Buffalo Chip City is indeed a city, according to the South Dakota Supreme Court.
In a 16-page decision released Thursday, the Supreme Court reversed a circuit court's decision that had ruled against the Meade County Board of Commissioners and Buffalo Chip Campground last year.
The campground-turned-city has faced opposition from nearby Sturgis and others. Campground CEO Rod Woodruff told the Meade County Times-Tribune in 2015 that the incorporation would improve economic opportunities at Buffalo Chip.
Circuit Court Judge Jerome Eckrich ruled that Meade County commissioners didn't follow state law in approving Buffalo Chip's petition to become a municipality. They voted in February 2015 to allow the campground to move forward in its bid to become a town. Voters confirmed it in an election months later.
The lower-court judge also ruled that people who voted to approve the town didn't technically live at addresses where they registered to vote. He found that the city's incorporation was void and that the election was a nullity.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court reversed and vacated that decision, saying that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction.
Rapid City attorney Kent Hagg, representing the campground and arguing the case before the Supreme Court last April, said he and Rod Woodruff, campground founder and owner, were happy with the ruling.
“The entire time we’ve felt we followed the intent and the spirit of the law and we also were satisfied that the Supreme Court agreed with one of our points in the whole process, that the Circuit Court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction and should not have been sitting on this case in the first place,” Hagg said.
According to the ruling, since Buffalo Chip City operates at minimum as a de facto corporation, any legal action challenging its incorporation must be brought by the state.
A statement released at midday Thursday by the City of Sturgis said the court ruling did not address the more than 100 specific legal concerns raised by the city in objecting to the incorporation of Buffalo Chip as a municipality.
“The South Dakota Supreme Court’s conclusion in this matter is disappointing to the City of Sturgis and the landowners who have voiced concerns regarding the electoral integrity of this process,” the city’s statement read.
“Therefore, the City of Sturgis will call on the State of South Dakota to take action in addressing the numerous items within the original petition filed by the Buffalo Chip that were found to be erroneous by the circuit court,” the statement said.
But Hagg doesn’t expect the state to take action.
“We’re confident, as we always have been, that the town of Buffalo Chip has observed the letter and intent of the law,” Hagg said. “The Supreme Court has found that as a functioning municipality it needs to continue to exist.”
Woodruff was unavailable for comment Thursday. Hagg said Woodruff was in Las Vegas this week but suffering from the flu.
“He was very happy as much as he could express in his current state. In a somewhat weak voice he congratulated me,” Hagg said. “He was happy with the outcome and looks forward to proceeding without the spectre of this legal challenge.”