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S.D. Codified Laws § 21-3-2 provides that the trial judge may award punitive damages because the slanderous statement was actuated by malice.
This action, brought by Walkon Carpet Corporation and W. P. Larson, sought recovery of a note due from defendant in the sum of $ 2826.29; the recovery of a Ford Econoline van which the defendant was to have contributed to the capital of the corporation; and the value of other property allegedly misappropriated by the defendant. The defendant answered by way of a general denial except as to the note in question, to which he alleged a failure of consideration and, in addition, counterclaimed for double damages for wages oppressively and maliciously withheld from him by the corporation; expenses incurred during employment; failure of the corporation to pay obligations allegedly assumed; the value of certain property of nominal value, the return of which he claims was wrongfully denied; and for slander by W. P. Larson. The trial to the court resulted in a verdict for the corporation on the note and interest, offset by partial failure of consideration, together with the value of the van which defendant had sold, title having never been transferred to the corporation, and for the defendant on his counterclaim for wages only without awarding double damages and the sum of $ 1.00 against W. P. Larson because of his slanderous statements. Defendant appealed claiming the court erred in, (1) failing to find total failure of consideration on the note and, incidentally, allowance of interest thereon although the note was silent as to interest, (2) denying corporate liability of preexisting debts, (3) denying double damages for wages withheld, and (4) awarding inadequate damages for slander.
May a trial judge in his discretion, elect not to make an award of punitive damages?
The court concluded that the relief granted conformed to the evidence adduced and was properly allowed under S.D. Codified Laws § 15-6-54(c). The record supported the trial court's finding that defendant was discharged without malice, oppression, or fraud; and the trial judge in his discretion, elected to not make an award of punitive damages under S.D. Codified Laws § 21-3-2 and there was nothing in the record to indicate an abuse of this discretion.