DAKOTA, MINNESOTA & EASTERN RAILROAD d/b/a CANADIAN PACIFIC, Plaintiff,
IOWA DISTRICT COURT FOR LOUISA COUNTY, Defendant.
to the Iowa District Court for Louisa County, Michael J.
owner of a railroad right-of-way and bridge challenges a
district court order finding it in contempt for violating a
1977 judgment imposing an injunction against a prior owner of
the right-of-way and bridge.
A. Finley and Nancy J. Penner of Shuttleworth &
Ingersoll, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, and Daniel P. Kitchen,
Washington, for plaintiff.
William Scott Power of Aspelmeier, Fisch, Power, Engberg
& Helling, P.L.C., Burlington, for defendant.
injunction was issued by judgment in 1977 against the owner
of a railroad right-of-way directing it to reconstruct a dike
designed to channel creek water under the railroad's
bridge and away from adjacent farmland. Nearly forty years
later, a drainage district that was joined as a defendant in
the earlier litigation asked the district court to hold a
subsequent purchaser of the right-of-way in contempt for
willfully violating the injunction. The district court found
the subsequent purchaser in contempt for failing to
reconstruct and maintain the dike. In this certiorari
proceeding, we must determine whether a 1977 judgment
granting an injunction of unspecified duration against a
former owner of the right-of-way is enforceable nearly forty
years later through a contempt action against a subsequent
purchaser. Because we conclude the 1977 judgment expired
under Iowa Code section 614.1(6) (2013) before this
proceeding to enforce it was commenced, we sustain the writ
and vacate the decision of the district court.
Factual and Procedural Background.
Whiskey Creek and Bridge 110.
Minnesota & Eastern Railroad (DM&E) purchased the
railroad right-of-way and bridge that is the subject of this
dispute in 2008. Initially owned by the Chicago, Rock Island
& Pacific Railroad (CRI&P), the right-of-way runs in
a generally east-west direction through Muscatine and Louisa
Counties in Eastern Iowa. In 1872, CRI&P built a bridge
in Louisa County, referred to in the record as Bridge 110,
 to allow the railroad tracks to pass
over Whiskey Creek,  a natural stream
flowing east from the Mississippi River bluffs, along the
northern edge of the right-of-way, past Bridge 110, and into
the Muscatine Slough. At times in the
past, a dike turned the creek water under Bridge 110 and
across farmland to the south until it drained into the
The Drainage Problem.
145 years since Bridge 110 was constructed, the creek water
has not consistently passed under the bridge and drained to
the south. Whiskey Creek "has a steep grade" as it
leaves the bluffs. Chi., Rock Island & Pac. Ry. v.
Lynch, 163 Iowa 283, 285, 143 N.W. 1083, 1084 (1913).
Especially during heavy rains, it carries significant
quantities of sediment and debris that plug the channel under
Bridge 110, causing water to flood and damage fields north of
the bridge. In addition, the dike constructed to direct water
under the bridge has repeatedly failed, causing water and
debris to move parallel to the bridge, instead of under it,
until it eventually drained into the slough.
and debris flowing through Whiskey Creek are deposited in the
Muscatine Slough, inhibiting the flow of water into and
through that waterway. Over the course of a season or
occasionally after a single substantial rain, the silt and
debris plug the Muscatine Slough, causing water to flood and
damage crops in fields north of the plugs. The drainage
district has repeatedly cleared the plugs and enabled the
water to again empty into the slough.
Prior Drainage Litigation.
responsibility for maintaining drainage in the vicinity of
Bridge 110 and the surrounding area within the drainage
district has been a subject of recurring litigation for more
than a century. In 1907, CRI&P closed the channel under
Bridge 110, which had gradually been filling with sediment
and debris, forcing the creek water to change course and
travel east, parallel to the right-of-way. Id. at
286, 143 N.W.2d at 1084. As a consequence of this change in
the channel of the creek, land to the north of the railroad
right-of-way occasionally flooded. Id.
1911, CRI&P filed an action against landowners on both
sides of the bridge, seeking a declaration that CRI&P was
no longer obligated to maintain the flow of water under
Bridge 110 because the natural flow of Whiskey Creek had
changed. Chi., Rock Island &
Pac. Ry. v. Lynch, No. 6304, at *2 (Iowa Dist. Ct. Sept.
16, 1911). The district court ruled against CRI&P,
determining the natural flow of Whiskey Creek remained
through the railroad's right-of-way and to the south
under Bridge 110. Id. The district court ordered
CRI&P and the landowner to the south of the
railroad's right-of-way to promptly,
emove from the old bed of said creek on their respective
lands all obstructions to the natural flow of the water down
and through [Bridge 110], and [directed they] shall not
further or hereafter permit upon their respective properties
such conditions of obstruction to exist[ ] and [shall] take
such steps and perform such acts as will in a proper manner
provide against the further or future diversion from its
natural channel [under Bridge 110].
Id. at *3. We affirmed the district court's
decision, but modified it to allow CRI&P and the owner of
the land south of the bridge ninety days to remove the
obstructions to the free flow of water through their
properties. Lynch, 163 Iowa at 289-90, 143 N.W. at
1922 covenant restriction.
1922, Lynch-the owner of land situated northwest of the
railroad's right-of-way-conveyed land to CRI&P to be
used for the fortification of the dike directing water under
the railroad's bridge. The deed from Lynch to CRI&P
included the following conditional language:
This Deed made on the further condition that [CRI&P] will
at all times protect and compensate the Grantor, M.F. Lynch,
his heirs, executors, administrators and assigns for failure
to reasonably maintain a channel of sufficient capacity to
give free flow to the water under the ordinary conditions,
and to be of no less capacity than the channel of Whiskey
Hollow Creek immediately above and below where said Creek
channel enters and leaves the property of [CRI&P].
CRI&P maintained the course of Whiskey Creek under Bridge
110 for several decades thereafter by maintaining the dike
that turned the flow south and under the bridge, raising the
elevation of the rails, and repeatedly dredging the creek bed
southeast of Bridge 110. The dike occasionally ruptured,
however, and in 1973, CRI&P stopped repairing it.
lawsuit-cause no. 14926-was commenced in 1973. The
plaintiffs, the Downers and the Baars, who owned property
northwest of Bridge 110 sued Dutton, the owner of land on the
north and south side of the railroad right-of-way. The
plaintiffs alleged Dutton had built a dike south of Bridge
110 and redirected the flow of Whiskey Creek across
Dutton's land to the east, instead of to the south. This
redirection of the creek, the plaintiffs alleged, caused the
railroad's dike to fail, the former creek bed south of
Bridge 110 to again fill with sand and silt, and the
plaintiffs' land to flood. The Downers and the Baars
sought damages for the flooding and a permanent injunction
precluding Dutton's further obstruction of the natural
flow of the creek south of Bridge 110. CRI&P intervened
in the action, asserting its own claim for damages and
injunctive relief against Dutton for causing Whiskey Creek to
back up and damage the dike. The Downers and the Baars then
added a claim for injunctive relief mandating that CRI&P
maintain the dike and later added the drainage district as a
defendant, seeking injunctive relief against that entity as
1976, the district court issued its findings of fact and
conclusions of law. The court concluded the railroad's
right-of-way impeded the natural flow of water to the south
and east according to the laws of gravitation, and instead
redirected it to the north and east along the right-of-way.
The court determined the railroad, by constructing an
elevated right-of-way, assumed an obligation "not to
obstruct the free passage of surface water." This
obligation, the court concluded, requires a passageway that
is "reasonably sufficient for the passage of water[, ]
taking into consideration" that "[t]he creek has
always carried silt, sand, mud, trees, stumps and limbs"
and "has always had a tendency to fill with silt and
sand." The court further concluded CRI&P had a duty
to construct opportunities at reasonable intervals for the
water to cross its right-of-way, meaning "more bridges
[may be] required." Noting that Lynch, the Downers' and
Baars' predecessor-in-interest, had conveyed real estate
to CRI&P on the condition it be used for the construction
of a dike, the court concluded the plaintiffs were
"entitled to an injunction against CRI&P restraining
it from continuing to allow the flowage of Whiskey Creek upon