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Friends of Bunker Mill Bridge, Inc. v. Washington County Board of Supervisors

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 21, 2019

FRIENDS OF BUNKER MILL BRIDGE, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
WASHINGTON COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Washington County, Randy S. DeGeest, Judge.

         Friends of Bunker Mill Bridge, Inc. appeals the district court's ruling on its petition for writ of certiorari upholding the order of the Washington County Board of Supervisors vacating a portion of a secondary highway.

          Siobhan Briley of Pugh Hagan Prahm PLC, Coralville, for appellant.

          John Gish and Chauncey Moulding (until withdrawal) of Washington County Attorney's Office, Washington, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., Vogel, S.J., * and Blane, S.J. [*]

          VAITHESWARAN, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         We must decide whether we have subject matter jurisdiction to review a decision to vacate and close a road and whether, if we do, the decision is supported by substantial evidence.

         I. Background Proceedings

         The Washington County Board of Supervisors vacated and closed a portion of a public road near a historic bridge that was restored by Friends of Bunker Mill Bridge, Inc. (FBMB). FBMB sought review of the decision by filing a petition for writ of certiorari with the district court. The board moved to dismiss the petition on the ground that review was statutorily foreclosed. The district court denied the motion. Following a non-evidentiary hearing, the court concluded the board's decision was supported by substantial evidence. The court denied FBMB's petition.

         On appeal, FBMB does not contest the board's authority to vacate and close the road. See Iowa Code §§ 306.4(2) (2017) ("Jurisdiction and control over the secondary roads shall be vested in the county board of supervisors of the respective counties."), .10 (granting county board of supervisors authority "on its own motion, to alter or vacate and close any such highway . . . over which said agency has jurisdiction and control"). Nor does FBMB challenge the statutorily authorized procedures associated with a "vacation and closing" proceeding. See id. §§ 306.11, .12.[1] FBMB simply contends the board's decision was unsupported by substantial evidence and was unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious.

         In response, the board suggests district court review of its decision was foreclosed. The board raises the issue in passing and without having filed a cross-appeal from the district court's denial of its dismissal motion. Nonetheless, because the issue could implicate the court's subject matter jurisdiction, we begin there. State v. Mandicino, 509 N.W.2d 481, 482 (Iowa 1993) ("Want of subject matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time.").

         II. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         "Subject matter jurisdiction refers to the power of a court 'to hear and determine cases of the general class to which the proceedings in question belong, not merely the particular case then occupying the court's attention.'" Id. (citation omitted). "[S]ubject matter jurisdiction . . . cannot be waived by consent, waiver, or estoppel." Id. at 483. "When a lower court lacks the authority to exercise its subject matter jurisdiction so as to adjudicate the merits of a claim, issue, or question, an appellate court also lacks the power to determine the merits of the claim, issue, or question presented to the lower court." Osage Conservation Club v. Bd. of Supervisers, 611 N.W.2d 294, 299 (Iowa 2000) (quoting Ferguson v. Union Pac. R.R., 601 N.W.2d 907, ...


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