United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division
BOARD OF WATER WORKS, TRUSTEES OF THE CITY OF DES MOINES, IOWA, Plaintiff,
SAC COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS AS TRUSTEES OF DRAINAGE DISTRICTS 32, 42, 65, 79, 81, 83, 86, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS'
MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
LEONARD T. STRAND CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case is before me on motions (Doc. Nos. 34, 60) for summary
judgment filed by all defendants. The Iowa Supreme Court has
answered this court's certified questions concerning Iowa
law and the
parties have filed a joint status report (Doc. No. 81). The
motions are fully submitted and ready for decision. For the
reasons set forth herein, the defendants' motions will be
granted and this case will be dismissed in its entirety.
Board of Water Works Trustees of the City of Des Moines,
Iowa, also known as the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW),
commenced this action on March 16, 2015, by filing a
ten-count complaint (Doc. No. 2). The named defendants are
the Sac County Board of Supervisors, as Trustees of Drainage
Districts 32, 42, 65, 79, 81, 83, 86, the Calhoun County
Board of Supervisors and the Sac County Board of Supervisors,
as Joint Trustees of Drainage Districts 2 and 51, and the
Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors and the Sac County
Board of Supervisors, as Joint Trustees of Drainage Districts
19 and 26 and Drainage Districts 64 and 105 (collectively the
defendants or the drainage districts). The complaint includes
the following causes of action:
Clean Water Act [33 U.S.C. § 1365]
[Iowa Code] Chapter 455B
Taking Without Just Compensation
Due Process & Equal Protection
Doc. No. 2. United States District Judge Mark W. Bennett, to
whom this case was initially assigned,  has aptly summarized this
case as follows:
The state of Iowa's largest municipal water utility
provider, providing drinking water to an estimated half
million customers in the Des Moines area, alleges state tort
claims and federal and state statutory and constitutional
claims against ten upstream drainage districts and three
upstream County Board of Supervisors as Trustees of the
Drainage Districts. This is a case about which political
subdivision of Iowa must cover the costs of complying with
federal and state clean water regulations due to increased
nitrate levels, beyond the maximum allowed by law, in the
water flowing downstream that is used by the State's
largest municipal water utility.
Doc. No. 50 at 4 [footnote omitted].
September 24, 2015, defendants filed a motion (Doc. No. 34)
for summary judgment on Counts III through X. DMWW filed a
resistance (Doc. No. 35) and defendants filed a reply (Doc.
No. 42). Judge Bennett conducted a hearing on the motion on
December 21, 2015. Before the hearing, Judge Bennett issued
an order directing the parties to confer and “to
determine all issues that may be appropriate for
certification to the Iowa Supreme Court pursuant to Iowa Code
§ 684A.1 (2015).” Doc. No. 46 at 1. After the
hearing, Judge Bennett certified four questions to the Iowa
Supreme Court. Doc. No. 50.
those certified questions of Iowa law were pending before the
Iowa Supreme Court, defendants filed a motion (Doc. No. 60)
for summary judgment as to Counts I and II. DMWW filed a
resistance (Doc. No. 67) and defendants filed a reply (Doc.
No. 78). On January 27, 2017, the Iowa Supreme Court filed
the Certified Questions Opinion. The Court answered the
certified questions as follows:
Question 1: As a matter of Iowa law, does the doctrine of
implied immunity of drainage districts as applied in cases
such as Fisher v. Dallas County, 369 N.W.2d 426
(Iowa 1985), grant drainage districts unqualified immunity
from all of the damage claims set forth in the complaint
(docket no. 2)?
Answer: Yes. As explained below, drainage districts have a
limited, targeted role-to facilitate the drainage of farmland
in order to make it more productive. Accordingly, Iowa law
has immunized drainage districts from damages claims for over
a century. This immunity was reaffirmed unanimously by our
court just over four years ago.
Question 2: As a matter of Iowa law, does the doctrine of
implied immunity grant drainage districts unqualified
immunity from equitable remedies and claims other than
Answer: Yes. Again, Iowa precedent, reaffirmed unanimously by
our court just four years ago, recognizes that drainage
districts are immune from injunctive relief claims other than
Question 3: As a matter of Iowa law, can the plaintiff assert
protections afforded by the Iowa Constitution's
inalienable rights, due process, equal protection, and
takings clauses against drainage districts as alleged in the
Answer: No. Although these constitutional clauses are
fundamental to our freedom in Iowa, they exist to protect
citizens against overreaching government. Generally, one
subdivision of state government cannot sue another
subdivision of state government under these clauses. And even
if they could, an increased need to treat nitrates drawn from
river water to meet standards for kitchen tap water would not
amount to a constitutional violation.
Question 4: As a matter of Iowa law, does the plaintiff have
a property interest that may be the subject of a claim under
the Iowa Constitution's takings clause as alleged in the
Answer: No, for the reasons discussed in the answer to
Doc. No. 82 at 3-4. At my request, the parties then filed a
joint status report (Doc. No. 81) setting forth their
positions as to how this case should proceed in light of the
Certified Questions Opinion.
a municipal water utility organized under Iowa Code Chapter
388 that provides drinking water to customers in the Des
Moines area. DMWW obtains its water supply from the Raccoon
and Des Moines Rivers. Defendants are various drainage
districts organized under Iowa Code Chapter 468 located in
upstream areas that drain into those rivers. As Judge Bennett
noted in his certification order:
Drainage districts are a funding mechanism property owners
establish to levy for drainage improvements. Fisher v.
Dallas Cty., 369 N.W.2d 426, 428-29 (Iowa 1985). For a
drainage district to be established, at least two land owners
must petition for its creation. IOWA CODE § 468.6.
“The right of a landowner to place tiles in swales or
ditches to carry the water from ponds upon and onto lower
lands . . . is necessary [ ] in order that low and swampy
lands may be reclaimed, and a denial thereof would be
productive of incalculable mischief.” Dorr v.
Simmerson, 103 N.W. 806, 807 (1905). The affairs of
drainage districts are managed by the county board of
supervisors in a representative capacity. See IOWA
CODE §§ 468.37, .89, .231, .232, .617. If a repair
exceeds $50, 000, a hearing is required to determine
advisability and appeal is allowed. IOWA CODE §
468.126(1)(c). Similarly, improvements exceeding a certain
amount can be stopped through a process called remonstrance.
IOWA CODE § 468.126(4)(e).
Doc. No. 50 at 7-8. Both DMWW and the drainage districts are
political subdivisions of Iowa. See Koethe v.
Johnson, 328 N.W.2d 293, 298 (Iowa 1982); State ex
rel. Iowa Emp't Sec. Comm'n v. Des Moines Cty.,
149 N.W.2d 288, 291 (Iowa 1967).
the Safe Drinking Water Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3000 et seq.,
DMWW is obligated to meet maximum contaminant level (MCL)
standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) in its finished water. Among the contaminants regulated
are nitrates. To meet the EPA's standards, DMWW must
remove nitrates from its water supply. DMWW alleges that
there has been an increased level of nitrates in the water
supply caused by the drainage districts channeling of
nitrate-contaminated ground water into the water supply.
result of this increase, DMWW alleges that despite
investments in infrastructure and the development of
strategies to manage periodic high nitrate levels, there is a
continued threat to the water supply caused by the actions of
the drainage districts. DMWW alleges that the only way to
adequately protect citizens at a reasonable cost is to
prevent the discharge of nitrates from the drainage
districts' infrastructure. DMWW requests entry of an
order compelling the drainage districts to obtain national
pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permits and to
comply with the Clean Water Act (CWA) in limiting nitrate
discharges. DMWW further seeks a declaratory judgment that
the drainage districts have violated both the CWA and Iowa
Code Chapter 455B by failing to comply with effluent
limitations prescribed by the NPDES permit system. In
addition, DMWW alleges that the drainage districts'
actions violate the Takings Clause, the Due Process and the
Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS
party may move for summary judgment regarding all or any part
of the claims asserted in a case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary
judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no
genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is
entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
material fact is one that “‘might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law.'”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). Thus, “the substantive law will identify which
facts are material.” Id. Facts that are
“critical” under the substantive law ...