SIERRA CLUB IOWA CHAPTER, LINDA BIEDERMAN, and ELWOOD GARLOCK, Appellants,
IOWA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Appellee.
On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.
Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Mitchell E. Turner, Judge.
An organization seeks further review of the district court's dismissal of its petition for judicial review.
Wallace L. Taylor, Cedar Rapids, for appellants.
Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Richard E. Mull, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.
An environmental organization and two of its local members filed a petition for judicial review challenging the Iowa Department of Transportation's (IDOT) decision to locate a highway adjacent to and through two nature preserves. IDOT filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the court should dismiss the case on three bases: (1) the notice of appeal was not timely filed, (2) the organization and its two members failed to exhaust administrative remedies by not seeking a declaratory order under Iowa Code section 17A.9(1)(a) (2011) before petitioning for judicial review, and (3) the petition is not ripe for adjudication. On the timeliness issue, we affirm the court of appeals decision and find the notice of appeal was timely because the organization and its members filed a proper posttrial motion, triggering the tolling exception. Regarding the second issue, we affirm the court of appeals decision due to our conclusion, based on the rules of statutory construction, that a party must seek a declaratory order under Iowa Code section 17A.9(1)(a) before seeking court intervention. Finally, we vacate that part of the court of appeals decision regarding ripeness because we hold the matter ripe for adjudication. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court.
I. Background Facts and Proceedings.
Because we are reviewing a motion to dismiss, we accept the following facts in the petition as true. See McGill v. Fish, 790 N.W.2d 113, 116 (Iowa 2010) ("We accept as true the facts alleged in the petition . . . .").
The Sierra Club is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the natural environment. There are over five thousand individuals who are members of the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club and who reside in the state.
The members involved in the Iowa chapter hike in the Rock Island State Preserve and the Rock Island County Preserve in Linn County. The members also take photographs and study the flora and fauna in that area. Both preserves include a rare specimen of native Iowa sand prairie. Moreover, the nature areas provide a habitat for native species of plants and animals, some of which are endangered or threatened.
The IDOT is a state administrative agency, as defined by Iowa Code section 17A.2(1). IDOT has proposed extending Highway 100 west of Cedar Rapids. The extension would run adjacent to the Rock Island State Preserve and through the Rock Island County Preserve. The Highway 100 project would adversely impact the ecosystem, in addition to the Sierra Club members' use and enjoyment of the nature preserves.
We will discuss other relevant facts below, as needed.
B. Prior Proceedings.
The Sierra Club, along with two members of the Iowa chapter who reside in Linn County, filed a petition captioned, "Petition for Judicial Review, " under Iowa Code section 17A.19');"> 17A.19 on June 8, 2011. The petition alleges that IDOT has not complied with two environmental statutes found in Iowa Code sections 314.23(3) and 314.24 by locating the Highway 100 extension adjacent to the Rock Island State Preserve and through the Rock Island County Preserve. The Sierra Club, in its petition, asks the court to determine whether IDOT complied with these statutes. Accordingly, the Sierra Club seeks the following relief from the court: (1) a permanent injunction prohibiting IDOT from taking further action to acquire property, let bids, or contract or carry out any construction work to implement the Highway 100 project; (2) an order requiring IDOT to comply with sections 314.23(3) and 314.24 regarding the protection of natural areas; (3) an award to the Sierra Club for fees and expenses, pursuant to Iowa Code section 625.29; and (4) an order for such other and further relief as the court deems just and equitable. The Sierra Club does not raise the constitutionality of IDOT's actions.
IDOT responded to the petition with a motion to dismiss, which the Sierra Club resisted. On October 17, the district court granted IDOT's motion to dismiss. The district court granted the motion because the Sierra Club had not exhausted administrative remedies by first seeking a declaratory order from IDOT under section 17A.9(1)(a). The Sierra Club has maintained throughout the proceedings that it exhausted all administrative remedies before petitioning for judicial review. However, the Sierra Club did not participate in any administrative proceedings with IDOT prior to filing the petition for judicial review.
Thereafter, on November 4, the Sierra Club filed a motion to enlarge and expand the findings of the district court and modify the district court's ruling, pursuant to Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2). IDOT resisted. The district court denied the motion on November 22.
The Sierra Club filed its notice of appeal on December 5. This occurred forty-nine days after the district court's dismissal of the petition for judicial review, but only thirteen days after the decision on the rule 1.904(2) motion. The court of appeals held (1) the Sierra Club's rule 1.904(2) motion tolled the time for appeal; (2) the Sierra Club must seek a declaratory order from IDOT, pursuant to Iowa Code section 17A.9(1)(a), before petitioning for judicial review; and (3) the case is not ripe for review.
The Sierra Club sought further review, which we granted.
This matter requires us to resolve three issues. The first asks us to determine whether a posttrial motion under rule 1.904(2), which a party uses to expand the district court's decision and preserve error, tolls the time for filing a notice of appeal beyond the statutorily prescribed thirty-day period. Second, we must decide if a party challenging agency action must seek a declaratory order from the agency under section 17A.9(1)(a) before petitioning for judicial review in order to satisfy the exhaustion doctrine. The final issue requires us to determine whether a particular claim presented for judicial review is ripe for adjudication.
III. Standard of Review.
We review the district court's grant of a motion to dismiss a petition for correction of errors at law. Iowa R. App. P. 6.907; see also Rucker v. Taylor, 828 N.W.2d 595, 598 (Iowa 2013). Dismissal of the petition is only appropriate if, when viewing the petition in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, " 'the plaintiff's claim could not be sustained under any state of facts provable under the petition.' " Griffen v. State, 767 N.W.2d 633, 634 (Iowa 2009) (quoting Sanford v. Manternach, 601 N.W.2d 360, 363 (Iowa 1999)). The parties agree our review is for correction of errors at law.
IV. Timeliness of the Notice of Appeal.
Generally, a party must file a notice of appeal within thirty days of the final order or judgment. Iowa R. App. P. 6.101(1)(b). However, when a party timely files a proper posttrial motion, such as a rule 1.904(2) motion, the thirty-day period tolls until the court enters a ruling on that motion. Id.; see also In re Marriage of Okland, 699 N.W.2d 260, 263 (Iowa 2005).
The district court filed its judgment granting the motion to dismiss the petition on October 17, 2011. The Sierra Club filed its notice of appeal on December 5—forty-nine days after the judgment. Thus, under the general rule, the notice was untimely. Rudolph v. Iowa Methodist Med. Ctr., 293 N.W.2d 550, 554 (Iowa 1980) (recognizing the court lacks jurisdiction when a notice of appeal is late). However, our inquiry does not end here if the tolling exception applies.
For the Sierra Club to receive the benefit of the tolling exception, there are two requirements. First, the movant must file the notice of appeal within thirty days after the court's ruling on a posttrial motion. Iowa R. App. P. 6.101(1)(b). Here, after the district court's adverse ruling, the Sierra Club filed a motion to enlarge or expand the district court's findings and ruling pursuant to Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2). The Sierra Club did so on November 4. The district court entered a decision on the rule 1.904(2) motion on November 22. The Sierra Club then filed its notice of appeal just thirteen days after the ruling on the motion. Accordingly, the Sierra Club timely filed the notice of appeal within the thirty-day window after the district court's decision on the rule 1.904(2) motion. This satisfies the first requirement for the tolling exception.
Second, the tolling exception only applies if the posttrial motion was filed for the proper reason. State v. Olsen, 794 N.W.2d 285, 288–89 (Iowa 2011). Rule 1.904(2) permits an aggrieved party to file a motion requesting enlargement or expansion of the court's findings or conclusions. Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.904(2). This procedural device "is primarily designed for the party faced with an adverse judgment, not for the party defending the judgment." In re Marriage of Okland, 699 N.W.2d at 267.
There are various uses for a rule 1.904(2) motion:
The rule can be used by a party, with an appeal in mind, as a tool for preservation of error. Similarly, it can be used to better enable a party to attack 'specific adverse findings or rulings in the event of an appeal' by requesting additional findings and conclusions. Additionally, it can be used, with no appeal in mind, to obtain a ...