Jensen v. Olson, 21-0204

CourtCourt of Appeals of Iowa
Writing for the CourtVAITHESWARAN, PRESIDING JUDGE.
Decision Date12 January 2022
PartiesRONALD JENSEN, ARLENE JENSEN, DALE AND BONNIE KNUTSON TRUST, DOROTHY J. HEINTZ, and L&C FARM LLC, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. LAURIS OLSON, LINDA MURKEN, LISA HEDDENS, in their Official Capacity as Drainage District Grant #5 Trustees, STORY COUNTY ASSESSOR, and STORY COUNTY TREASURER, Defendants-Appellees.
Docket Number21-0204

RONALD JENSEN, ARLENE JENSEN, DALE AND BONNIE KNUTSON TRUST, DOROTHY J. HEINTZ, and L&C FARM LLC, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.

LAURIS OLSON, LINDA MURKEN, LISA HEDDENS, in their Official Capacity as Drainage District Grant #5 Trustees, STORY COUNTY ASSESSOR, and STORY COUNTY TREASURER, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 21-0204

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 12, 2022


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Story County, Amy M. Moore, Judge.

Landowners appeal the dismissal of their petition for declaratory judgment against the district's trustees and others challenging levies imposed after a failed annexation. AFFIRMED.

Dane J. Schumann and Steven P. Wandro of Wandro & Associates, PC, Des Moines, for appellants.

Robert W. Goodwin of Goodwin Law Office, P.C. and Ethan P. Anderson, Assistant Story County Attorney, Nevada, for appellees.

Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and May, JJ.

1

VAITHESWARAN, PRESIDING JUDGE.

Story County Drainage District Grant #5 considered annexing westerly land. The district retained an engineer to investigate the proposed annexation. Ultimately, the land was not annexed. Landowners within the district were assessed a levy to cover costs associated with the failed annexation.

The landowners filed a petition for declaratory judgment against the district's trustees and others ("trustees") alleging the "levies imposed" were "in violation of Iowa Code Chapter 468 [(2020)], which governs drainage districts and the validity of property tax payments for drainage district activity." They further alleged, "Because this Petition attacks the validity of the Trustees' actions in assessing Plaintiffs' land, the Iowa Code § 468.83 appeals process does not apply and the Court has jurisdiction over this matter."

The trustees moved to dismiss the action on the ground that, if there was no statutory appeal, "the only permissible action against a drainage district" was a "mandamus" action and the landowners' lawsuit was not such an action. They also asserted the landowners lacked standing and they failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The landowners responded that their petition was a permissible "equitable action[]" seeking to "void[]" an illegal assessment.[1]

2

The district court declined to decide whether the landowners used a proper vehicle to challenge the trustees' action. The court instead dismissed the petition for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The landowners appealed following denial of their reconsideration motion.[2]

The landowners reiterate that courts have "equitable powers to void illegal assessments." The trustees counter that the landowners were limited to challenging the assessment by (1) mandamus or (2) "an appeal of a final act of [the trustees] pursuant to 468.83-.84." Because the landowners failed to pursue either avenue, the trustees argue the district court did not err in dismissing the petition.

We may "affirm a trial court on any basis appearing in the record and urged by the prevailing party." See Chicago Cent. & Pacific R. Co., 816 N.W.2d at 373; see also State ex. rel. Dickey v Besler, 954 N.W.2d 425, 432 (Iowa 2021) (citing St. Malachy Roman Catholic Congregation of Geneseo v. Ingram, 841 N.W.2d 338, 351 n.9 (Iowa 2013)) (stating we may affirm on any ground "raised below and

3

reiterated in the briefing to this court."). The trustees raised the propriety of the landowners' independent action and reprised the issue on appeal. Accordingly, we have authority to consider this alternate basis for affirmance.

Iowa Code section 468.83(1) states, "Any person aggrieved may appeal from any final action of the board in relation to any matter involving the person's rights, to the district court of the county in which the proceeding was held." Section 468.84 states, "All appeals shall be taken within twenty days...

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