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Hjelmeland v. Collins

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 8, 2017

KAREN M. HJELMELAND, As Executor of the ESTATE OF JAN K. HJELMELAND, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
FRANK COLLINS (Acting As Agent for Owners), CONNIE COLLINS, LINDA SCHNETZER, SHIRLEEN KING, LYNNETTE SCHNETZER, LINDA MERKLE, and JANE ESTES, Defendants-Appellants.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Kossuth County, Don E. Courtney, Judge.

         Property owners appeal from an adverse decision entered in this action for foreclosure of a mechanic's lien. AFFIRMED.

          Kelsey A. Beenken of Earl W. Hill Law Office, Britt, for appellants.

          Robert A. Dotson, Robert H. Christian, and James L. Lauer of Dotson, Guenther, Christian & Lauer, Algona, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vogel and Vaitheswaran, JJ.

          DANILSON, Chief Judge.

         Property owners appeal from an adverse decision entered in this action for foreclosure of a mechanic's lien, claiming the district court erred in the calculation of the amount due on a pattern-tiling project and in its award of attorney fees to the claimant. The owners also challenge the court's dismissal of their counterclaim for failure to timely complete the tiling project. Finding no reason to disturb the court's findings, we affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Jan Hjelmeland owned and operated Jan Hjelmeland Excavating and Farm Drainage. Frank Collins rented farmland from the owners of the Schnetzer Farm-Linda Schnetzer, Shirleen King, Lynnette Schnetzer, Linda Merkle, and Jane Estes. Sometime in late 2010 or early 2011, Jan and Frank (as agent for the owners) entered an oral agreement for the pattern tiling[1] of a forty-seven-acre portion of the Schnetzer Farm. Work began on the tiling project in May 2011 and was completed in June.

         On June 24, Hjelmeland Excavating sent a bill to Frank for the tiling work done, billing the job by the tile that was installed and rock that was used, as well as the number of cuts made into a concrete pipe. The bill listed 30, 700 feet of five-inch tile at $1.45 per foot ($44, 515), 1360 feet of eight-inch tile at $11.50 per foot ($15, 640), and 230 feet of ten-inch tile at $12.50 per foot ($2875), twenty-three tons of river rock at $21.00 per ton ($483), and fifteen cuts into concrete pipe at $75 each ($1125), for a total bill of $64, 638.

         On July 18, Frank sent a check to Hjelmeland for $30, 550. Jan telephoned Frank in August seeking the remainder payment. Frank stated he would have to talk to his bank. Frank's attorney sent a letter to Jan stating it was Frank's position that he considered the billed amount to be excessive and claimed the parties' agreement was "for 47 acres at $650.00 per acre, or $30, 550.00." The letter acknowledged there had been an agreement to "move the laterals closer together" and proffered a check in the amount of $7637.50 as full payment, contending the amended agreement would increase the project cost by twenty-five percent. The check was rejected and returned.

         On October 4, 2011, Jan filed a mechanic's lien on the tiled acres, seeking a balance due of $34, 088. Frank and the owners filed an answer, acknowledging the tiling contract but disputing the amount due. The answer also included a counterclaim, which alleged the tiling work was not done in a timely manner and sought losses because Frank was required to plant soybeans rather than corn.

         Jan Hjelmeland died in December 2011. Karen Hjelmeland, acting as the executor of Jan's estate, brought this action to enforce a mechanic's lien against the land owners. Following a trial, the district court ruled in favor of Hjelmeland, noting 2011 was a wet spring and though the tile was ordered and delivered to the job site in mid-April,

[e]verything was ready to go and they were just waiting for the soil to dry out. Work commenced on May 3, 2011, and concluded on June 10, 2011. But for the rain, they would have been in and out, but because of the excessive moisture, they worked whenever they could. Frank was there daily and saw them ...

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