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Crime & Courts

Healy Ranch family battle once again goes to court

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USDA

Bret Healy and his family have battled publicly over control of a ranch near Pukwana for several years.

In the most recent action, Healy sued in federal court claiming his family and its lawyer violated the RICO Act, a federal law governing racketeering and corrupt organizations.

When a federal judge dismissed the case, Healy appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Bret Healy took his family to court in South Dakota’s First Circuit in 2017, saying the family corporation did not have the legal right to sell land.

When the judge ruled against him, declaring the lawsuit to be both frivolous and malicious, Healy appealed.

The South Dakota Supreme Court upheld the First Circuit decision and increased the award against Healy for attorneys’ fees to more than $100,000.

Healy then went back to the First Circuit, where a different judge overturned the awarded attorneys’ fees. The family appealed that decision, and the state Supreme Court heard arguments in March 2021. No opinion has yet been issued.

In the meantime, Healy brought suit in federal court, accusing his family of RICO violations. When U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange ruled against him, Healy appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

At oral arguments, Zachary Peterson represented Healy’s family. He told the three-judge appellate panel that this RICO action violates the doctrine of res judicata: it accuses the same people of the same actions after a judge has found the accusations to be without merit.

“You could either consider this as Bret failed to fully develop the issues in his previous case, or Bret found newly-discovered evidence at some point after that case and now is attempting to start over,” Peterson said. “Either way, it doesn’t get you around res judicata.”

Bret Healy is represented by Joseph Sandler. At oral arguments, Sandler said courts had not determined if Healy’s allegations had merit, only that he made his claims too late, and so the requirements of res judicata have not been met.

“The South Dakota Supreme Court has never decided whether a judgment based solely on statute of limitations is a judgment on the merits,” he said.

Sandler said if the Eighth Circuit decides the issue, it would be predicting the will of the South Dakota Supreme Court.

The Eighth Circuit will deliver an opinion at a later date.