A property dispute between the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo and its landlord organization is clouding the future plans of Mitchell’s annual July rodeo.
The Corn Palace Stampede Inc. organization is suing its landlord, Horsemen’s Sports Inc., according to recent case filings in Davison County. It alleges that Horsemen’s Sports destroyed and damaged Corn Palace Stampede property.
In the complaint, the rodeo committee wrote that its board of directors adopted a resolution on Sept. 1 authorizing starting litigation against Horsemen’s Sports. The complaint alleges a breach of contract, unjust enrichment, intentional property damage and seeks a permanent injunction and declaratory judgment.
The lawsuit doesn’t specifically list what property was damaged and destroyed. The complaint seeks a jury trial in the case and requests damages and costs for the property being destroyed.
When reached by the newspaper, Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo Committee Chairman Jim Miskimins declined to comment on the contents of the lawsuit. Miskimins is also Davison County state's attorney.
When asked whether the lawsuit threatened the prospect of holding the 2021 rodeo in the traditional location, Miskimins acknowledged that the lawsuit could impact that but said the committee is planning to have the rodeo as usual.
“In the event it’s not feasible to hold the rodeo there, we’re confident that we can find another suitable location,” Miskimins said.
The claim says the plaintiff — Corn Palace Stampede Inc. — has “created, provided and done all improvements on the property, at its own expense and efforts.” The suit says that there is no severance agreement between Corn Palace Stampede and Horsemen’s Sports about those improvements.
“Defendants members and agents, and defendants personally have trespassed on the property; they have interfered with Plaintiff’s quiet and peaceful enjoyment and use of the property under the lease agreement; they have damaged Plaintiff’s property without cause; they have interfered with Plaintiff’s ability to use the property for the purpose for which it was intended,” the suit claims.
In the lease agreement, which started in 2000 and was continued for another 20 years in 2011, Corn Palace Stampede agrees to care for and maintain the rodeo grounds in its entirety. Corn Palace Stampede also has ownership of a loader tractor that is kept on the grounds and Horsemen’s Sports can use it and will furnish fuel. Corn Palace Stampede pays for the taxes to the land, and the two parties share electric and water bills equally.
The lease agreement allows Corn Palace Stampede to use the rodeo grounds for the annual rodeo and the Bull Bash and no other public events can be held there without Horsemen’s Sports’ consent. Horsemen’s Sports Inc. can rent the facility to others provided it doesn’t interfere with Corn Palace Stampede’s events.
An older lease agreement included in the complaint notes that the lessee (Corn Palace Stampede) can make improvements to the facility with the prior written agreement of Horsemen’s Sports, and unless the improvements can be removed without damaging the existing facility, the improvements become part of the facility and become the property of Horsemen’s Sports.
Currently, Corn Palace Stampede pays Horsemen’s Sports $2,000 a year from 2017 to 2021, up from $1,500 a year from 2012 to 2016.
Also included in the complaint is a 2019 land lease agreement between Horsemen’s Sports and CommNet Cellular, doing business as Verizon Wireless, that allowed the telecom company to install communications equipment at 4125 N. Main St. in Mitchell, which is the rodeo arena’s address. The agreement allowed 24/7 access to CommNet to allow for installation, operation and maintenance of the equipment, but is not specifically cited by Corn Palace Stampede as a reason for the lawsuit.
The named defendants on the side of Horsemen’s Sports Inc., as listed in the complaint, include Brandon Neugebauer, Joel Bergeson and Paul Parr, all of Mitchell, and Matt McCormick, of Salem. McCormick and Neugebauer are named individually and as directors of the corporation. In Horsemen’s Sports' most recent nonprofit annual report with the South Dakota secretary of state, McCormick is listed as the organization’s president and Neugebauer is the group’s secretary and treasurer.
Horsemen's Sports does not have legal counsel listed in the case, according to case records. The complaint has not yet been answered by the defendants in court.
“The claim centers around damages done to the rodeo grounds and interference with use of the rodeo grounds by Horsemen’s Sports Inc., its agents, members and parties acting on their own, which actions have taken place between the date of March 1 and Sept. 9, 2020,” wrote Corn Palace Stampede attorney Jim Davies in a demand for electronic evidence to be preserved.
The rodeo, which is sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, was scheduled to hold its 50th version in July, but that was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, with plans for a 50th-year celebration now planned for July 15-18, 2021. It generally draws between 8,000 and 10,000 attendees each year over the course of four nights.
Mitchell-based Judge Patrick Smith was assigned the case in the First Judicial Circuit, but asked to recuse himself on Sept. 22. No new judge has been assigned in the case.