Dolezal v. City of Cedar Rapids, 66997

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtConsidered by REYNOLDSON; REYNOLDSON
Citation326 N.W.2d 355
PartiesLeonard F. DOLEZAL, Appellant, v. The CITY OF CEDAR RAPIDS and The Airport Commission for the City of Cedar Rapids, Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 66997,66997
Decision Date24 November 1982

Page 355

326 N.W.2d 355
Leonard F. DOLEZAL, Appellant,
The CITY OF CEDAR RAPIDS and The Airport Commission for the City of Cedar Rapids, Appellees.
No. 66997.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
Nov. 24, 1982.

Mitchell E. Turner and Francis J. Pruss, Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

David F. McGuire, City Atty., Cedar Rapids, for appellees.


Page 356

REYNOLDSON, Chief Justice.

Plaintiff Leonard F. Dolezal brought this action against defendants City of Cedar Rapids and its airport commission to collect damages for unjust enrichment. Trial court granted defendants' combined motion for dismissal, summary judgment, and directed verdict. Plaintiff, appealing, alleges trial court erred in finding his claim subject to the time limitations of Iowa Code chapter 613A, Tort Liability of Governmental Subdivisions. We reverse and remand with directions.

Trial court decided the case on stipulated evidence. In 1977 defendants commenced condemnation proceedings against farmland that plaintiff leased, located adjacent to the Cedar Rapids airport. Defendants gave plaintiff notice on April 5, 1977, that the compensation commission would assess damages on April 27, 1977. Plaintiff and other interested persons sought to enjoin the commission's meeting, challenging defendants' right to condemn. No hearing was held on the injunction petition until its dismissal on August 8, 1977. In the meantime, the compensation commission met as scheduled and assessed damages.

Plaintiff, apparently relying on the injunction petition and lack of notice of termination of his tenancy, planted a crop of corn and soybeans on the land in early May 1977. He cultivated the crop throughout most of the growing season. Defendants concede their airport director had actual knowledge of plaintiff's activities, and that they expressed no desire to plaintiff that cultivation cease. Immediately prior to harvest, defendants threatened plaintiff with criminal charges if he entered upon the land, and hired plaintiff's former employees to harvest the crop on behalf of defendants. Defendants sold the crop and retained all profit above their harvesting expenses.

Plaintiff appealed from the compensation commission's award, and was awarded $66,747 by a Linn County jury on August 11, 1978. Defendants concede this award did not include compensation for the crop or for plaintiff's labor and expenses in cultivating the crop. In this action plaintiff seeks the alleged value of his services and expenses in planting and tending the crop, on a theory of unjust enrichment. Trial court, responding to plaintiff's motion for adjudication of law points, ruled the claim was within the tort definition of Iowa Code section 613A.1(3), and therefore subject to the notice and timeliness provisions of section 613A.5. Trial court found plaintiff failed to commence suit within two years of notice as required by section 613A.5, and granted defendants' combined motion for dismissal, summary judgment, and directed verdict.

I. Applicability of Chapter 613A.

The parties contest the applicability of sections 613A.2 and 613A.1(3) to plaintiff's cause of action. 1 Plaintiff argues his unjust enrichment claim is not a tort within the scope of Iowa Code section 613A.2, thus rendering the notice and timely filing requirements of chapter 613A inapplicable. Defendants contend, in the alternative, that every claim against a municipality is subject to section 613A.2, that any exception should exist only for express contracts, and that plaintiff's unjust enrichment cause of action is outside the scope of any contract exception this court may recognize.

Iowa Code section 613A.2 provides:

Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, every municipality is subject to liability for its torts and those of its officers, employees, and agents acting within the scope of their employment or duties, whether arising out of a governmental or proprietary function.

Chapter 613A was enacted to partially waive immunity of Iowa's governmental subdivisions and provide for their liability in tort. Lemon v. City of Muscatine, 272 N.W.2d 429, 431 (Iowa 1978). Enactment

Page 357

of chapter 613A followed our ruling in Graham v. Worthington, 259 Iowa 845, 146 N.W.2d 626 (1966), that Iowa Code chapter 25A, Iowa Tort Claims Act, does not apply to state governmental subdivisions. See Dan Dugan Transport Co. v. Worth County, 243 N.W.2d 655, 657 (Iowa 1976); Strong v. Town of Lansing, 179 N.W.2d 365, 366 (Iowa 1970). Chapter 613A created a new right of action previously unavailable at common law or statutorily. Cases interpreting limitation statutes of other jurisdictions, which merely abrogate sovereign immunity, have little impact on our interpretation of chapter 613A. Wilson v. Nepstad, 282 N.W.2d 664, 669 (Iowa 1979); Sprung v. Rasmussen, 180 N.W.2d 430, 433 (Iowa 1970).

A tort within the scope of section 613A.2 encompasses:

[E]very civil wrong which results in wrongful death or injury to person or injury to property or injury to personal or property rights and includes but is not restricted to actions based upon negligence; error or omission; nuisance; breach of duty, whether statutory or other duty or denial or impairment of any right under any constitutional provision, statute or rule of law.

Iowa Code § 613A.1(3) (1981). The legislature has given the definition a wide range, eliminating common-law immunity in tort except for those specifically excluded in section 613A.4. Symmonds v. Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, 242 N.W.2d 262, 264 (Iowa 1976).

Chapter 613A has not always been so widely applicable. Iowa Code section 613A.1(3) (1973) defined a tort as:

[E]very civil wrong which results in wrongful death or injury to person or injury to property and includes but is not restricted to actions based upon negligence, breach of duty, and nuisance.

In Jahnke v. Incorporated City of Des Moines, 191 N.W.2d 780, 787 (Iowa 1971), this court noted the terms "tort" and "civil wrong" would not be interpreted beyond their accepted, judicially established context, absent clear evidence to the contrary. In Jahnke, an alleged tort of failure to warn against or prevent damage by mob violence was held outside the scope of chapter 613A because no authority existed which imposed a duty, running from the city to the individual plaintiff, upon which recovery could be predicated. 191 N.W.2d at 783. The court assumed the legislature was aware no court had recognized such a cause of action. Id. at 787. Some commentators interpret the Jahnke decision as requiring any claim under chapter 613A be based on a tort judicially defined at the time the chapter was passed. L. Blades & A. Kintzinger, Iowa Tort Guide § 9.19 (2d ed. 1981).

Following Jahnke, the legislature amended the tort definition in section 613A.1(3) to make clear that breach of statutory duty is within its scope. 1974 Iowa Acts ch. 1263, § 2 (codified at Iowa Code § 613A.1(3) (1975)). This change reflects legislative desire "to impose--in the same manner as in the private sector--municipal tort liability for negligence based on breach of a statutory duty." Wilson, 282 N.W.2d at 669. A municipality may be liable for its acts or omissions when statutorily delegated authority over a particular activity, and breach of the statutory duty involves foreseeable risk of injury to an identifiable class. Id. at 671. Although this change creates a new right of action, it is consistent with our prior decisions to the extent they require violation of some constitutional, statutory, or common-law duty. See Montgomery v. Polk County, 278 N.W.2d 911, 912 (Iowa 1979) (duty of court clerk to pay over deposited funds on demand); Harryman v. Hayles, 257 N.W.2d 631, 638 (Iowa 1977) (duty to maintain county roads); Lattimer v. Frese, 246 N.W.2d 255, 258 (Iowa 1976) (no common-law duty to remove snow and ice deposited on sidewalk by natural causes); Symmonds, 242 N.W.2d at 264-65 (duty to exercise due care in erecting road signs); Jahnke, 191 N.W.2d at 787 (no duty to individual plaintiff). Plaintiff's unjust enrichment claim does not arise from a statutory or common-law duty, but...

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7 cases
  • Endress v. Iowa Dep't of Human Servs., 18-1329
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 29, 2020
    ...was not ‘enriched’ by the services rendered for the Waterloo Pollution Control Plant."); 944 N.W.2d 81 Dolezal v. City of Cedar Rapids , 326 N.W.2d 355, 358 (Iowa 1982).3 We do not think the law draws a distinction based on the procedural status of the matter. Thus, the mere fact that DHS h......
  • Slager v. HWA Corp., 87-1696
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • January 25, 1989
    ...(Iowa 1983). Nor is it our function to write into law what the legislature might or should have said. Dolezal v. City of Cedar Rapids, 326 N.W.2d 355, 359 (Iowa Because we are dealing with the interaction of two statutes, one of considerable vintage and the other of recent origin, one other......
  • Cmi Roadbuilding, Inc. v. Iowa Parts, Inc., 16-CV-33-LRR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • December 8, 2017
    ...under an unwritten contract, and, thus, is also subject to a five-year statute of limitations. See Dolezal v. City of Cedar Rapids, 326 N.W.2d 355, 360 (Iowa 1982) ("We hold plaintiff's unjust enrichment claim is . . . subject to the five-year statute of limitations on unwritten contracts."......
  • Ahrendsen v. IOWA DEPT. OF HUMAN SERVICES, 99-0092.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • July 6, 2000
    ...which they were eligible, the State will be unjustly enriched. We find no merit in this contention. In Dolezal v. City of Cedar Rapids, 326 N.W.2d 355, 357-58 (Iowa 1982), this court approved a recovery for unjust enrichment against a municipal corporation under a theory of quasi-contract. ......
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