Jury sides with Corn Palace Stampede in rodeo grounds split, awarding $100K in damages
The jury also split the nearly two dozen structures and buildings on the grounds to either move with CPS or stay at the HSI site.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the verdict details in the case.
MITCHELL — A Davison County jury ruled Friday night that the organization that puts on the annual Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo has the right to remove property it purchased and move those structures to a new rodeo site.
A jury unanimously decided to award $100,000 in damages to Corn Palace Stampede in the lawsuit the organization brought in 2020 against its landlord Horsemen’s Sports Inc. The jury also split the nearly two dozen structures and buildings on the grounds to either move with CPS or stay at the HSI site.
The jury awarded $100,000 to CPS and did not award any financial damages to HSI when the decision was rendered after three hours of deliberation by the jury of eight women and four men, declaring that HSI breached the contract with CPS. The court, presided by Judge David Knoff, required 10 of the 12 jury members to be in agreement on the verdict and all 12 agreed on the decision.
How the decision affects the site of the 2023 rodeo — scheduled for July 13-16 — and a possible future move is still unanswered, CPS Committee Chairman Jim Miskimins said following the verdict.
“I don’t have answers to those questions yet,” Miskimins told the Mitchell Republic. “There are a lot of discussions that will need to take place but I think the people of the community know that the rodeo committee always works hard, so with some guidance that was provided by the court here today, we’ll get back to work.”
CPS’ lead attorney, Sam Nelson, of the law firm Frieberg, Nelson and Ask, based in Beresford and Canton, said he appreciated the jury’s decision and that he believes both parties will work to split up the items appropriately, even if the lawsuit made it clear that it was “time for these entities to part ways.”
“We’re going to work with them in good faith to get the items that the jury decided stay with them to stay and then the items that we’re going to take to go, we’re going to do our best to do that amicably and without interfering with each other,” Nelson said. “We believe they’ll do the same.”
Nelson said he appreciates the role both organizations serve in Mitchell and their unique positions in the community.
“I will tell you, there are good people on both sides of this deal and unfortunately, we just couldn’t resolve it without coming to court,” he said. “I think the jury made the right decision and the Corn Palace Stampede is going to put on a rodeo one way or another and they’re going to continue to make it better year after year. I can say this for my client, we certainly wish Horsemen’s Sports Inc. all the best going forward in their future endeavors.”
HSI attorney Tim Whalen declined to comment Friday night after the verdict was rendered.
The structures and items at the grounds were split between CPS and HSI by the jury. Among the items available to be moved with CPS include the three large sections of metal bleachers, a pair of rodeo headquarter and office buildings, a pair of walk-in coolers, a VIP canopy, the deck structure near the VIP section, a restroom and shower building.
Via the jury, HSI keeps, among other things, both sections of the crows nest, the concession stand, the main entrance area, the concrete block restroom and the handicap entrance to the facility, plus the parking lot and arena lights.
The decision comes at the end of a four-day civil trial that included nearly 20 hours of testimony. The lawsuit stemmed from a May 2020 dispute in which members of HSI took down an arena fence and moved it to widen the arena for its roping events and later took apart a boardwalk deck area near the Stampede’s VIP section. CPS members were dismayed when the fence wasn’t moved back to its previous location, which had been a result of a 2014 compromise in the matter.
A 1999 lease agreed to between the two parties allowed CPS to make improvements to the facility with the prior written agreement of Horsemen’s Sports but it reads “unless such improvements be readily removed without damage to the remaining facilities, the improvements shall become part of the facility and the property of Horsemen’s Sports.” Through the trial, CPS stipulated that its upgrades were personal property and could be removed.
As part of the damages, CPS was asking for more than $176,000 in damages, mostly to replace the cement that bleachers would need to be placed upon at a new site, as CPS wants to move, plus to pay for the intentional damage to the property. On its side, HSI was asking for damages in the case of $79,000, in part of issues regarding maintenance, lapsed insurance and the future lease payments that HSI would miss out on from CPS over the remainder of the lease.
The current Horsemen’s Sports Arena, located on State Highway 37 near Lake Mitchell, is the only site the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo has ever been located, dating back to 1971. Since the lawsuit came to light, Corn Palace Stampede Inc. — the volunteer nonprofit organization that puts on the rodeo — has created a similar organization called the Mitchell Rodeo Foundation, which sought the new lease agreement with the city of Mitchell in late 2021.
In September 2021, the city of Mitchell approved a 20-year lease agreement with the Mitchell Rodeo Foundation, a new nonprofit corporation made up of mostly the same individuals as the Corn Palace Stampede committee, to use about 20 acres of land near the airport for future rodeos. That lease went into effect on Jan. 1, 2022, with a 10-year option available in 2041. The Mitchell Rodeo Foundation is set to rent the city’s land for $7,500 per year.
The PRCA-sanctioned Corn Palace Stampede rodeo, regularly held in mid-July, includes a rodeo pageant competition, a downtown Saturday parade, chili cookoff, rodeo mixer and mutton busting.
The lawsuit this week bared the origination of the agreement that brought HSI and CPS together. Former Mitchell sale barn owner Ray Henderson, who was passionate about both rodeo and team roping, was credited for building the egg-shaped arena and was a member of both organizations, helping to foster the early handshake agreements between the two organizations that allowed them to co-exist.
In testimony on Friday, HSI President Brandon Neugebauer said his organization has been approached in recent years about holding additional events at the HSI arena, including South Dakota Rodeo Association, South Dakota High School Rodeo Association and youth-level events.