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Weinman v. City of North Liberty

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 10, 2018

GARY WEINMAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Sean W. McPartland, Judge.

         A landowner challenges a district court ruling upholding the city's authority to acquire sewer easements across his property by eminent domain.

          S.P. DeVolder of The DeVolder Law Firm, Norwalk, and Wallace L. Taylor of Law Offices of Wallace L. Taylor, Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

          Stephanie L. Hinz and Matthew G. Novak of Pickens, Barnes & Abernathy, Cedar Rapids, for appellees.

          Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, J J.

          TABOR, Judge.

         A landowner challenges the authority of the city of North Liberty to take a sanitary sewer easement over his property by eminent domain.[1] Because the landowner accepted "just compensation" for the taking and the sewer line is completed, we dismiss his appeal as moot.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Gary Weinman bought seventy acres of land in Johnson County in 1981. The property is mostly timber but includes about twelve tillable acres. Weinman's house and horse corral are centered on the acreage. Muddy Creek runs through the northeast corner of his land. Across the creek from his house lies a five-acre field that Weinman restored to natural prairie over the past three decades. The city of North Liberty's waste water treatment plant sits about one-hundred yards from the northern border of Weinman's property.

         In the fall of 2010, the Iowa City Community School District started an informal search for a site to construct a new high school. In August 2013, the school board approved purchasing property east of North Liberty.[2] The city sought help from Fox Engineering to assess how best to provide sanitary sewer services to the new high school. After Fox's extensive review, the engineers recommended the city construct a new trunk sewer line that required a temporary and permanent easement across Weinman's prairie.

         In July 2014, the city sent Weinman a letter notifying him it proposed to run a sewer line through his property to serve the new high school. In early November 2014, the city served Weinman with notice of intent, advising if he did not agree to the easement, the city would proceed with condemnation. Later that month, concerned about the disruption to his prairie restoration, Weinman filed a petition seeking a declaratory judgment to enjoin what he contended was an illegal condemnation of his property by the city.[3]

         On January 8, 2015, the city served Weinman with a notice of condemnation for a thirty-foot-wide sanitary sewer easement and a temporary construction easement across the northeast corner of his property "for the public purposes of extending sewer service to newly annexed territory and a proposed public high school building." Less than two weeks later, Weinman filed a second petition challenging the city's eminent domain authority under Iowa Code section 6A.24 and again seeking a temporary injunction.[4] After a hearing in early February, the district court refused Weinman's requests for injunctive relief. Weinman did not file a motion under Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2). Nor did he seek an interlocutory appeal and stay of the court's refusal to restrain construction until the court held a hearing and reached a final decision on the merits of his challenge to the city's eminent domain authority.

         Contemporaneously the separate but related condemnation-compensation process moved forward. In mid-February, the county compensation commission held a hearing in the city's condemnation action and awarded Weinman $70, 000 for the permanent sewer easement across his property. Contending the award was excessive (specifically, three times the appraised value of the easement), the city appealed to the district court. Weinman requested a jury trial, and the jury awarded him $25, 000.[5]

         In May 2015, the district court granted Weinman's motion to consolidate his two petitions challenging the city's eminent domain authority and set a trial for one year in the future. Meanwhile, in the summer of 2015, the city completed the sewer project. In light of the project's completion, in February 2016, Weinman filed an amended and substituted petition alleging he suffered damages when the city "cut down trees on the property and destroyed a portion of the natural prairie." He asked for a monetary award to compensate him for those damages. In early May 2016, the district court heard evidence in Weinman's consolidated lawsuit. Weinman asked the ...

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