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Ranson Family Farm, Inc. v. Walleser

Court of Appeal of Iowa

June 26, 2013

RANSON FAMILY FARM, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THOMAS J. WALLESER, Defendant-Appellee.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Allamakee County, Margaret L. Lingreen, Judge.

Ransom Family Farm, Inc. appeals a district court's ruling refusing to enjoin neighboring landowner Thomas Walleser from crossing Ransom's farm field to access his own pasture.

Craig S. Shannon of Grefe & Sidney, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

Jed J. Hammell of Rippe, Hammell & Murphy, P.L.L.P., Caledonia, Minnesota, for appellee.

Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.

TABOR, J.

Ransom Family Farm, Inc. challenges the district court's refusal to enjoin neighboring landowner Thomas Walleser from crossing Ransom's property to access his own pasture. Ransom disputes the court's conclusion that Walleser claimed a prescriptive easement. Ransom also maintains it satisfied the burden to obtain injunctive relief.

Because Walleser did not claim a prescriptive easement in his pleadings or any time during the proceedings, and Ransom objected to Walleser's evidence suggesting an easement, we find Ransom did not consent to litigate whether Walleser held an easement to the property. In our de novo review, we believe Ransom proved an injunction is the appropriate remedy to prevent continued infringement of its property rights and reverse the district court.

I. Background Facts & Proceedings

Woodbury (Woody) Ransom is the president and majority shareholder of Ransom Family Farm, Inc., an Iowa corporation engaged in the business of farming. In 1987, the company purchased land located in Allamakee County, Iowa. Dolores Walleser is the titleholder of land that adjoins Ransom's property. She sold that adjoining property to Thomas Walleser through a real estate contract.

Thomas Walleser leased the disputed land from Ransom from the early 2000s until 2008, when Leslie Colsch began renting the property. In August 2008, Colsch noticed tracks exiting off Moore Hill Road, passing through the gated entrance to the Ransom property, and crossing over the land to reach a roughly ten-acre parcel Walleser owned. The grass was worn to dirt along the route between the gate and the ten-acre parcel.

Ransom began padlocking the gate to prevent Walleser's passage. But Walleser repeatedly cut the locks to access the land, which he used as pasture for his cattle.[1] Fencing marks the Ransom-Walleser property line, with a steel gate to allow Walleser access to his property. Ransom removed the gate between their properties and strung five strands of barbed wire across the gateposts to block Walleser. But Walleser tore out the fence and rehung the gate.

On January 15, 2010, Ransom's attorney sent Walleser a letter advising that Walleser did not hold an easement over the land and was not welcome to cross Ransom's property. In a follow-up letter on May 12, 2010, Ransom's attorney reiterated Walleser did not have prior approval to enter Ransom's land. Ransom notified authorities that someone was trespassing on his property. The sheriff's department installed a camera for surveillance, but did not record any trespassers.

On August 19, 2011, Ransom filed a petition to enjoin Walleser from entering the Ransom land without permission. In Walleser's answer, he did not include an affirmative defense that he had an easement on the property, nor did he counterclaim that he had an easement.

The district court held trial on May 11, 2012. To achieve injunctive relief, Ransom offered the testimony of Woody Ransom; tenant Colsch; and Mathew Mann, a professional farm manager who identified two other routes Walleser could use to access his property. Walleser testified on his own behalf and called his mother, as well as Jim Strub, who formerly owned the Ransom property and Glen Reed, one of his part-time employees. On May 30, 2012, the court found because Walleser "claim[ed] a prescriptive easement" across Ransom's land, Ransom failed to establish it was entitled to an injunction, and accordingly dismissed Ransom's petition. Ransom challenges that ruling here.

II. Scope and Standard of Review

We review actions for injunctive relief de novo. Harder v. Anderson, Arnold, Dickey, Jensen, Gullickson & Sanger, L.L.P., 764 N.W.2d 534, 536 (Iowa 2009). While we give weight to the district court's findings of fact, especially regarding witnesses, credibility, we are not bound by them. ...


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