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Hawkeye Land Co. v. Franklin County Wind LLC

Court of Appeal of Iowa

May 30, 2013

HAWKEYE LAND CO., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
FRANKLIN COUNTY WIND LLC, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Franklin County, Rustin T. Davenport, Judge.

         Plaintiff appeals the district court decision dismissing its suit.

          Jon M. McCright of Jon McCright Law Offices, and Andrew Potter of Midwestern Trading, Inc., Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

          Benjamin M. Clark and Dennis L. Puckett of Sullivan & Ward, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellee.

          Dawn V. Gibson of Simmons Perrine Moyer Bergman PLC, Cedar Rapids, for amicus curiae for Iowa Utility Association (on behalf of its members MidAmerican Energy Company, Interstate Power and Light Company and Black Hills Energy); Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities; Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives; Iowa Association of Water Agencies; and Iowa Rural Water Association.

          Mark R. Schuling, Consumer Advocate (Utilities), John Long, of Office of Consumer Advocate, for amicus curiae Office of Consumer Advocate.

          David Lynch and Cecil I. Wright, of Iowa Utilities Board for amicus curiae Iowa Utilities Board.

          Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and Bower, JJ.

          VOGEL, P.J.

         The plaintiff, Hawkeye Land Co. (Hawkeye), appeals the district court's order dismissing its action against Franklin County Wind, LLC (FCW), because the court lacked authority to hear the case upon determining administrative remedies were not properly exhausted. Because we agree the agency—the Iowa Utilities Board—should have been given the first opportunity to resolve this case, rather than the district court, we affirm the district court's dismissal.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         FCW is an indirect subsidiary of Alliant Energy Corporation, which is the parent company of Interstate Power and Light Company, a public utility providing gas and electric services to customers in Iowa. FCW is in the process of building a sixty-turbine wind farm in Franklin County, Iowa, with the power being transmitted to either an individual buyer yet to be determined, or into its regional independent transmission operator, the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator market. Hawkeye is an Iowa corporation that owns the right to grant easements over certain railroad rights-of-way in Franklin County.

         FCW buried conduits containing electrical wires and fiber optic cables across railroad right-of-way property in four locations. Before placing the conduits, FCW notified Hawkeye it sought to cross the property and the parties began to negotiate easement prices.[1] When negotiations failed in March 2012, FCW utilized the procedure provided for in Iowa Code section 476.27 (2011) (the "crossing statute") and the coordinating administrative rules to begin the procedure for a crossing of a railroad right-of-way.

          There is also another portion of land related to this case owned by Herman and LaVonne Off. The Off property has a similar history of railroad ownership as Hawkeye's property. Hawkeye purchased the property through a series of railroad bankruptcies and then conveyed it to the Offs in 1986. Hawkeye retained the right to grant easements to the Off property. FCW put Hawkeye on notice it intended to ...


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