SD Supreme Court: Alienation Carries A Price

Nov 29, 2018

The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that a price can be set on heartache.

The court sends an alienation of affection lawsuit back to the Fifth Circuit to determine monetary damages.

Jerry Cedar of Frederick sued Bruce Johnson for having an affair with his wife and causing the breakup of his marriage.

Circuit Judge Richard Sommers determined at trial that Cedar had not given proof of monetary damages. Cedar appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.

The difficulty of assigning a dollar amount is illustrated in this exchange between Chief Justice David Gilbertson and plaintiff's attorney, Robert Christenson, during oral arguments in October:

GILBERTSON: "Well, I know that you can get an expert to testify on monetary damages for just about any subject matter under the sun, but in all the years I've been in the legal profession, I've never heard of an expert that would come in and testify what the value of the remainder of the marriage was."

CHRISTENSON: "That's correct, and usually what the plaintiffs will say, 'Well, my marriage I lost because of the acts of the defendant--my marriage was priceless."

The high court denied the defendant's claim that South Dakota's alienation of affection law is antiquated and should be abandoned as a matter of public policy. Justices say it's up to the legislature to make changes.