Cattle Ranchers Suing South Dakota Landfill for Years of Pollution

Lawsuit seeks damages for flooding, toxic runoff from misuse of landfill property

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Ross and Fern Johnson, a husband-and-wife team of cattle ranchers from South Dakota, have sued Rapid City, South Dakota, and the Rapid City Landfill for damages and relief for years of pollution and its harmful effects on the couple’s cattle ranch.

It started in 2002 when Rapid City purchased 106 acres sitting adjacent to the city’s existing landfill. That land shares a boundary with the Johnsons’ property, and there have been several instances of flooding, toxic runoff, litter, and other environmental hazards threatening the Johnsons’ ranch and cattle.

“We have been pleading with the city and the landfill for years to take some steps to help protect our land, and they have not lifted a finger,” said Ms. Johnson. “What’s even worse is that we had an agreement in place to make sure something like this didn’t happen, and the city has not honored that.”

Mr. Johnson’s father originally owned the 106 acres in question and sold it to the city with the written understanding that the land would provide a buffer between the landfill and the Johnson ranch land.

“The city made a promise in writing that it would not build upon that land or use it to expand the landfill,” said Kathleen Barrow, attorney with Fox Rothschild, who represents the Johnsons. “Not only has the agreement been completely ignored, but the landfill as it exists now has never been properly permitted to operate.”

Over the years, the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Rapid City Community Planning and Development Services have warned the landfill that those 106 acres were not to be used for waste disposal. The city has ignored those warnings and has been using the property as a solid waste management facility despite never having the property assessed for that use.

In 2018, a storm caused a landfill detention pond to flood onto the Johnson’s property. Since then, there have been nearly a dozen similar cases of toxic runoff onto the couple’s land. Trash from the landfill has also fallen or been blown by the wind onto the property, and contaminated compost has been burned right up to the shared border of the properties.

In late 2022, the Johnsons hired an independent environmental engineering company to test their water and soil. The testing revealed hazardous pollutants, including petroleum byproducts in the soil.

The case is Ross Johnson and Fern Johnson v. City of Rapid City, and the Rapid City Landfill, No. 51CIV23-000257 in the 7th Judicial District, Pennington County, South Dakota.          

Fox Rothschild LLC is a national law firm with 29 offices. The firm focuses on client service and responsiveness with bright and creative lawyers who know how to deliver. More information at          


Media Contact:  

Mark Annick   


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