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Propane v. Iowa Department of Transportation

Supreme Court of Iowa

March 3, 2017

JOHNSON PROPANE, HEATING & COOLING, INC., Appellant,
v.
THE IOWA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Patrick H. Tott, Judge.

         A landowner appeals a district court judgment finding the district court was without authority to decide whether a condemnation proceeding left the landowner with an uneconomical remnant.

          Jacob B. Natwick and John C. Gray of Heidman Law Firm, L.L.P., Sioux City, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Robin G. Formaker, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          WIGGINS, Justice.

         The Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) condemned a portion of a landowner's property to complete the construction of a highway. The landowner waited until after the compensation commission decided damages to appeal its claim to the district court that the taking left it with an uneconomical remnant. The district court dismissed the petition on summary judgment finding the landowner's petition making its uneconomical remnant claim was untimely. On appeal, we affirm the district court judgment. We hold the district court was without authority to hear the case because the landowner failed to file an action within thirty days from the notice of assessment as required by Iowa Code section 6A.24(1) (2014) contesting the IDOT's exercise of eminent domain when the IDOT did not determine its acquisition left the landowner with an uneconomical remnant.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Johnson Propane, Heating & Cooling, Inc. (Johnson Propane) owns property in the city of Correctionville, located in Woodbury County. The IDOT engaged in a highway improvement project along U.S. Highway 20 in Correctionville, and in order to complete the project, the IDOT exercised its right of eminent domain to acquire a portion of the property owned by Johnson Propane. On August 4, 2014, the IDOT initiated condemnation proceedings by filing an application with the chief judge of Woodbury County seeking to condemn a .16-acre tract of Johnson Propane's .76-acre parcel. The IDOT determined it did not need the entire plot of land for the highway improvement project and that the remaining .60-acre tract left after the condemnation was not an uneconomical remnant.

         Thereafter on August 21, the chief judge appointed a compensation commission, whose purpose was to assess and appraise the damages sustained because of the condemnation of the .16-acre parcel. The IDOT served a notice of assessment upon Johnson Propane on August 29. The notice informed Johnson Propane of the condemnation sought by the IDOT, that the chief judge appointed a commission to appraise and award damages for the condemnation, and on October 28, the commission would view the property and meet to appraise damages.

         The compensation commission held a hearing on the scheduled day. Johnson Propane operates a propane business on the property affected by the condemnation, and argued that as a result of the .16-acre condemnation, the remaining .60-acre tract had little or no value or utility to the business. Johnson Propane presented evidence of an appraisal declaring the fair market value of the entire .76-acre parcel before the IDOT's condemnation was $200, 000. Johnson Propane explained that due to the partial taking of the property, it was "virtually impossible for propane trucks to safely enter and exit the property, " and "[w]ithout the ability to operate trucks on its property to collect and haul propane, Johnson Propane will no longer be able to use the remaining property in its business." Thus, Johnson Propane contended that the remaining .60-acre parcel had little or no value or utility to the property owner and was an uneconomical remnant for which it should receive compensation.

         The IDOT presented evidence of an appraisal concluding the market value of the entire .76-acre parcel before the taking was $78, 400, and the value of the remaining .60-acre tract after the .16-acre taking was $66, 900. Thus, the IDOT's appraisal estimated the just compensation for the .16-acre taking was $11, 500. The appraisal noted that the condemnation would remove two access drives to Johnson Propane's property along U.S. Highway 20, but determined the property would still have adequate access, and thus, there was no "diminution in value."

         At the conclusion of the hearing, the compensation commission awarded Johnson Propane with $11, 100 for the .16-acre taking. Johnson Propane filed a notice of appeal to the district court on November 21 and a petition on appeal on November 25. In its petition on appeal, Johnson Propane claimed that as a result of the .16-acre taking, it could no longer use the remaining property for its propane business. It also claimed that it was "virtually impossible for trucks to enter and exit the property." Johnson Propane further claimed that the IDOT's taking amounted to a complete taking because the remaining parcel has little or no value or utility to the owner. Because the remaining parcel has little or no value or utility to the owner, Johnson Propane claimed the IDOT left it with an uneconomical remnant. Johnson Propane also claimed the fair market value of the entire property before the condemnation by the IDOT was $200, 000. Johnson Propane requested the district court find the condemnation of the .16 acre left it with an uneconomical remnant, the IDOT should have condemned the entire property, and the damage for the taking was $200, 000.

         On December 22, the IDOT filed an answer and jury demand. In its answer, the IDOT asserted four affirmative defenses, including one that alleged "[t]he claims made in the plaintiff's petition are untimely."

         On March 2, 2016, the IDOT filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming there were no genuine issues of material fact and that Johnson Propane's petition failed "to state a claim upon which any relief may be granted" because (1) plaintiff's challenge to the taking was untimely under Iowa Code section 6A.24(1), and (2) even if plaintiff's challenge to the IDOT's taking was timely, Iowa Code ...


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