The State of South Dakota’s failure to properly close and remediate gypsum mines it owned and operated beneath the Hideaway Hills neighborhood has made all 158 homes uninhabitable and worthless, according to a new court filing by homeowners seeking class-action certification in litigation against the state.
According to the motion filed Tuesday by the Fox Rothschild law firm, class-action litigation is necessary because conditions in Hideaway Hills are so intertwined that examination or testing of just one home fails to provide accurate information about that home or the homes of its neighbors. In addition, there is no way to remediate just one home in the neighborhood, and any solution must address the entire neighborhood. The lawsuit asks that the state pay each household the full value for their homes.
Recent core-sample drilling tests confirm that underground instability extends to every home in the neighborhood and correcting the problem would require homes to be removed to resolve the subsurface instability. Even if correction were possible, it’s not certain that repairs would successfully ensure the ongoing safety of the neighborhood.
“Those homes are now not only worthless, but threaten the lives of their occupants,” the motion states. “Three hundred and fifty lives are in danger because their homes rest on a subsurface, owned by the State, that was rendered incapable of supporting structures by the State’s exploitation of the land, failure to properly reclaim the land, and its failure to maintain the subsurface in a condition that would support the surface. The State of South Dakota has strict liability for this catastrophic damage and resulting injuries.”
Geological experts have found 16 active collapses near the site of a large hole that opened in April 2020 near East Daisy Drive. The mine extends at least twice as far as what was previously thought, and experts have documented ground depressions, sink holes and soil subsidence throughout the neighborhood, according to the filing.
If granted, class certification will allow every Hideaway Hills homeowner to potentially obtain financial relief from the state of South Dakota, which owned and operated gypsum mines in the area for decades. The lawsuit charges that the state – which still owns subsurface mineral rights under the neighborhood – failed to properly reclaim underground, pit and strip mines before the land was sold to a developer.
In May, the named plaintiffs won a key ruling from Circuit Court Judge Kevin Krull, who found that the homeowners “demonstrated that their injuries likely will be redressed by a favorable decision – i.e., an award of damages, based on their constitutional right to individually bring an inverse condemnation case against the State.”
The case is Andrew Morse and John and Emily Clarke et al. v. State of South Dakota et al., No. 46CIV-20-000295 in the Circuit Court, 4th Judicial District, County of Meade, South Dakota.
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