review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.
from the Iowa District Court for Jackson County, Nancy S.
parties seek further review of a decision by the Iowa Court
of Appeals affirming the district court's dismissal of
the plaintiff's unjust enrichment and quantum meruit
claims and reversing the district court's dismissal of
the plaintiff's promissory estoppel claim.
DECISION OF COURT OF APPEALS VACATED; DISTRICT COURT
JUDGMENT AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND
Flint Drake and Samuel M. DeGree of Drake Law Firm, P.C.,
Dubuque, for appellant.
Bradley T. Boffeli of Boffeli & Spannagel, P.C.,
Maquoketa, for appellees.
case, a farmer sued his neighbor's heirs, claiming, among
other things, that he and the decedent entered into an option
contract to purchase farmland that was subject to a written
lease and upon which the farmer made substantial improvements
at his expense. In the alternative, the farmer sought to
recover under various equitable theories of promissory
estoppel, quantum meruit, and unjust enrichment.
found in favor of the plaintiff on his contract claim and
awarded damages. After the verdict, however, the district
court granted the defendants' motion for a directed
verdict on the contract claim. The district court refused to
order a new trial on the plaintiff's alternative
appeal, the court of appeals affirmed the directed verdict on
the contract claim but remanded the case to the district
court for a trial on the equitable claims. On remand, the
district court granted the defendants' motion for summary
judgment on the equitable claims.
second appeal, the court of appeals again reversed the
judgment of the district court. The court of appeals found
that the claims of unjust enrichment and quantum meruit
failed as a matter of law because the parties had express
agreements governing improvements to the leasehold and
allocating the expenses of the improvements. On the claim of
promissory estoppel, however, the court of appeals concluded
that the presence of agreements related to the leasehold and
improvements was not determinative. Instead, the court of
appeals reasoned that what was required to give rise to a
claim of promissory estoppel was not an "agreement"
but a "promise." As a result, the court of appeals
reversed the district court and remanded the matter for a new
granted further review. For the reasons expressed below, we
vacate the decision of the court of appeals, affirm the
district court's dismissal of the unjust enrichment and
quantum meruit claims, and reverse the district court's
dismissal of the promissory estoppel claim.
Procedural and Factual Background.
in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the summary
judgment record shows the following facts. Ronald Kunde
purchased farmland along with a residence in Jackson County
in 2000. He bought additional ground in 2007. Kunde's
farm was adjacent to a 102-acre farm owned by Arthur Bowman.
and Bowman were neighbors who engaged in an occasional
"hello" and brief discussion concerning farming
practices. At trial, Kunde testified that in the fall of
2007, Bowman approached Kunde and asked if he would be
willing to rent his farm. Kunde responded by asking whether
Bowman's wife would rent or sell farmland she owned.
Bowman told Kunde that his wife's property had been sold
but that Bowman would consider selling his own property for
$1900 per acre. Kunde testified he told Bowman that the
figure was too low and the parties agreed on a price of $3000
per acre. Kunde told Bowman he wanted to talk with his
brother about the transaction. Bowman told Kunde that he
could rent the farm in the meantime and that he could
purchase the property at his option.
parties discussed the possibility of improvements to
Bowman's property. Kunde agreed to make certain
improvements to the property as part of the oral agreement
that Kunde could exercise an option to purchase the Bowman
and Bowman entered into a written lease to rent the farm for
the 2008 farm year. Kunde made a list of improvements he had
discussed with Bowman, and at his request an addendum was
added to the 2008 farm lease. The addendum stated that the
improvements would be permissive and at renter's expense.
The parties executed other leases in 2009, 2012, and 2013
under terms generally similar to those in the 2008 lease.
leases were prepared by an attorney for Bowman. The leases
contained provisions related to improvements by the lessee.
Paragraph 4 provided that all commercial fertilizer and other
inputs and expenses were to be paid 100% by the tenant.
Paragraph 14 related to new improvements and provided that
all buildings, fences, and improvements that may be erected
by the tenant constitute additional rent and shall inure to
the real estate and become property of the landlord and that
expenses incurred without landlord consent were the
responsibility of the tenant. Paragraph 21 provided that
changes in lease terms could only be made in writing.
the period of time when Kunde leased the Bowman property, he
made substantial improvements to the land. He banked
expensive fertilizer in the soil, excavated and leveled the
property, installed drain tile, engaged in general cleanup,
repaired and installed fences, and created and redirected
waterways. Kunde's work also converted twenty-three acres
of nontillable acres to tillable acres.
asserted that he incurred $52, 000 in cost for his labor,
equipment use, and materials in making the improvements. He
claimed that when he discussed the improvements with Bowman,
Bowman told him that Kunde could do whatever he wanted since
the farm would be his. Kunde claimed he made the improvements
in reliance on Bowman's promise that he would be able to
buy the farm. Several witnesses at trial testified that
improvements adding tillable acres to farm property would
typically be the responsibility of the landlord.
2010, Kunde attempted to exercise his option to purchase the
Bowman farm. Kunde was told by Bowman's daughter, Diane
Engelkins, that she had discovered a third-party right of
first refusal on the farm. After Kunde was told of the right
of first refusal, Bowman told Kunde, "I feel like I lied
August 2013, Bowman was placed in a nursing home, suffering
from dementia. Kunde was served with a notice of termination
of the farm tenancy. In November, Engelkins informed Kunde
that the farm was being placed for sale at a public auction
due to the fact that it was Bowman's only asset and he
needed it to be sold in order to meet Title XIX requirements.
The farm was ultimately sold.
brought an action in district court against the defendants.
He claimed that the defendants breached an option contract to
sell him the agricultural land. Alternatively, Kunde alleged
equitable causes of action, including promissory estoppel,
unjust enrichment, and quantum meruit. The case proceeded to
jury trial, with the jury rendering a verdict in favor of
Kunde on his contract claim and awarding damages of $52, 000.
the verdict was rendered, the district court granted a motion
for directed verdict on the grounds that there was
insufficient evidence to prove the existence of a contract.
The district court denied plaintiff's motion to
reconsider, motion to amend and enlarge findings, and ...