Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Greene County, William C. Ostlund, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mullins, J.
A landlord appeals from a district court ruling denying declaratory relief with respect to his rights under various agricultural leases and rejecting his claims for breach of contract, holdover tenancy, and trespass. AFFIRMED.
Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.
John Knight, a landlord, appeals from a district court ruling denying declaratory relief with respect to his rights under various agricultural leases and rejecting claims for breach of contract, holdover tenancy, and trespass. John asserts the district court erred in (1) interpreting the 2010 lease as contingent, (2) denying his breach-of-contract claim, (3) failing to find Cory Grow was a holdover farm tenant, (4) failing to find Darwin and Pamela Grow were estopped by acquiescence from objecting to notice deficiencies, (5) failing to find Cory trespassed on John's land, and (6) holding the doctrine of res judicata applies to John's claims. We affirm.
I. Background Facts & Proceedings
This case arises out of a dispute over two agricultural leases in
Greene County, Iowa. In 2003, John Knight and Debra Stream,*fn1
entered into an agricultural lease with Darwin Grow, Pamela
Grow, and Cory Grow. The lease allowed the Grows to farm 126 acres of
John and Debra's land at an annual rate of $115 per acre. Although the
parties agreed to a start date, the lease did not include terms of
duration or expiration. Rather, the agreement provided that the
leasehold "shall continue until such time as the tenants no longer
wish to rent the farm ground or until such time as they purchase the
property from the landlords."
John and Debra subsequently dissolved their marriage. In the divorce proceedings, Debra received approximately 26 of the 126 acres of farmland subject to the lease. After the divorce, Debra wanted to sell her portion of the land. To that end, Debra served Darwin, Pamela, and Cory with notice of termination of farm tenancy. She then petitioned for declaratory relief requesting the district court find certain provisions of the farm lease unenforceable. John was not a party to this petition and took no part in Debra's subsequent judicial proceedings against the Grows.
In early 2009, the district court held a trial on Debra's declaratory action. The district court found the term allowing the lease "to continue until such time as the tenants no longer wish to rent the farm ground" was unconscionable. The court held that portion of the lease was unenforceable because the leasehold was perpetual and could only be terminated by the Grows. As a result, the court allowed Debra to terminate the lease. The Grows appealed the decision contending the district court should have reformed the lease to reflect a twenty-year term.*fn2
At some point, the relationship between John and the Grows soured. While Debra's appeal concerning the 2003 lease was pending, John acted on the advice of counsel and served Cory with notice of termination effective March 1, 2010.
John and Cory then discussed reaching an agreement for the 2010 farming year. As John later explained, he believed the 2003 lease "was not valid anymore" and he needed a "lease to stabilize or make firm the 2010 season." Cory also explained his belief that the parties "needed to get something, an agreement, for the 2010 farming year." As a result, John drafted a "Farm Lease-Cash Rent." The document provided the following terms:
This lease agreement is made March 1, 2010 between:
John Knight-owner and Cory Grow-operator. . . . .
For the following real estate[:]
Lot 4 of N. Half of NE. Quarter; S. Half of NE. Quarter all in Section 24, (Greenbrier) Township 82 N. Range 31 West of the 5th P.M., Green County, Iowa. 93 total acres for a period of ...