from the Iowa District Court for Winneshiek County, Linda M.
appeal an order and judgment against them.
W. Fern of Berry Law Firm, Lincoln, Nebraska, and Andrew J.
Casper of Putnam & Thompson Law Office, P.L.L.C, Decorah,
A. Garrett of James Garrett Law Office, Waukon, for appellee.
Considered by Mullins, P.J., Bower, J., and Vogel, S.J.
and Jeanett Hansen appeal a trial court order finding in
favor of Dean Thorson in a conversion and breach-of-contract
action concerning a hay crop and farm-rental agreement. The
Hansens claim the trial court erred in denying their motion
for new trial because Thorson made knowing material
misrepresentations during trial that prejudiced the Hansens
and by making a mistake of fact and law as to the date of
conversion. We find the court did not abuse its discretion in
denying the motion for new trial and did not make a mistake
of fact or law. We affirm.
Background Facts & Proceedings
Hansens own a farm in northeast Iowa. Thorson has worked in
various capacities on the Hansens' farm since the 1990s.
Until 2009, Thorson primarily cash rented the Hansens'
land. Beginning in 2009, Thorson leased agricultural land
from the Hansens under a variety of oral rental agreements.
The fields leased or otherwise farmed through the
parties' association were commonly known as the North 40,
South 31, East 40, and West 16. With respect to the acres
farmed under crop-share agreements, where the parties divided
the crop after harvest instead of Thorson paying rent,
Thorson was obligated to apply fertilizer and nutrients to
maintain the soil for the future. The acres subject to custom
farm agreements- where the Hansens paid Thorson for his labor
and retained the entire harvested crop-obligated the Hansens
to fertilize the land.
2009, the Hansens began converting their farm to produce
organic crops. Until 2011, the Hansens had a contract to grow
organic peas for Sno Pac Foods (Sno Pac). After a conflict
between the Hansens and Sno Pac, Thorson included some of the
Hansens' land in his own contracts with Sno Pac. Thorson
took over the organic-certification work for the Hansens'
2012, the parties had a crop-share agreement for hay grown in
the East 40 field. After the second cutting and baling of hay,
Thorson left the large round bales of hay on the Hansens'
land. The Hansens moved all the bales from the field to a
shed, though the number of bales was in dispute. Thorson was
told he could get them when he wanted. In November, he asked
for his half of the bales from the second cutting; the
Hansens advised Thorson they were keeping the bales. Thorson
asked again for the bales in late April 2013 to feed his
cattle and was again refused. Thorson did not purchase hay
but instead resorted to foraging his cattle on an
already-planted field. In the summer of 2013, the Hansens and
Thorson had an argument about the 2012 hay with Thorson
indicating he considered it stolen. Although the parties
discussed Thorson recouping the hay from the 2013 or 2014
crops, Thorson did not get his hay.
2015 growing season, the parties contracted for hay and an
oat-hay mixture to be grown and harvested on the North 40 and
East 40 fields, with the crops to be divided evenly. A
crop-share arrangement for organic corn was agreed to on the
South 31. Finally, the Hansens hired Thorson to prep the West
16 to grow organic peas for Sno Pac. The parties knew Sno Pac
might not accept the Hansens' land in Thorson's
contract for 2015. Thorson testified they reached a
contingent agreement by which he could seed the field with
grass and oats for pasturing because he had applied nutrients
to the field; Jeanett testified no agreement was reached
because she had not decided what to do with the field if no
peas were planted.
spring of 2015, the relationship between Thorson and the
Hansens imploded. Sno Pac's internal policies had changed
for the 2015 planting, requiring the company to contract
directly with property owners. Sno Pac did not opt to
contract with the Hansens but maintained its contract with
Thorson. Thorson knew by March 11 when he signed his own
contract with Sno Pac that Sno Pac would not include the
Hansens' land, and he left the Hansens a voice mail
informing them their land was not included in his contract.
In April, Thorson seeded the East 40 with oat hay. Around
April 19, Thomas informed Thorson during a phone call that
they had found someone else to plant the West 16 and cut hay
and spread manure on the North 40. Thorson argued that was
not the deal they had made and, after Thomas said they were
contracting with the other farmer, Thorson said "Fine,
that's it then." Thorson considered this telephone
call to constitute the Hansens' termination of their
contracts as to all the fields.
couple days after the phone call, Thorson sent a document to
the Hansens he considered to be a bill for what the Hansens
owed him. The document listed the inputs for fertilizer and
seed applied to the Hansens' fields and listed seventy
bales of hay valued at $300 per bale. The Hansens repeatedly
called and sent letters in May and June to Thorson asking if
he was terminating their contracts or if he intended to
continue to work on their farm. Thorson did not answer the
ten phone calls or open the first three letters, only opening
the final letter on June 13. In the June 13 letter, the
Hansens stated Thorson's failure to answer previous
inquiries as requested was deemed to be a termination of
their contract and told Thorson not to enter their property
"at any time for any reason."
March 2016, Thorson filed suit against the Hansens, claiming
conversion for the 2012 hay and breach of contract relating
to the leasing arrangement. Thorson claimed damages for the
value of the hay converted and the cost of the fertilizer,
nutrients, and seed the Hansens benefited from due to the
lease termination. Thorson requested a total recovery of $36,
171.22. The Hansens answered, denying the conversion claim
and claiming Thorson unilaterally terminated the rental
agreement. The Hansens also counterclaimed, asserting Thorson
breached the contract to prepare ...