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Hickman v. Ringgold County

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 6, 2019

DOUGLAS D. HICKMAN and SUSAN A. HICKMAN, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
RINGGOLD COUNTY, IOWA, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Ringgold County, John D. Lloyd, Judge.

         Landowners appeal the district court's denial of injunctive relief regarding their challenge to a county's condemnation of a portion of their land. AFFIRMED.

          Robert W. Goodwin of Goodwin Law Office, P.C., Ames, for appellants.

          Jami J. Hagemeier of Williams & Hagemeier, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Mullins, JJ. Lloyd, S.J., takes no part.

          VAITHESWARAN, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         Ringgold County served a notice of intent to condemn 0.7 acres of land owned by Douglas and Susan Hickman. The Hickmans were informed their land would "need to be acquired by Ringgold County for the construction of a new road for the future location of a new concrete batch plant."

         The Hickmans filed a lawsuit challenging the county's proposed action. See Iowa Code § 6A.24(1) (2018) ("An owner of property described in an application for condemnation may bring an action challenging the exercise of eminent domain authority or the condemnation proceedings."). They alleged in part that the condemnation was "in violation of [Iowa Code] section 6A.22(2)(a)(3)" because it was "solely for the purpose of facilitating the incidental private use of the Central Iowa Ready-Mix cement plant."

         Following a bench trial, the district court dismissed the Hickmans' petition. The Hickmans moved for enlarged findings and conclusions. The court denied the motion. This appeal followed.

         Iowa Code section 6A.22(1) states: "In addition to the limitations in section 6A.21');">6A.21 [relating to condemnation of agricultural land], the authority of an acquiring agency to condemn any private property through eminent domain may only be exercised for a public purpose, public use, or public improvement." The provision provides several definitions of "public use," "public purpose," or "public improvement," including the following: "Private use that is incidental to the public use of the property, provided that no property shall be condemned solely for the purpose of facilitating such incidental private use." Iowa Code § 6A.22(2)(a)(3). In addition, section 6A.22(2)(b) states:

Except as specifically included in the definition in paragraph "a", "public use" or "public purpose" or "public improvement" does not mean economic development activities resulting in increased tax revenues, increased employment opportunities, privately owned or privately funded housing and residential development, privately owned or privately funded commercial or industrial development, or the lease of publicly owned property to a private party.

         As they argued in the district court, the Hickmans contend the county's decision "to widen and improve the dirt road" south of their property "is solely for the purpose of facilitating" the construction and use of "a temporary concrete batch plant" southeast of their property. They assert Iowa Code section 6A.22 "restricts and prohibits the authority of a county to condemn private land to facilitate private use and/or for economic development." They agree with the County that our review is for errors of law.

         Section 6A.22(2)(b) categorically excludes "economic development activities" from the definition of public purpose. Despite this express prohibition, the County cited the need for economic development of the area as a basis for exercising its power of eminent domain. Specifically, a Ringgold County supervisor testified:

As a supervisor, and I'll speak for all three of us, we think it's critical for this county to further develop the economics of the county. We are a shrinking county. We have lost businesses. We are losing people all the time, so it is-we have ...

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