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Crime & Courts

Rapist can be sued for civil damages

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South Dakota Supreme Court

A man convicted of raping and kidnapping his estranged spouse has fought unsuccessfully to assert that the divorce agreement took care of any civil damages. Richard Seidel claimed the property settlement released him from civil liability for his criminal actions. A Fourth Circuit judge agreed and granted Seidel summary judgment, but the South Dakota Supreme Court has reversed that decision.

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Richard Seidel is serving a 75-year sentence for rape, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and commission of a felony with a firearm.

Richard Seidel assaulted his wife, Julie, in late 2017, after she filed for divorce but before the decree was final.

He was convicted at trial in July 2019 for rape, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and commission of a felony with a firearm.

Now Seidel is 59 years old, serving a 75-year sentence in the South Dakota State Penitentiary. The former owner of Bison Grain comes up for first parole in 34 years.

Julie sued Seidel shortly after he was convicted, claiming battery, false imprisonment, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. When she did not prevail in circuit court, she appealed.

The South Dakota Supreme Court heard oral arguments in January.

She was represented by Michael Loos, who told justices the lower court judge erred in ruling that a lump-sum alimony award was a final settlement of all claims. Loos pointed out that the language of the agreement did not go beyond a standard legal concept of alimony.

“A spouse’s right to alimony is a separate and distinct claim available in a divorce proceeding,” Loos told justices. “There are specific grounds for alimony. There’s a specific sort of magic language that these divorce attorneys were aware of in crafting the alimony component.”

Loos said the agreement on alimony was a settlement of claims against property, not claims against a person.

“Frankly, the circuit court never interpreted the word ‘property’ with respect to this argument,” he said. “I would submit that the circuit court just simply ignored five separate references to property.”

The high court agreed that nothing in the settlement was intended to compensate Julie for her emotional and physical damages caused by Seidel’s conduct.

The Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision and remanded it to the Fourth Circuit.