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Southern Iowa Bin Builders, LLC v. Sieren

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 21, 2018

STEVEN JEROME SIEREN, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Keokuk County, Lucy J. Gamon (summary judgment ruling) and Joel D. Yates (trial), Judges.

         Steven Sieren appeals from a judgment entered against him in this suit by Southern Iowa Bin Builders, LLC to recover payment on a dishonored check. AFFIRMED.

          Billy J. Mallory of Brick Gentry, PC, West Des Moines, for appellant.

          Matthew B. Moore of The Law Offices of Matthew B. Moore, PLLC, Oskaloosa, for appellee.

          Heard by Danilson, C.J., and Potterfield and Doyle, JJ.


         The district court found in favor of Southern Iowa Bin Builders, LLC (Bin Builders) in this action to recover payment on a dishonored check against Steven Sieren. Sieren appeals, contending the check was not dishonored because Bin Builders first breached a "hold check" agreement by cashing the check without Sieren's approval. He also asserts the court erred in rejecting his counterclaims against Bin Builders for breach of contract, negligent construction, and conversion. Because we give weight to the court's credibility assessments and the trial court's findings are supported by substantial evidence, we affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Bin Builders is a single-member limited liability company, and Jason Van Donselaar is its president and sole member. Bin Builders, through Van Donselaar, entered into an oral agreement with Sieren for the installation of two additional grain bins and related other work regarding existing grain bins at Sieren's property known as Sutton Farm. Sieren agreed to Bin Builders's bid of June 5, 2014, which estimated over $180, 000 for materials and labor. Sieren's father, Jerome Sieren, gave Bin Builders $98, 000 on June 20, 2014, and Bin Builders began its work on the project. Sieren and his father often worked on the Sutton Farm site with Van Donselaar. At Sieren's request, Bin Builders provided additional work and materials not included in the original bid disassembling and re-erecting a bin on Sutton Farm that Sieren had on another property (Blakesburg). In late October, Van Donselaar spoke with Sieren about having to "get settled up, caught up with new material coming in that was paid for by [Bin Builders], that we needed to get together on that and from that day forward he disappeared. Never seen him again."

         Sometime shortly after November 19, 2014, Van Donselaar went to Sieren's shop, but he was not there. Van Donselaar left invoices for work completed and materials Bin Builders had paid for to date, which invoices totaled $164, 139.32 with a balance due of $66, 139.32. Van Donselaar informed Sieren that Bin Builders was unable to do any further work on the grain bin project unless and until additional payments were made by Sieren to Bin Builders.

         Sieren was still harvesting his crop in December 2014. On December 28, Van Donselaar asked Sieren via text message, "Did you get financing figured out with the bank." On January 7, 2015, Sieren responded, "still got 2 meet with banker?" On January 8, Van Donselaar sent a text, "I would like to come down tomorrow to get a check I'm going to be in your neighborhood." At about 7:00 a.m. on January 9, Sieren responded, "What time are u going to be down?"

         Van Donselaar arrived at Sieren's home on the morning of January 9 to discuss the need for additional payment from Sieren and moving forward on the project. They discussed the invoices and agreed to some adjustments, after which Sieren gave Bin Builders a signed and dated check for $58, 057. However, Sieren informed Bin Builders not to cash the check until later, and Van Donselaar agreed to do so.

         On January 13, Van Donselaar sent a text, "I'm going to the bank today can I run that check through." Sieren sent a text, "I have appoint at 2pm today with banker?"

         At 8:23 a.m. on January 15, Van Donselaar sent a text to Sieren, "On my way." Van Donselaar went to the bank and, after consulting with a banker who checked to see if there were sufficient funds in Sieren's account, Van Donselaar deposited the January 9th check. At 10:44 a.m., Sieren sent at text to Van Donselaar, "What is ur 20." Van Donselaar responded, "I was there a couple hours ago you need the clamps for the back side. The are typically wire to the flighting but i did t see them do you know where they are at."

         On January 21, 2015, Sieren stopped payment on the check. He did not inform Bin Builders.

         On January 23, Van Donselaar was informed by his bank that he was overdrawn by $40, 000 and that payment had been stopped on Sieren's check. On January 27, Van Donselaar sent Sieren two texts, "Do you have the money yet?" And, "I need to go too ottumwa today or tomorrow just wondering if we meet up then to get this taken care of." On Monday, February 2, he sent Sieren two more texts, "Is it going to work this morning" and "Even just 24-25K for today to cover me." Sieren responded, "will be thursday before i can get some money?"

         On Thursday February 5, Van Donselaar sent these texts: "Tomorrow morning work for you too get together for a check." An hour later, "What time works for you." Sieren responded, "Didn't get my corn hauled? Sorry no money?"[1]

         Bin Builders filed suit against Sieren for the dishonored check. After a two-day trial to the district court, the court concluded "there is no question that the check in the amount of $58, 057.00 is a fully integrated written contract" and that, even accepting a "hold-check" agreement, Bin Builders "acted reasonably and did not violate any hold-check agreement." The court found:

[Bin Builders] waited four days and reached out via text message to [Sieren] as to whether [Bin Builders] could now cash the check. [Sieren] not only did not reply to the text message, but has provided no rationale as to why he did not respond. [Bin Builders] then waited two extra days and received both the advice of his banker and verification that there were adequate funds in the account prior to cashing said check. Additionally, a critical factor in this analysis is that the bulk of the money in question had to do with services already performed. [Sieren] cannot claim that if he never spoke to [Bin Builders] again, then [Bin Builders] had no right or authority at any time to cash the check in question. [Sieren] wanted to sleep on it, and he did. [Bin Builders] was able to verify that [Sieren] did, in fact, have the monies to cover the check.
[Bin Builders] waited six days prior to cashing the check. [Sieren]'s hold-check agreement contained no definite end date. Again, the check in question was for invoices for work that had already been performed by [Bin Builders] and not solely for work to be performed in the future. It would make no sense to require [Bin Builders] to wait a lengthy and/or indefinite period of time before cashing the check for work which had already been performed. Again, [Bin Builders] did attempt to "speak" with [Sieren] and [Sieren], of his own volition, failed to respond. Not only do we have an integrated written contract, but the court also concludes that [Bin Builders] did not breach any hold-check agreement.
[Sieren] now claims that [Bin Builders]'s actions damaged him and he is entitled to an offset. It is accurate to say that [Sieren]'s claims of damages changed, evolved, and were modified over the course of this case. [Sieren]'s credibility took a major hit when he acknowledged on cross-examination that his damage claims for electricity were, in fact, frivolous. This is just one example of [Sieren] lacking credible evidence on his claim for damages. Simply stated, [Sieren] failed to meet his burden of proof as to damages caused by [Bin Builders], and the court also notes that [Sieren] failed to present any type of expert testimony or any testimony other than his own which would verify his alleged damages.

         Judgement was entered in favor of Bin Builders in the amount of the check plus interest and $12, 000 for attorney fees.

         Sieren now appeals. He does not challenge the law applied by the district court.[2] But, he does challenge the court's findings and its application of law to the facts.

         II. Scope and ...

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