Court rules that Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo can take place at Mitchell site, despite lawsuit

Marcus Traxler, The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.
·5 min read

Apr. 28—While the rodeo organization and its landlord remain engaged in a lawsuit, a circuit court judge ruled Wednesday to allow the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo to take place at its traditional location in 2021.

Judge David Knoff ruled that the rodeo — scheduled for its 50th edition in July — can be held at the typical site on the north end of Mitchell but without any modifications or changes to the grounds and removal of the fixtures on the property, which is owned by Horsemen's Sports Inc.

Knoff, who proceeded over the hearing on Wednesday over videoconferencing, acknowledged that time was a factor in the decision. The opening date of the rodeo is July 15, 78 days away from Wednesday's hearing.

The judge ruled that there has been substantial amount of investment in the property from Corn Palace Stampede, and while the organization's rights with respect to the property and Horsemen's Sports still needs to be decided, the use of the grounds in 2021 for the traditional rodeo events would not cause any damage to the defendants.

However, the two sides will remain in litigation, and Knoff said that there was plenty still to work out long term in the case.

"This matter is going to be resolved by the parties involved or go to trial," Knoff said.

READ MORE: A remedy for no rodeo: Businesses, community went without a Mitchell staple in 2020

The ruling came at the request of Corn Palace Stampede, Inc., which is the plaintiff in the case and is the all-volunteer organization that puts on the annual rodeo events in July. The organization's attorney, Jim Davies, said Corn Palace Stampede needed to know whether it could hold its rodeo at the site or would have to move everything to another site.

Davies argued that while the other issues in the case would be worked out and determined later in the case, they are entitled to use the property to conduct the rodeo in July and to have the one-time relief.

"We need to know if we're going to get to use this property in July or if we need to look for a different site. ... That is the big question here. Easy to say, not so easy to decide," Davies said. "Without having to put a full stop to the rodeo to itself, I don't' believe that allowing the rodeo to go forward will prejudice the case."

Davies pointed out that Corn Palace Stampede has made numerous improvements to the grounds over the years in excess of about $650,000 in value, ranging from the new bleachers added in the last decade, new concession and restroom buildings, new pens and chutes, upgrades to the office building and crow's nest area.

Tim Whalen, the attorney for three of the four named defendants in the case, plus Horsemen's Sports, argued that Wednesday's discussion was the essence of the entire lawsuit. Because Corn Palace Stampede essentially only uses the grounds for one week a year,

"It's not merely, 'We just need this issue decided.' Whalen said. "It is the lawsuit."

MORE: Corn Palace Stampede brings lawsuit against rodeo grounds owners

Whalen also took issue with the late payment from Corn Palace Stampede to Horsemen's Sports for the 2020 lease, which didn't arrive until April 13, 2021, on the same day that Corn Palace Stampede requested the relief to allow the 2021 rodeo to take place. The lawsuit was first filed in September 2020.

"(They) knew this rodeo was coming up but didn't do anything from September to April, so if it was that critical of an issue, they could have moved on it," Whalen said. "Instead, they sat on their rights and brought this at the last moment and it puts the court and the parties in a precarious position."

Knoff asked if there was a clear due date for when the rent is supposed to be paid to Horsemen's Sports each year. Both sides said there wasn't a specific deadline, but it's been generally paid in the fall before the end of the year.

The rodeo, which is sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and is among Mitchell's biggest summer events, was canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. It generally draws between 8,000 and 10,000 attendees each year over the course of four nights. This year, it runs July 15-18.

The rodeo grounds are located at 4125 N. Main St. in Mitchell, along State Highway 37 on the north edge of the city.

The two sides have a lease that runs through 2031 but the lawsuit has bared the issues between the entities. Corn Palace Stampede has alleged that its group has done all of the improvements for the property and alleged that the defendants from Horsemen's Sports have trespassed on the property and damaged it without cause, not allowing Corn Palace Stampede to use the grounds as intended. Davies wrote in the April 13 filing that Corn Palace Stampede was concerned that Horsemen's Sports would cause complications in holding the 2021 rodeo and "at worst ... may attempt to forestall" from holding the rodeo at all.

In a response to the plaintiff's request to use the grounds in 2021, Whalen wrote that Horsemen's Sports believes that Corn Palace Stampede committed the first material breach of the lease and extinguished Corn Palace Stampede's rights. That includes the late 2020 rent, making unauthorized improvements to the grounds, failing to provide certain equipment as required by the lease, failing to spray the weeks and not repairing damaged personal property while using the grounds.