CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON NOVEMBER 12, 2018
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIRST JUDICIAL CIRCUIT BRULE
COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE CHRIS S. GILES Judge
CYNTHIA L. SRSTKA Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorney for
plaintiff and appellant.
H. HIEB ZACHARY W. PETERSON of Richardson, Wyly, Wise, Sauck
& Hieb, LLP Aberdeen, South Dakota Attorneys for
appellees Mary Ann Osborne and Healy Ranch Partnership.
SCHOENBECK of Schoenbeck Law, P.C. Watertown, South Dakota
Attorneys for appellees Healy Ranch, Inc., Barry Healy and
C. SEMMLER of May, Adam, Gerdes and Thompson, LLP Pierre,
South Dakota Attorneys for appellee Albert Steven Fox.
Bret Healy sued his mother, brothers, former attorney, and
two business entities for monetary relief, claiming he was
financially damaged by their fraud and conspiracy and
deprived of control over the family ranch. The court granted
summary judgment to the defendants, dismissing Bret's
lawsuit based on the statute of limitations. It awarded
attorney fees to the defendants. We affirm.
and Procedural History
This appeal arises out of a bitter family dispute over
ownership and control of the Healy family's ranch (Healy
Ranch). Bret is the oldest son of Mary Osborne (Mary) and the
late Robert Healy. He sued his mother along with his two
younger brothers, Bryce and Barry. He also sued the Healy
family's attorney, Steven Fox (Fox), and two business
entities, Healy Ranch Partnership and Healy Ranch, Inc.
(collectively, the defendants). Bret asserted a variety of
tort and contract claims and sought compensatory damages.
According to Bret, he owns at least 50% of Healy Ranch
pursuant to his interests in the two entities involved in the
The Healy family has owned or occupied Healy Ranch since
1887. Bret's grandfather, Emmett Healy, farmed the land
with his wife, DeLonde, until his death in 1969. Prior to his
death, Emmett created a partnership in which he equally
divided ownership of Healy Ranch between himself and Robert,
Bret's father. When Emmett passed away, his wife,
DeLonde, inherited his half of the Healy Ranch partnership,
and Robert retained his 50% interest.
Three years after Emmett's death, Robert and DeLonde
created another partnership (the 1972 partnership) in which
Robert agreed to share his one-half interest with his wife,
Mary, jointly. DeLonde owned the remaining half. While the
parties never signed the partnership agreement, they executed
and recorded a deed transferring Healy Ranch into the
partnership. The agreement between Mary, Robert, and DeLonde
continued until Robert died in a tractor accident on November
11, 1985, leaving Mary as the sole owner of Robert's 50%
Not long after Robert's unexpected death, the Healy
family met to discuss the future of Healy Ranch. They decided
to pass some responsibility onto Robert's oldest son,
Bret. Consequently, on January 25, 1986, DeLonde, Bret, and
Mary executed an agreement to create a third Healy Ranch
partnership (the 1986 partnership). This agreement granted
Bret 25% and Mary 75% ownership interest in Healy Ranch.
DeLonde relinquished all control over the ranch in exchange
for various benefits and a right of first refusal to purchase
a portion of the ranch if it was offered for sale. The
parties signed a general warranty deed to effectuate the
agreement in 1989. In that deed, DeLonde transferred her
entire interest in the land to Bret. Originally, DeLonde held
a 50% interest in the 1972 Healy Ranch partnership. However,
pursuant to the terms of the 1986 partnership agreement, Bret
received her entire interest, which was listed as only 25%.
Mary received 75%. This instrument was never recorded.
Approximately nine years later, on March 12, 1995, Mary and
DeLonde executed another warranty deed purporting to transfer
Healy Ranch from the terminated 1972 partnership to Healy
Ranch, Inc., a corporation exclusively owned by
Mary. Fox prepared the 1995 deed and on
March 13, 1995, it was filed with the Register of Deeds in
Brule County. Fox represented the corporation from 1995 until
2013 when his license to practice law was temporarily
Bret served as president of Healy Ranch, Inc. for
approximately seventeen years, beginning in 1999. In 2000,
Bret, Bryce, and Barry each purchased a one-third interest in
Healy Ranch, Inc. from Mary pursuant to a contract for deed.
In addition, the brothers participated in managing the
corporation as directors. Bret also engaged in several
transactions and activities involving the corporation. As
president of Healy Ranch, Inc., he signed mortgages on behalf
of the corporation in 1999, 2002, 2003, 2005, twice in 2008,
and in 2014. Each of the mortgages represent that Healy
Ranch, Inc. is the sole owner of the property. In 2007, he
also purchased land from the corporation on which he built
his house without indicating the partnership owned any
portion of the property. Fox advised Bret throughout this
In 2013, Bret hired a different attorney and commenced a
lawsuit on behalf of Healy Ranch, Inc. against another party
to recover for damage to fences located on the ranch. Bret
did not name the partnership as a party. In his discovery
responses in that lawsuit, Bret alleged that the land and the
fences involved belonged to Healy Ranch, Inc.
In 2016, Bret, Bryce, and Barry discussed the possibility of
selling Healy Ranch. At a special meeting held on October 27,
2016, Barry moved to sell all the real property owned by the
corporation if a gross sale price of $5 million was achieved.
Pursuant to his motion, the property would not be sold for at
least seven years if a buyer did not match their price. Bryce
and Barry voted in favor of the conditions. Although Bret
voted against the sale and the conditions thereto, in March
2017, he agreed to the sale of Healy Ranch. A bill of sale,
which was introduced into evidence, referred to the owner of
the land as Healy Ranch, Inc. Additionally, on March 2, 2017,
Bret recognized Healy Ranch, Inc. as the owner of the
property by signing an agreement requesting reimbursement
from the corporation for improvements made to the property.
On April 3, 2017, Bret met with an attorney to advise him
regarding his interests in Healy Ranch. Bret claimed that
during this meeting, he learned for the first time of the
deed recorded in March 1995 transferring Healy Ranch to
Mary's corporation. Bret alleged that upon further
investigation, he discovered Fox, Mary, and Bryce had created
"false corporate resolutions, false title information,
and sixteen forgeries of [his] signature on corporate
minutes." He asserted Fox was responsible for forging
his signature on corporate minutes from 2000 to 2008.
Bret filed the present action on May 11, 2017, charging all
of the defendants with conversion, fraud, and conspiracy to
commit fraud. In addition, he sued Mary for breach of
contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and
fair dealing, breach of fiduciary duties, and negligence. He
also alleged Mary, Bryce, Barry, Healy Ranch, Inc., and the
Healy Ranch partnership were unjustly enriched and requested
that the court pierce the corporate veil of Healy Ranch, Inc.
In his complaint, he requested punitive and compensatory
Contemporaneous with this filing, Bret took out several ads
in farm- related journals publicizing his claim that Healy
Ranch, Inc. lacked clear title to Healy Ranch. Two weeks
prior to initiating the present action, Bret sent letters to
Wells Fargo, First National Bank, Brule County Abstract, and
the Brule County Register of Deeds, alleging that the
corporation did not have good title to Healy Ranch. This
placed the corporation in default on its outstanding note and
mortgage with Wells Fargo. Even though Bret sought ...