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Jaster v. City of Garber

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 5, 2018

DOUG JASTER and ELIZABETH JASTER, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
CITY OF GARBER, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Clayton County, John J. Bauercamper, Judge.

         The City of Garber seeks reversal of the district court decision granting ownership rights over three adjoining sections of disputed property to Doug and Elizabeth Jaster. AFFIRMED.

          James A. Garrett of James A. Garrett Law Office, Waukon, for appellant.

          Daniel J. McClean of McClean & Heavens Law Offices, Dyersville, and Eashaan Vajpeyi and Max E. Kirk of Ball, Kirk & Holm, PC, Waterloo, for appellees.

          Heard by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

          BOWER, JUDGE.

         The City of Garber seeks reversal of the district court decision granting ownership rights over three adjoining sections of disputed property to Doug and Elizabeth Jaster. We find the Jasters have presented clear and convincing evidence the City was equitably estopped from asserting a claim on the property. We affirm the district court.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings

         In 1873, the City of East Elkport was platted in Clayton County. The plat included a "Fifth Street" on the west border of the city. A portion of the plat was vacated by the district court in 1901, including the majority-but not all-of Fifth Street. The City was incorporated in 1904 and renamed the City of Garber.[1] The City's current population is under one hundred residents. The property in dispute is the original platted Fifth Street. Fifth Street has never been used as a city street, and has not been graded, drained, surfaced, or maintained by the City. An alley runs along the east side of Fifth Street, separated from Fifth Street by trees and a fence.

         In 1959, the Kolz family purchased property on the west edge of the City. The Kolzes' address was 501 Fifth Street, and was the only property with a Fifth Street address. The property was thought to include and treated as including all the land up to the west edge of the alley, including Fifth Street. The Kolz family accessed their property through a driveway at the end of the alley. The Kolzes grew a garden over part of the disputed property, used the property in placing their septic system, and planted several dozen trees on the southern end. For many years the Kolz family openly used part of Fifth Street as farm land with the City's knowledge. The Kolzes registered the land with the Farm Service Agency to grow native wildflowers, possibly as part of the Conservation Reserve Program, and the Jasters maintain the certification.

         In 2012, the Jasters purchased the Kolzes' property. When purchasing the property, the seller's description of the property included the land in dispute. After closing, the bank discovered the legal description conflicted with the county plat so the Jasters requested a quit claim deed from the City for Fifth Street. The City refused and instead claimed ownership of the street. The Jasters moved their driveway to a different street and erected fence posts where the driveway had been to stop persons from driving through their property.

         Prior to this action, long-time city residents including the Kolz family and members of the city council did not know a platted Fifth Street existed. The only use of Fifth Street by vehicles was the Kolzes' driveway at the end of the alley.

         In 2016, the City had a survey done, and the resulting plat shows none of the streets west of Third Street are located in accordance with the 1873 plat. The 2016 plat and current city layout does match the 1919 plat of the "West View Addition," which replatted the other land vacated in the 1901 order; the plat relocated Fourth Street, laid out lots on either side of Third and Fourth Streets, and created a new east-west street, but omitted Fifth Street entirely. The record does not include any plats of the City following its incorporation that include Fifth Street.

         The City had no plans for the property to be developed but claimed ownership was needed for fire protection, EMS calls, and utility access. At one point, Clayton County had tried to have the City install a city water or sewer system, but the plans were halted following major flooding in 2004 and have not been pursued since. Except for a single year after the beginning of this action, the City has never made any effort to maintain or take care of any portion of Fifth Street.[2]The area between Fourth and Fifth Streets ...


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