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South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the Monument Leaders Rally hosted by the South Dakota Republican Party before introducing former President Donald Trump on Sept. 8, 2023, in Rapid City, S.D. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Judge dismisses lawsuit, plaintiff seeks reinstatement

The group that sued Governor Kristi Noem for her promotion of a Texas dental office wants the lawsuit reinstated and says Noem was “evasive” and “threatening” while she attempted to avoid being served with legal documents.

A judge has dismissed the suit but the plaintiff, Travelers United, is seeking reinstatement

Noem’s spokesman Ian Fury has since responded on social media, writing that Noem is “warm and loving to everyone she interacts with. If these attorneys had ever met with her, they’d know that. More proof than ever that they never served her.”

The lawsuit is from Travelers United, a consumer advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. It alleges Noem may have violated the law by failing to disclose any potential financial relationship she has with Smile Texas. Noem released a 5-minute video March 11 on social media showcasing the dental work she received there.

Fury recently released a statement to South Dakota media saying “Governor Noem has never received compensation for any alleged ‘advertisements.’”

Travelers United said in a recent court filing it has received no proof of that defense.

“Travelers United has made it very clear to defendant’s counsel that we would drop this case if Ms. Noem was able to provide a receipt that Ms. Noem paid in full for her cosmetic dental procedure,” wrote the group’s lawyer. “Defense counsel is yet to provide a receipt.”

Serving of paperwork debated

The judge overseeing the lawsuit recently dismissed it, writing that Travelers United failed to “serve” – in other words, personally deliver – the lawsuit paperwork to Noem by the required deadline of May 13. The court file shows no proof of service before that date.

Fury’s statement said the dismissal reflects the “baseless” nature of Travelers United’s claims.

“Their actions have exposed them as a fake watchdog group filing frivolous claims intended as a smear against the Governor,” Fury wrote. He added, “If Travelers United continues to engage in baseless lawfare, then Governor Noem will use every resource at her disposal to hold them accountable.”

Lauren Wolfe, attorney for Travelers United, hopes the proof of service document she filed on Tuesday convinces the judge to reinstate the case. The document outlines numerous attempts to serve Noem and mentions Noem’s comments about the case on social media, all of which adds up to sufficient proof of service, Wolfe argues.

Travelers United hired One Legal, a process serving company. The problems it allegedly encountered while attempting to serve Noem with the lawsuit papers are detailed in Wolfe’s filing.

“The process server who served Ms. Noem said Noem was ‘highly evasive and also threatening,’” the document reads, adding that “Ms. Noem has recently been in the news for shooting and killing her dog. The process server felt legitimately threatened.”

The mention of the dog is a reference to a story Noem divulged in her recently published book, “No Going Back,” about fatally shooting her dog after it failed at hunting pheasants and killed some of a neighbor’s chickens.

Attempts to serve Noem outlined

Wolfe’s court filing says representatives of One Legal, acting as a “process server,” made numerous attempts to serve Noem.

On April 10, a process server visited the Governor’s Office but was unable to make contact with anyone who could accept the documents.

On April 18, a server stopped by Noem’s personal residence in Castlewood. Her husband, Bryon Noem, said the governor was not home and discussed arranging a more suitable time for the service.

“He assured me that we would make this happen one way or another,” reads correspondence included in the court document from One Legal’s representative. The server told Bryon Noem that the next attempt to serve Gov. Noem would be at a public luncheon.

On April 19, the process server attended the luncheon to serve Noem as she exited. Her security allegedly intervened, surrounded the server and escorted her away.

On May 1, server Katie Big Eagle returned to the Capitol but found the offices locked due to a meeting.

She returned the next day and reported encountering Office Manager and Executive Assistant Judy Davis, Constituent Services Representative Lisa Lei and Administrative Specialist Lana Blair. All three were adamant they were not authorized to accept service on behalf of Noem and refused to touch the documents, according to Big Eagle.

Big Eagle also attempted to call Noem on five occasions in early April, according to the court filing.

Tensions escalated after Noem wrote Tuesday on social media that the “baseless” lawsuit was dismissed. Travelers United takes that as an indication that Noem has been served.

“Given that Ms. Noem clearly knows about this lawsuit based on her tweets as of today, Tuesday, May 28th, 2024, and hiring of counsel that have met multiple times before this filing, Travelers United believes there has been sufficient service in this case,” Wolfe argued in her filing to the court.

Travelers United also has a pending lawsuit against Smile Texas, accusing the company of running advertising campaigns lacking required disclosures, including the one involving Noem.

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