Worthington v. McDonald, 48653

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtGARFIELD
Citation47 A.L.R.2d 135,68 N.W.2d 89,246 Iowa 466
Parties, 47 A.L.R.2d 135 James WORTHINGTON, Appellee, v. Robert McDONALD, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 48653,48653
Decision Date12 January 1955

Duffield & Pinegar, Des Moines, and Frank F. Wilson, Mt. Ayr, for appellant.

Emmet R. Warin, Mt. Ayr, for appellee.

GARFIELD, Justice.

Following trial to the court without a jury plaintiff had judgment for $1,000 for damage to his grain combine from a collision with defendant's gravel truck on a bridge over a stream. Defendant-appellant's sole contention here is that plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence as a matter of law in violating two statutes.

Plaintiff's combine, pulled by a tractor, was moving south and the truck was going north. The left (east) side of the combine came in contact with the side view mirror and a board six inches wide on the catwalk on the left (west) side of the truck, loaded with gravel. Defendant's driver testified the left side of the combine and left side of the truck 'overlapped' about eight inches. The side mirror and outer board on the catwalk are the only parts of the truck that were damaged.

Although the case involves the construction of statutes, two fundamental rules have some application here. (1) The trial court's finding that plaintiff was free from contributory negligence has the force and effect of a jury verdict and will not be disturbed if supported by substantial evidence. (2) It is our duty to consider the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Both rules are so thoroughly settled that authorities to support them need not be cited.

I. Defendant first argues plaintiff was contributorily negligent as a matter of law in violating section 321.454, Codes, 1950, 1954, I.C.A., which provides 'The total outside width of any vehicle * * * shall not exceed eight feet.' Section 321.453 states certain exceptions to 321.454 and other provisions of Code chapter 321, I.C.A. The exception found in 321.453 upon which plaintiff relies is: 'The provisions of this chapter governing size * * * shall not apply to * * * implements of husbandry temporarily moved upon a highway * * *.'

Code section 321.1(16), I.C.A., says, "Implement of husbandry' means every vehicle which is designed for agricultural purposes and exclusively used by the owner thereof in the conduct of his agricultural operations.'

Defendant contends plaintiff's combine was not an implement of husbandry within this definition because, it is said, it was not exclusively used by the owner in the conduct of his agricultural operations. Defendant also contends the combine was not being temporarily moved upon a highway within the meaning of 321.453. The trial court ruled against both these contentions. If, as the trial court held, the combine was exclusively used by plaintiff in the conduct of his agricultural operations and was being temporarily moved upon a highway, the maximum width limitation of eight feet prescribed by section 321.454 does not apply and plaintiff was not negligent as a matter of law in the first respect claimed by defendant.

Further reference to the evidence is necessary at this point. The combine exceeded eight feet in width. Plaintiff testified it was nine feet wide and the tractor to which it was hitched extended at least two feet to the right of the combine. From all the testimony, in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the finding is justified that the maximum width of the combine and tractor was 11 feet or a little more. The bridge is about 20 feet wide and defendant's trucks is 7 feet, 10 inches in width.

Plaintiff is a farmer living a few miles north of the Iowa-Missouri border. He was on his way to a farm occupied by his brother-in-law south of the state line where he expected to combine a 60-acre field of soybeans. It is about 18 miles from plaintiff's farm to his brother-in-law's. Plaintiff was to be paid $6 an acre, $360 in all, for combining the field of beans. Plaintiff's combine was strictly a farm implement used only for combining grain.

Defendant admits this combine is a vehicle designed for agricultural purposes. The evidence points to its use exclusively by plaintiff. There is no testimony it was ever used by any other person. Defendant's argument is that because plaintiff was on his way to do combining for another for pay he was not using the combine 'in the conduct of his agricultural operations.' The force of the argument is that an 'implement of husbandry' must be used exclusively in farming the land owned by or rented to the owner of the implement or in traveling on the highway from one field to another upon such land and cannot be used, even occasionally, upon land farmed by another.

We are unwilling to give the language of section 321.1(16) such a narrow construction as defendant urges upon us. We think it cannot be said as a matter of law plaintiff was not conducting his agricultural operations merely because he was on his way to combine beans for another for pay. The combining of grain, a form of threshing, is certainly an agricultural operation. See Sylcord v. Horn, 179 Iowa 936, 162 N.W. 249, 7 A.L.R. 1285; Spence v. Smith, 121 Cal. 536, 53 P. 653, 933, 66 Am.St.Rep. 62; Cook v. Massey, 38 Idaho 264, 220 P. 1088, 35 A.L.R. 200; State ex rel. Bykle v. District Court, 140 Minn. 398, 168 N.W. 130, L.R.A.1918F, 198; Keefover v. Vasey, 112 Neb. 424, 199 N.W. 799, 35 A.L.R. 191; Lowe v. North Dakota Workmen's Compensation Bureau, 66 N.D. 246, 264 N.W. 837, 107 A.L.R. 973. Plaintiff and no one else was conducting the operation. It was one of his operations.

To adopt defendant's argument would mean the definition in section 321.1(16) does not apply to a farmer's combine or other movable farm implement that he occasionally takes two or three miles to the farm of a neighbor in the exchange of farm work which is so general in Iowa. To be sure the present case may not be analogous to that just supposed. Plaintiff was traveling 18 miles rather than two or three and was to be paid for the use of his combine in money rather than in kind by the return of a service of like value. But it is proper to consider where defendant's argument logically leads us. Very few movable farm implements in this state could qualify as an "Implement of husbandry" under section 321.1(16) if the farmer-owner may not use them occasionally upon a farm of another, even though such use may be for a substantial consideration. It is not too much to require the legislature to express itself more clearly than it has done in 321.1(16) if the statute is intended to have the restricted meaning defendant says it has.

It is a fundamental rule of statutory construction that, if fairly possible, a statute will be construed so that unreasonable consequences will be avoided. Schuler v. Holmes, 242 Iowa 1303, 1305, 49 N.W.2d 818, and citations; Saunders v. City of Iowa City, 134 Iowa 132, 146, 111 N.W. 529, 9 L.R.A.,N.S., 392; Castleberry v. Evatt, 147 Ohio St. 30, 67 N.E.2d 861, 863, 167 A.L.R. 198, 202; State v. Surma, 263 Wis. 388, 57 N.W.2d 370, 373; 50 Am.Jur., Statutes, section 377; 82 C.J.S., Statutes, § 326. See also II Lewis' Sutherland Statutory Construction, 2 Ed., section 488, page 910.

To construe section 321.1(16) as defendant urges us to do would, we think, result in unreasonable consequences never intended by the legislature. We conclude the trial court did not err in the respect claimed by defendant in holding plaintiff's combine was an implement of husbandry as defined by section 321.1(16).

Nor are we persuaded it was error to hold the combine was being 'temporarily moved upon a highway' within the meaning of section 321.453. 'Temporarily' is usually defined in dictionaries and decisions as not permanent, for a limited time only, not of long duration, transitory. Its most common antonym is permanently. It is generally regarded as a relative and comparative term. See Young v. Povich, 121 Me. 141, 116 A. 26, 29 A.L.R. 48, 51; McManus v. Home Ins. Co., 201 Wis. 164, 229 N.W. 537, 538; Moore v. Smead, 89 Wis. 558, 62 N.W. 426, 429; 86 C.J.S., Temporary, pages 354, 355; 41 Words and Phrases, Temporarily, pages 261 et seq.

Under any of these definitions plaintiff's combine was being temporarily moved. If the collision had not occurred the entire trip to the brother-in-law's farm would have taken little more than an hour and a half. The temporary character of the movement is not, in our opinion, necessarily negatived by the fact it was to be for 18 miles. We cannot accept defendant's argument that the only temporary movements of such an implement are from one field to another on the land farmed by the owner of the implement. The language of section 321.453 is not so limited nor is such a construction of the statute reasonably called for.

These authorities, in addition to those last cited, tend to support our conclusion plaintiff's combine was being temporarily moved upon a highway: Park Transp. Co. v. Missouri State Highway Comm., 332 Mo. 592, 60 S.W.2d 388, 392; Allred v. J. C. Engelman Co., 123 Tex. 205, 61 S.W.2d 75, 91 A.L.R. 417, 422; Bean v. Reeves, Tex.Civ.App., 77 S.W.2d 737.

No decision of ours bears directly on defendant's first contention plaintiff was negligent as a matter of law. Both sides cite Wood Bros. Thresher Co. v. Eicher, 231 Iowa 550, 1 N.W.2d 655, which affirms the dissolution of a temporary injunction restraining criminal proceedings to enforce what is now Code section 321.454, I.C.A., prescribing the maximum width of a vehicle or its load. Much of the cited opinion points out the reluctance of equity to restrain criminal proceedings by temporary injunction. However we go on to say that moving one or more cornpickers from the factory, loaded on a truck, when the distance of transportation is without limit, does not fall within the exception of what is now section 321.453.

Our conclusion here is entirely consistent with the Wood Bros. opinion. A practical consideration in that case...

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