from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Paul D.
Hopkins appeals a district court ruling requiring him to
reconstruct and maintain a portion of a partition fence.
Matthew Jay Hopkins, Cedar Rapids, pro se.
T. Olson of Parker & McNeill, P.L.L.C., West Des Moines,
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and Mullins, JJ.
Hopkins appeals a district court ruling following a trial to
the court requiring him to reconstruct and maintain a portion
of a partition fence. He contends the district court erred in
(1) disallowing evidence of a prior oral agreement concerning
the fence, (2) requiring only him (and not his neighbor) to
reconstruct and maintain his respective portion of the fence
according to certain requirements, and (3) ordering him to
build the fence in a manner that is not in compliance with
Iowa Code section 359A.18');">359A.18 (2012).
case involves a dispute between adjoining land owners
regarding a 600-foot partition fence located between the
subject properties. In 1989, Hopkins purchased a parcel of
land that adjoined land owned by Robert Dunham. In 2003, John
Dickey purchased the parcel owned by Dunham. From that point
forward, relying on the "right-hand rule, " Dickey
maintained the west 300 feet of the fence between his and
Hopkins's properties. In 2010, following several
instances of cattle located on Dickey's property escaping
through the east half of the fence, Dickey verbally advised
Hopkins he needed to repair that portion of the fence.
Hopkins declined to do so, stating "that's not what
the law requires" and he already had "too many
projects." In April 2011, Dickey repeated his demand in
writing, but Hopkins declined to repair the
fence. In late April, local township
trustees viewed the fence with Dickey and advised
him he was only responsible for the west half of the fence
under the right-hand rule. Thereafter, Dickey completely
rebuilt the west-half of the fence. The new fence consisted
of six wires, the lowest being twelve or thirteen inches from
the ground and the remaining five being eight inches apart.
October 2011, Dickey served Hopkins with a "notice to
adjoining landowner" which advised the fence dispute
would be turned over to the township trustees if
Hopkins's portion of the fence was not repaired or
replaced within thirty days. Hopkins took no action and, in
February 2012, Dickey filed a complaint with the township
trustees. The trustees conducted a fence viewing in March
2012. At this point in time, the west 300 feet of the fence
was "in very good shape, " as Dickey had recently
rebuilt it. The east 300 feet, in contrast, "was in very
poor condition" and could not maintain livestock. The
trustees issued a notice of findings the same day,
concluding, pursuant to the right-hand rule,  Dickey was
responsible for the west half of the fence and Hopkins was
responsible for the east half. The trustees ordered Hopkins
to "erect and maintain the East 300 feet of the
partition fence" and that such be a "lawful
fence" having "five barb wires attached to posts
not more than 10 feet apart."
appealed the trustees' decision to the district court.
See Iowa Code § 359A.23. A non-jury trial was
held in March 2016. In a thorough ruling, the district court
concluded Hopkins was legally obligated to maintain a portion
of the fence and, based on the evidence presented, the
application of the right-hand rule was both "a customary
practice" and "fair and equitable" in the
premises. The court ordered Hopkins to replace the east half
of the fence "with a five-stranded barbed wire fence
consistent with the historic fence which has been utilized by
the parties and their predecessors, " said barbed wire
being in compliance with Iowa Code section 359.18(3) and
placed on posts no more than twelve feet apart. As noted,
Standard of Review
evidentiary rulings are reviewed for an abuse of discretion.
McElroy v. State, 637 N.W.2d 488, 493 (Iowa 2001).
Hearsay rulings are reviewed for legal error. Id.
"[W]e review an appeal from the district court's
decision in a fence-viewing case for correction of errors at
law." Longfellow v. Sayler, 737 N.W.2d 148, 153
(Iowa 2007). "[W]e are bound by the district court's
well-supported factual findings, but not by its legal