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How do South Dakota Courts work?

In South Dakota, the highest legal authority is the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court oversees all decisions made by the Court of Appeals, allowing it to weigh in on crucial legal questions, conflicts, and precedents. In turn, the Court of Appeals carries out a similar function over the courts below it, but only when one party appeals a decision made. The lower courts in question are made up of the 66 trial or superior courts in the 66 South Dakota counties. Other tiers of court include, the State Court Administration, the Circuit Courts, the Clerk of Courts, the Court Services Offices, the Court Reporters, and the Tribal Courts.

Civil Cases and Small Claims

Court records in civil cases and small claims cases are structured very differently, and each court deals with different types of cases with different monetary values. For instance, in South Dakota, the civil court deals with cases in which the petitioner is seeking $300,000 or more. There are around 250,000 of these cases filed each and every year in the state. However, they can also revolve around non-monetary cases, such as disputes over changing names, restraining orders, and property. On the other hand, small claims court deals with just that, small claims. Petitioners seeking $12,000 or under will be dealt with by the small claims court, and there are close to 200,000 of these cases filed each year in South Dakota. These can include disputes over loans, warranties, repairs, deposits, and more. The small claims court can even order a defendant into an action, such as paying a fee.

Appeals and court limits

The appeals process and the court limits in civil and small claims courts also differ from each other. For example, only the defendant may contest a decision made in small claims court, but either party can appeal in civil court. A person may also have a lawyer represent them and file papers on their behalf in civil court, where as neither are allowed in small claims court. Pretrial discovery is also not allowed in small claims court, but is allowed in civil cases. There is a filing fee of between $30 and $100 for small claims cases, and each party is then given 30-70 days to complete their case. On the other hand, there is a filing fee of between $180 and $320 in civil case claims, and each party is given up to 120 days to complete their case.

Why are court records public?

The South Dakota Sunshine Law was passed back in 1935, with the most recent changes coming in the year 2000. This law was introduced to ensure that all residents of South Dakota had the right to access public records. All records held by the state and local government in South Dakota can be accessed and copied by members of the public as a result. Not only does this promote transparency, but it also safeguards government accountability.

To access records:

500 East Capitol Avenue Pierre, SD 57501-5070

David Gilbertson, Chief Justice
Janine M. Kern, Associate Justice
Steven R. Jensen, Associate Justice
Mark E. Salter, Associate Justice
[Vacant], Associate Justice

Phone:   (605) 773-3511
Fax:   (605) 773-6128


South Dakota Court Structure
South Dakota State Archives

State Archives

Contact: (701) 436-2731

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Results are based upon available information from state, county and municipal databases, and may not include some or all of the above details.

South Dakota

First constructed in 1890, the Old Minnehaha County Courthouse is one of the oldest in the state.

  • South Dakota has 3 different courts in their court system: The South Dakota Supreme Court, the South Dakota Circuit Courts, and the South Dakota Magistrate Court.
  • The South Dakota Supreme Court was founded in 1889 in the city of Pierre.
  • South Dakota’s Supreme Court has 5 judicial positions, each of whom serve 8 year terms.
  • There are 7 judicial circuits to represent the South Dakota Circuit Courts. There are 38 circuit judges in the circuit court system.