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Jack Robert Crowley and Veronica Crowley v. Knutson Construction Company and William Kirk

February 27, 2013


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cedar County, Mary E. Howes, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eisenhauer, C.J.

Plaintiffs appeal from summary judgment in favor of defendants. AFFIRMED.

Heard by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Danilson and Bower, JJ.

Plaintiffs Jack and Veronica Crowley (Jack) appeal from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant Knutson Construction Company (Knutson). They contend the court erred in failing to find Knutson vicariously liable for the actions of its employee, William Kirk, for damages arising from Kirk's placement of concrete barriers across the access road to their property. We affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

Since at least 1983 Jack Crowley and his brother John have been involved in disputes over ownership of about twenty acres of property in Cedar County, Iowa. Defendant William Kirk is Jack and John's nephew. Initially the dispute was a boundary dispute between the Crowley family (including Jack, John, and their father John) and B.L. Anderson. The court resolved the dispute by summary judgment in favor of Anderson. At the time, Jack owned about 4.5 acres bordering the disputed parcel. Jack and his wife moved onto his property in 1982. In 1988 after his divorce, Jack conveyed his 4.5 acres to his father, who conveyed it to John in 1995. Jack rented the property from his brother John until 2009, when he moved at his brother's request when his six-year lease expired.

Even though the court determined the twenty-acre parcel belonged to Anderson, the Crowley family ignored the ruling and used the property for recreation, livestock, and crops. In 2001 Jack and his wife Veronica purchased the property from Anderson's successor-in-interest. Access to John's 4.5 acres where Jack lived was by a lane through Jack's twenty-acre parcel. In May 2009 John installed a barbed wire fence along the south side of the lane, effectively cutting off the southern portion of Jack's twenty-acre tract from the Cedar Bluff-Mechanicsville Road. At the end of May 2009 John's nephew, William Kirk, at John's request, placed concrete road barriers across the entrances to the lane at the Cedar Bluff-Mechanicsville Road, cutting off all access to Jack's twenty-acre tract. At the time, Kirk was employed by Knutson Construction, and he used a company vehicle to place the barriers (owned by Knutson) across the entrances to the lane. Jack built a new access road into his property.

Jack filed a petition for possession of his twenty-acre tract and an application for a temporary and permanent injunction. John filed a counterclaim, alleging adverse possession of the twenty acres. After a hearing on the injunction in October 2009, the court found John had "improperly impeded" the use of the access lane, issued an injunction prohibiting the fence along the lane and any barriers at the entrances from the Cedar Bluff-Mechanicsville Road, and ordered the removal of the fence and barriers. Following a trial on the petition for possession in October 2010, the court found Jack owned the twenty-acre parcel and John had an easement by acquiescence across Jack's land to John's 4.5 acre parcel. The court issued a writ of possession to Jack and ordered John to pay Jack damages in the amount of $1500.

In March 2011 Jack filed a seven-count suit against Knutson Construction for damages based on Kirk's use of a company truck and crane to place the barriers on the access lane to his property. The petition alleged the company was vicariously liable based on (1) negligence, (2) nuisance, (3) operation of a motor vehicle with consent, (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (5) conspiracy, and (6) negligent entrustment. The petition also alleged entitlement to punitive damages.

In January 2012 Knutson moved for summary judgment on all seven counts. The motion came on for hearing in February. In March, the court issued its ruling, granting summary judgment in favor of Knutson on all seven counts.

II. Scope and Standards of Review

We review the trial court's grant of summary judgment for correction of errors at law. McCormick v. Nikkel & Assocs., Inc., 819 N.W.2d 368, 371 (Iowa 2012). Summary judgment is appropriate "'if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Seneca Waste Solutions, Inc. v. Sheaffer Mfg., 791 N.W.2d 407, 411 (Iowa 2010) (quoting Iowa R. Civ. P.

1.981(3)). "A genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Wilkins v. Marshalltown Med. & Surgical Ctr., 758 N.W.2d 232, 235 (Iowa 2008). When reviewing the trial court's decision to grant summary judgment, "we examine the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and we draw all legitimate inferences the evidence bears in order ...

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