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Jar Farms Ltd. v. Certified Materials, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 3, 2019

JAR FARMS LTD, PAUL W. THIESCHAFER, Individually, and PAUL W. THIESCHAFER, AMY THIESCHAFER and PAUL THIESCHAFER as Co-Trustees of the BERNUS A. THIESCHAFER FAMILY TRUST, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
CERTIFIED MATERIALS, INC., Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Mills County, Jeffrey L. Larson, Judge.

         Certified Materials, Inc. appeals the district court order granting JAR Farms, LTD a prescriptive easement over portions of its property.

          Aaron F. Smeall, Danielle M. Dring, and Jacob A. Acers of Smith, Slusky, Pohren & Rogers, LLP, Omaha, Nebraska, for appellant.

          Jordan T. Glaser and Leo P. Martin of Peters Law Firm, P.C., Council Bluffs, for appellees.

          Heard by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and May, JJ.

          DOYLE, JUDGE.

         This dispute involves a gravel farm access lane that deviates from a thirty-foot ingress/egress easement located on property owned by JAR Farms LTD and onto land owned by Certified Materials, Inc. On appeal, Certified Materials challenges the district court order granting a prescriptive easement over the portions of its property affected by this deviation, claiming JAR Farms presented insufficient evidence of a prescriptive easement. Certified Materials also contends plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction in bad faith.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         JAR Farms owns two adjoining tracts of land in Mills County: a northern tract consisting of approximately forty acres (JAR North 40) and a southern tract consisting of approximately 300 acres of land (JAR South 300). Certified Materials owns a four-acre parcel of land abutting the eastern boundary of JAR North 40. Plaintiffs Thieschafer own property abutting the southern boundary of the Certified Material property and the eastern boundary of the JAR North 40. A highway runs east and west along the northern boundaries of JAR North 40 and the Certified Materials parcel. The gravel farm access lane runs north and south along the eastern border of the JAR North 40 and provides access to the JAR South 300 from the highway.[1]

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         James Goodman is president of JAR Farms, a corporation he formed in 1989. JAR Farms is a "custom farm," meaning it hires operators to do the farming work. Goodman previously owned both JAR Farms properties, acquiring each tract separately. He purchased JAR South 300 in 1981. Because the JAR South 300 is accessible to the highway only through other land, the deed included a thirty-foot permanent easement along the eastern boundary of what is now the JAR North 40 to allow ingress and egress to the highway. A gravel access lane has been in use for this purpose even before Goodman purchased the land. Goodman acquired JAR North 40 in 1997. In December 2010, he transferred both tracts to JAR Farms.

         Certified Materials acquired its four-acre parcel in May 2015. In 2016, it began construction on a chain link fence along the boundary it shares with JAR North 40. The gravel access lane used by JAR Farms strays from the thirty-foot easement and onto the Certified Materials land. The record is not clear as to how far the lane strays onto the Certified Materials land or for what distance. Utility poles are located near the centerline of the easement. The record does not indicate when the poles were placed there. Because of the location of the utility poles in the easement, the presence of the fence on the east side of the easement restricts large farm equipment from passing through. MidAmerican Energy indicated it would charge Goodman (JAR Farms) $19, 447.91 to remove three of the poles, reinstall two poles, and bore in 435 feet of conduit.

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         On November 14, 2016, JAR Farms filed suit in district court seeking an injunction to stop Certified Materials from continuing construction on the fence. It also asserted it was entitled to a prescriptive easement or boundary by acquiescence. The district court entered an order granting injunction the same day. After bond was posted, the court issued a temporary writ of injunction on November 23, 2016. Certified Material was served on November 25th. Certified Materials moved to dissolve the injunction and also filed an answer and filed counterclaims asserting, among other things, that JAR Farms sought the injunction in bad faith, the injunction was wrongfully granted, and sought damages. The court dissolved the injunction on January 24, 2017. Following a trial to the bench, the district court found that JAR Farms established a prescriptive easement over "a portion of the western ...


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