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Midwest Ambulance Service of Iowa, Inc. v. Delaware Township

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 6, 2019

MIDWEST AMBULANCE SERVICE OF IOWA, INC., Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
DELAWARE TOWNSHIP, POLK COUNTY, IOWA, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Jeffrey D. Farrell, Judge.

         Delaware Township appeals the judgment entered in favor of Midwest Ambulance Service of Iowa, Inc. on its breach-of-contract claim.

          Nicholas A. Bailey of Bailey Law Firm, P.L.L.C., Altoona, for appellant.

          J. Campbell Helton of Helton Law Firm, P.L.L.C., West Des Moines, for appellee.

          Heard by Doyle, P.J., and Mullins and McDonald, JJ.

          DOYLE, Presiding Judge.

         Delaware Township appeals the judgment entered in favor of Midwest Ambulance Service of Iowa, Inc. (Midwest Ambulance) after a jury awarded Midwest Ambulance $170, 000 in damages on a breach-of-contract claim. Delaware Township challenges the verdict, arguing there was no valid contract and, in the alternative, Midwest Ambulance failed to exhaust remedies required by the contract before filing suit. Delaware Township also appeals the denial of its counterclaim for breach of contract and certain evidentiary rulings. Finally, it contends the court's award of attorney fees and costs to Midwest Ambulance is excessive.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Midwest Ambulance is an Iowa corporation that provides emergency medical and ambulance transportation services. Delaware Township first contracted for Midwest Ambulance's services in June 1998, when its board of trustees signed a five-year contract on behalf of the township. The board signed a seven-year contract with Midwest Ambulance in June 2004. Then on November 1, 2010, before the 2004 contract expired, the board of trustees and Midwest Ambulance signed an eight-year contract.

         In September 2015, Delaware Township sought a meeting with Midwest Ambulance to discuss concerns regarding Midwest Ambulance's service. When a meeting had yet to be scheduled by October 5, 2015, Delaware Township's attorney sent Midwest Ambulance's attorney a letter, claiming the 2010 contract was not an enforceable agreement and, "[t]o the extent any enforceable agreement exists between the parties," Midwest Ambulance had breached the contract by providing deficient service.

         The Delaware Township Board of Trustees voted at a November 16, 2015 public meeting to terminate its contract with Midwest Ambulance effective December 1. On November 30, Delaware Township told dispatchers to stop referring calls to Midwest Ambulance effective December 1.

         In March 2016, Midwest Ambulance filed a petition alleging Delaware Township breached the contract and claiming $170, 000 in liquidated damages. Delaware Township filed a pre-answer motion to dismiss Midwest Ambulance's claim, alleging that the contract was invalid and Midwest Ambulance failed to exhaust contractual remedies. After the district court denied the motion, Delaware Township answered and filed a counterclaim, alleging Midwest Ambulance had breached the contract and was liable for damages.

         In May 2017, Delaware Township moved for summary judgment, again alleging that the contract was not valid and Midwest Ambulance failed to exhaust contractual remedies before filing suit. The district court also denied this motion.

         The matter proceeded to trial in August 2017. A jury found Delaware Township breached a valid contract with Midwest Ambulance and Midwest Ambulance was entitled to recover $170, 000 in damages. The jury found against Delaware Township on its breach-of-contract counterclaim.

         Delaware Township moved for new trial and judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Once again, it alleged Midwest Ambulance failed to meet contractual conditions before filing suit, and it claimed there was insufficient evidence to support Midwest Ambulance's breach-of-contract claim. The district court denied the township's post-trial motions. It granted Midwest Ambulance's request to affix costs and award attorney fees in an amount totaling $72, 255.51. Delaware Township appeals.

         II. Scope of Review.

         Our review is for correction of errors at law. See Iowa R. App. P. 6.907. Findings of fact are binding if supported by substantial evidence. See Iowa R. App. P. 6.904(3)(a).

         III. Validity of the Contract.

         Delaware Township first contends the district court erred in determining the validity of the contract. It argues the contract is void because the 2010 board of trustees exceeded its authority in signing it by: (1) contracting to pay Midwest Ambulance without first levying an annual tax to pay for the expense as required by Iowa Code section 359.43 (2009), (2) failing to provide residents notice of a meeting to deliberate or act upon a matter relating to emergency medical service as required by Iowa Code section 359.17, and (3) entering into a personal service contract that ...


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