied for survivor spouse
benefits under Cady's retirement plan with the South
Dakota Retirement System (SDRS). The SDRS denied
Anderson's application claiming Anderson and Cady were
not married at the time of Cady's retirement and Anderson
did not meet the definition of a "spouse" needed to
qualify for survivor benefits. Anderson appealed to the South
Dakota Office of Hearing Examiners (OHE) and then to the
circuit court, which both affirmed the SDRS. Anderson now
appeals the order of the circuit court. We affirm.
and Procedural History
The facts of this case are undisputed. Cady was employed by
the RCPD. She was enrolled in the SDRS in 1986 and continued
her enrollment for 26 years until her retirement on May 1,
2012. Throughout her service, Cady advanced from sergeant to
lieutenant and finally served as one of two captains who
reported directly to the chief of police. Cady attained the
highest rank of any female officer in the history of the RCPD
at the time.
Cady met Anderson in 1986. The two became good friends and
eventually professed their love for one another. The couple
started living together in July 1988. Anderson described
their relationship as "wonderful" and considered
Cady to be her "soul mate." Anderson stated that
the couple built and shared a home together, made decisions
together, and supported each other's career and personal
choices. They considered themselves to be married, even
though they were not legally married at the time.
Anderson was also employed by the RCPD and worked as
commander of the uniform division and in supervisory roles.
Two chiefs of police under whom Cady and Anderson served
stated that the couple was well known in the RCPD to be
committed partners. According to the late Craig Tieszen, RCPD
Chief of Police from 2000-2007, there were no issues within
the department about accepting Cady and Anderson's
relationship. Current Chief of Police Karl Jegeris testified
that since he began working at the RCPD in 1995, it was very
clear that the two were a committed couple and had the same
relationship as anyone who was married. Jegeris went so far
as to state that "[o]ur department considers them a
married couple, period, end of story. I speak on behalf of
the department." Anderson also agreed that she and Cady
were a well-known couple for many years in the RCPD.
In 2004, Cady was diagnosed with breast cancer. Anderson
stated that she assisted Cady through the difficult ordeal,
which included surgery, chemotherapy, a period of remission,
the return of cancer and more chemotherapy, and the decision
to end chemotherapy. Anderson stated that during this period,
she and Cady were "very devoted and very loving to each
other." On May 1, 2012, Cady retired from the RCPD due
to cancer. Cady then applied for SDRS benefits, listing
herself as single on the application.
Anderson testified that she and Cady had spoken about getting
married both when Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage
in 2003, and when Iowa legalized same-sex marriage in 2009.
In 2009, Cady surprised Anderson with matching rings.
Anderson testified that the couple had "agreed that
[they] would marry. But for [them] it was going to have to be
when it was either recognized by the State of South Dakota,
which is where [they] resided and worked, or by the Federal
Government, you know, as a nation as a whole." Anderson
stated that she and Cady felt this way because they were
employed in law enforcement. Anderson noted that as police
officers, she and Cady took an oath to "the U.S.
Constitution, the Constitution of the State of South Dakota,
and the laws. And at that time, you know, South Dakota
wouldn't recognize it." In Anderson's view,
"[e]ven if [they] went to Iowa and would have married,
it still wouldn't have been recognized in the State of
In 2015, the United States Supreme Court handed down its
decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, __ U.S.__, 135
S.Ct. 2584, 192 L.Ed.2d 609 (2015). In Obergefell,
the Court stated:
[T]he right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the
liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal
Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the
same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.
The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the