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Hopkins v. Dickey

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 25, 2017

MATTHEW JAY HOPKINS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
JOHN ROBERT DICKEY, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Paul D. Miller, Judge.

         Matthew Hopkins appeals a district court ruling requiring him to reconstruct and maintain a portion of a partition fence. AFFIRMED.

          Matthew Jay Hopkins, Cedar Rapids, pro se.

          Karl T. Olson of Parker & McNeill, P.L.L.C., West Des Moines, for appellee.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and Mullins, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE

         Matthew 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).

         I. Background

         This 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.[1] In late April, local township trustees[2] 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.

         In 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, [3] 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."

         Hopkins 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, Hopkins appeals.

         II. Standard of Review

         Most 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 conclusions." Id.

         III. ...


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