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Horse sanctuary loses lawsuit against Nature Conservancy
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Horse sanctuary loses lawsuit against Nature Conservancy

Conservation easement upheld by state Supreme Court

Horse sanctuary

About 500 horses live at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary near Hot Springs.

The South Dakota Supreme Court has rejected an attempt by a southern Black Hills wild horse sanctuary to rid itself of a conservation easement.

In an opinion filed Wednesday, the court affirmed an earlier circuit court dismissal of the lawsuit from the Institute of Range and the American Mustang, which operates the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary near Hot Springs.

The sanctuary filed the lawsuit in 2016. The suit alleged that the sanctuary was fraudulently induced into granting a conservation easement in 1998 to The Nature Conservancy, a global nonprofit with an office in Rapid City.

The conservation easement covers approximately 8,300 acres of the sanctuary’s land and prohibits certain uses, to ensure the land will remain in a mostly natural and undeveloped state. In exchange for the easement, The Nature Conservancy paid the sanctuary $230,000, which the sanctuary used to pay off a land mortgage.

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The easement also grants The Nature Conservancy a 50 percent share of the proceeds if a change in conditions ever causes the easement to be extinguished and the land to be sold (the Conservancy would be required to apply its share of the proceeds to another conservation project).

The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice David Gilbertson, identified three main claims in the sanctuary’s lawsuit and rejected all of them.

The sanctuary claimed that The Nature Conservancy obtained the conservation easement by fraud. The Supreme Court found that claim to be false and said the failure of sanctuary founder Dayton Hyde to examine or read the easement deed was “not the action of a reasonable prudent person” and that his failure to determine the content of the deed “must be described as negligence.”

Furthermore, the court found, a six-year statute of limitations precluded the sanctuary from claiming in 2016 that it had been defrauded in 1998.

Regarding the sanctuary’s claim that Hyde entered into the transaction without corporate authority, the court found no supporting evidence. The court also identified a lack of supporting evidence for the sanctuary’s claim that there was a failure of consideration and no meeting of the minds concerning the easement terms granting a property interest to The Nature Conservancy.

Contact Seth Tupper at

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