Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Iowa Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court declining to modify a restriction on alienability of paintings painted by artist Grant Wood and donated in 1976 to Coe College in Cedar Rapids, holding that the 1976 gift was restricted. A foundation donated the paintings to the college, and the gift letter stated that "this would be their permanent home, hanging on the walls of Stewart Memorial Library." While the college traditionally treated the paintings on its books as an unrestricted gift that could be sold or otherwise alienated, in 2016, an auditor determined the paintings should be treated as a restricted gift. The college subsequently filed a petition seeking a judicial interpretation of the gift's terms. The district court ruled that there existed a restriction on the alienability of the paintings and declined to modify the restriction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the language in the gift letter did restrict the gift; (2) the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act does not apply; and (3) it was premature to consider the application of the common law doctrine of cy pres because there was no showing the gift restrictions cannot be carried out at present. View "In re Application of Coe College for Interpretation of Purported Gift Restrictions v. Coe College" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court affirming the Carroll County Board of Adjustment's denial of Appellants' application for a variance from Carroll County Airport Zoning Ordinance height restrictions, holding that this Court's opinion rejecting Appellants' preemption defense in a companion case, was fatal to Appellants' appeal of the zoning variance denial. Appellants built a grain leg on their farmland that violated the zoning ordinance's height restrictions. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made a no-hazard determination. The Carroll Airport Commission disagreed with the FAA's determination and filed an equitable action to have the grain leg declared a nuisance. After Appellants unsuccessfully sought a variance, the district court entered judgment for the Commission on its nuisance claim. In both the nuisance action and the zoning appeal Appellants argued that the FAA's no-hazard determination preempted local regulations as a matter of law. The district court rejected that defense in the nuisance action. The court of appeals and Supreme Court affirmed. The district court then affirmed the Board's denial of the variance, again rejecting the preemption defense. Because the nuisance case adjudicated the same federal preemption issue Appellants raised in this preceding, the Supreme Court's opinion rejecting Appellants' preemption defense in the nuisance action was fatal to Appellants' appeal of the zoning appeal. View "Danner v. Carroll County Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals declining to give preemptive effect to a no-hazard determination by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and affirmed as modified the judgment of the district court, holding that the Federal Aviation Act allows for local zoning regulation, and the FAA's no-hazard letter did not preempt the local airport zoning regulations as a matter of law. A farmer built a twelve-story grain leg near an airport. The airport commission informed the farmer he needed a variance and refused to grant one. Thereafter, the FAA approved the structure. The local commissioners later brought this action in equity to force the farmer to modify or remove the structure. The district court issued an injunction. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court granted further review and held (1) state and local regulators can impose stricter height restrictions on structures in flight paths notwithstanding an FAA no-hazard determination, and therefore, the no-hazard letter did not preempt the local airport zoning regulations; and (2) the district court properly found that the structure constituted a threat to aviation requiring abatement, but the $200 daily penalty is vacated and the judgment is modified to require the farmer to abate the nuisance within nine months of this opinion. View "Carroll Airport Commission v. Danner" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dissolving an injunction that had precluded a sale after ruling that the City of Waterloo had complied with Iowa Code 306.23 in transferring land from an unused right-of-way to a developer of a residential subdivision. Plaintiffs, adjacent landowners and taxpayers, alleged that the City violated the requirements set forth in section 306.23 imposing notice and appraisal requirements when transferring land from the unused right-of-way. The district court entered an injunction precluding the sale but later lifted its injunction after finding that the City complied with section 306.23. The district court subsequently refused to hold the City in contempt and dismissed Plaintiffs' mandamus claim and application for sanctions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the City complied with section 306.23. View "Hartog v. City of Waterloo, Iowa" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment for a judgment creditor and dismissed the petition filed by the judgment debtor and his wife to vacate a charging order to execute foreign judgments in Iowa district court against the judgment debtor's membership interests in an Iowa limited liability company (LLC), holding that there was no reason to reverse the judgment of the district court. The judgment debtor and his wife sought to vacate the charging order on the grounds that the creditor could not attach the debtor's interests in the Iowa LLC since the debtor and his wife owned them as a tenancy by the entireties in their domicile of Florida. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of the creditor, holding (1) the district court properly applied Iowa law because membership interests in an LLC are located in the state where the LLC is formed; (2) the district court correctly dismissed the petition to vacate the charging order since Iowa law does not recognize the ownership of property by a married couple as tenants in the entireties; and (3) the foreign judgments were properly registered, and the charging order was properly issued. View "Wells Fargo Equipment Finance Inc. v. Retterath" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the district court holding that mechanic's liens arising from the provision of materials and labor to a lessee did not attach to the property of the lessor under the circumstances of this case and that a construction mortgage lien ultimately obtained by the owner of the land on the leasehold and property of the lessee had prior over the later-filed mechanic's liens, holding that the district court's judgment was without error. Specifically, the Court held (1) the legislature has reworked Iowa Code 572.2 to limit mechanic's liens to property belonging to a narrowly defined owner, and therefore, Denniston & Patridge Co. v. Romp, 56 N.W.2d 601 (Iowa 1953), and Stroh Corp. v. K&S Development Corp., 247 N.W.2d 750 (Iowa 1976), are no longer good law; (2) the priority of the after-acquired construction mortgage lien was not defeated by the doctrine of merger; and (3) there was no fraud under the circumstances presented. View "Winger Contracting Co. v. Cargill, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the decision of the district court annulling a writ of certiorari challenging the decision of the City of Ames’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) denying Ames 2304, LLC’s permit for an interior model of a nonconforming use residential structure, holding that the ZBA erred in denying Ames 2304’s interior remodeling permit because the remodel would not increase the number of dwelling units in the structure. The proposed remodel in this case would increase the number of bedrooms while maintaining the same number of apartment dwelling units. The ZBA determined that the local zoning ordinance prohibited this increase in the number of bedrooms because it would increase the intensity of the nonconforming use. The Supreme Court held that the ZBA erred in denying the interior remodeling permit because the zoning ordinance defined an “increase in intensity” as an increase in the number of dwelling units, and the remodel would not increase the number of dwelling units in the structure. View "Ames 2304, LLC v. City of Ames, Zoning Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court granting summary judgment to the insurer in this coverage dispute, holding that an electrical-currents exclusion in the policy applied to the loss in this case. A squirrel climbed onto an outdoor electrical transformer at the City of West Liberty’s power plant, eventually triggering an electrical arc that caused substantial damage to the City’s property. The City sought coverage from Employer’s Mutual Casualty Company (EMC) under its all-risks insurance policy. EMC denied coverage based on the electrical-currents exclusion in the policy, which excluded “loss caused by arcing or by electrical currents other than lightning.” The City sought a declaratory judgment of coverage and damages, arguing that the squirrel was an efficient proximate cause of the loss, and therefore, two independent causes, one covered and one excluded, contributed to the loss. The district court disagreed and granted summary judgment to EMC. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the loss here was “caused by arcing” and therefore was excluded even though the squirrel triggered the arcing. View "City of West Liberty v. Employers Mutual Casualty Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court ordering Defendant to pay restitution to the City of Davenport for damage to patrol vehicles after Defendant pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and eluding an officer, holding that a government entity may, under the right circumstances, be a victim under the Iowa criminal restitution statute, Iowa Code chapter 910, under this Court’s precedents. On appeal, Defendant conceded that the Davenport police vehicles incurred damage when police officers attempted to stop him during a high-speed chase but argued that damage to police cars from a chase of a fleeing suspect is not recoverable under Iowa’s restitution statute. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) under the causation standard in the Restatement (Third) of Torts, the damage to the police vehicles would be within the scope of liability in a negligence action against Defendant; (2) the firefighter’s rule has no application in this case; and (3) the express legislative adoption of limited restitution for emergency response costs in drunk driving cases under Iowa Code 910.1(4) does prevent a restitution to the City of Davenport in this case. View "State v. Shears" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff’s unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and promissory estoppel claims, holding that the district court erred in granting Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the promissory estoppel claim. Plaintiff, a farmer, sued Defendants, his neighbor’s heirs, claiming that he and the decedent entered into an option contract to purchase farmland that Plaintiff leased from he decedent and upon which Plaintiff had made substantial improvements. After the farm was sold, Plaintiff brought this action claiming that Defendants breached an option contract to sell him the property. Alternatively, Plaintiff alleged various equitable theories of promissory estoppel, quantum meruit, and unjust enrichment. A jury found in favor of Plaintiff on his contract claim, but the district court granted Defendants’ motion for directed verdict and refused to order a new trial on Plaintiff’s alternative equitable theories. The court of appeals remanded the case for further proceedings on the equitable claims. On remand, the district court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the remaining equitable claims. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that Plaintiff’s promissory estoppel claim survived summary judgment. View "Kunde v. Estate of Arthur D. Bowman" on Justia Law