Kjerstad Realty will get a trial after in its lawsuit first filed in December 2007 against Bootjack Ranch and Pat Trask. That’s what the South Dakota Supreme Court decided this week. Kjerstad originally won a summary judgment, but the Supreme Court in October 2009 decided there should be a trial. Fine, except Circuit Judge Merton Tice retired in January 2010, before the matter could be tried. Then the case was placed temporarily in the hands of Circuit Judge John Delaney, and Delaney informed the parties he would hand it off again after Tice’s successor was named. Judge Delaney continued to handle the case, eventually ordering the defendants in May 2010 to produce certain documents. Kjerstad also wanted attorney fees because of the delay, and a month later Judge Delaney agreed, ordering the defendants to pay $2,660. The case eventually was assigned to Circuit Judge Wally Eklund that summer. That didn’t work so well for Kjerstad, because Judge Eklund ruled in summary judgment for the defendants on Sept. 22, 2010. While the parties said they were ready to go to trial that day, the judge said he wasn’t. A trial date was set for Feb. 15. But before they could try the case, Judge Eklund ruled the one-year time limit had expired on the case after the Supreme Court had remanded it for trial, and the judge ruled in favor of the defense. Now the Supreme Court says Judge Eklund failed to account for the “good cause” exemption in the one-year limit. The justices unanimously decided the case should go back, yet again, for trial.
The whole tangle goes back to a 2006 agreement in which Bootjack Ranch owner Patricia Hanson entered a one-year contract with Jerald Kjerstad to list the 6,385-acre ranch in Pennington and Meade counties for sale at a listed price of $3,658,000. The contract provided a 5 percent commission if the sale was made in the one-year period or within 180 days later if the sale was to someone who had been shown the ranch during the one-year window. Jerald Kjerstad passed away, and the responsibility was passed along to another member of Kjerstad Realty, Ron Ensz. Hanson agreed in January to reduce the listed price to $3.1 million. Then things got sticky. Hanson took the ranch off the market that January and the contract was terminated, but the sides disagreed on how the 180-day window applied and to whom. A neighbor, Patrick Trask, eventually bought the ranch about five months later for just under $3.1 million. Kjerstad Realty sued for commission and other expenses, although Ensz didn’t physically show Trask around the ranch. Hanson however did invite Ensz and Trask to her birthday party at her home so they could talk. Trask arrived with flowers and an ice cream cake. Trask already leased part of the ranch and was a friend of Hanson. The Supreme Court ruled that summary judgment wasn’t appropriate because facts needed to be found at trial on whether Kjerstad Realty substantially performed in order to qualify for the commission.