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Carter v. Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 6, 2019

RUSSELL M. CARTER, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
IOWA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Jeanie K. Vaudt, Judge.

         Plaintiff appeals the district court decision on his petition for declaratory judgment finding Iowa Code section 483A.24 (2016) is not unconstitutional.

          Stephen H. Locher of Belin McCormick, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and David M. Ranscht, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Heard by Tabor, P.J., Bower, J., and Carr, S.J. [*]

          BOWER, JUDGE.

         Russell Carter appeals the district court decision on his petition for declaratory judgment finding Iowa Code section 483A.24 (2016) is not unconstitutional. We find Carter, as a nonresident landowner, does not have an inalienable right under the Iowa Constitution to hunt antlered deer on his property and the statute does not violate his equal protection rights. We affirm the district court.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings

         "Iowa Code chapter 483A establishes a framework for the issuance of hunting and fishing licenses in Iowa." Democko v. Iowa Dep't of Nat. Res., 840 N.W.2d 281, 287 (Iowa 2013). "As a general matter, chapter 483A distinguishes between residents and nonresidents for the purpose of licensure. Residents are generally treated more favorably than nonresidents." Id.

         Section 483A.24(1) provides:

Owners or tenants of land, and their minor children, may hunt, fish or trap upon such lands and may shoot by lawful means ground squirrels, gophers, or woodchucks upon adjacent roads without securing a license so to do; except, special licenses to hunt deer and wild turkey shall be required of owners and tenants . . . .

         The term "owner" is defined as "an owner of a farm unit who is a resident of Iowa . . . ." Iowa Code § 483A.24(2)(a)(3). The term "resident" includes a person whose "principal and primary residence or domicile" is in Iowa. See id. § 483A.1A(10)(a).

         An owner of a farm unit may receive upon application "two deer hunting licenses, one antlered or any sex deer hunting license and one antlerless deer only deer hunting license" without fee and "valid only for use on the farm unit for which the applicant applies." Id. § 483A.24(2)(c). In addition, the owner of a farm unit "may purchase a deer hunting license for any option offered to paying deer hunting licenses." Id. § 483A.24(2)(d). An owner "may also purchase two additional antlerless deer hunting licenses which are valid only on the farm unit." Id.

         A nonresident who owns land in Iowa may apply for an annual nonresident antlered deer hunting license.[1] Id. § 483A.8(5). Each year, the Iowa Natural Resource Commission makes antlered or any sex deer hunting licenses available to 6000 nonresidents. Id. § 483A.8(3)(c). These deer hunting licenses are distributed by a drawing, with preference points given under certain circumstances. Id. § 483A.8(3)(e). If a nonresident landowner does not receive a nonresident antlered deer hunting license through the drawing, "the landowner shall be given preference for one of the antlerless deer only nonresident deer hunting licenses." Id. § 483A.8(5). The number of nonresident antlerless deer hunting licenses available varies each year. Id. § 483A.8(3)(c). These licenses "shall be valid to hunt on the nonresident's land only." Id. § 483A.8(5).

         This statutory framework was in place when Carter purchased 650 acres of land in Decatur County. The title to the property is in the name of Ducks and Bucks, LLC, which is owned by Carter and his two sons. Carter bought the property for the purpose of hunting deer and other wildlife. Although Carter owns land in Iowa, he does not live in Iowa and is a legal resident of another state. As a nonresident of Iowa, Carter does not meet the definition of an "owner" under section 483A.24(2)(a)(3). Over a six year period, Carter received a nonresident antlered deer hunting license each year through the drawing or lottery system, except for two years, when he received a nonresident antlerless deer hunting license. Thus, Carter has been able to hunt deer on his property every year but in some years was not able to hunt antlered deer, sometimes known as trophy bucks.

         On September 27, 2016, Carter filed a petition for a declaratory order with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), requesting a ruling establishing him as an "owner" for purposes of section 483A.24(2)(a)(3). In the alternative, he sought a ruling stating the failure to treat him as an "owner" violated his inalienable rights and his equal protection rights under the Iowa Constitution. The DNR did not respond to Carter's petition within sixty days, and it was therefore deemed to be denied. Carter then filed a petition for judicial review, as permitted by section 17A.19(1) ("If a declaratory order has not been rendered within sixty days after the filing ...


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