Iowa Court Affirms Farm Mediation Request is a Prerequisite to Bring Nuisance Lawsuit

May 29, 2023 |

A landowner brought a lawsuit against his neighbor claiming that his property experienced manure runoff after the neighbor applied manure on a nearby field. Because all the landowner’s claims stemmed from a nuisance allegation, the Court of Appeals determined that Iowa Code § 654B.3(1) applied. As such, the landowner was required to request farm mediation before filing the lawsuit. On March 8, 2023, the court affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.


After finding dead and gasping fish in his pond, a landowner complained to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). After an investigation, the DNR determined that manure from the neighboring farm was discharged into a nearby river and then flowed into the landowner’s pond.

Five years later, the landowner brought this lawsuit alleging negligent use of adjoining premises, nuisance, waste, and trespass. The neighbor moved to dismiss the petition claiming that the landowner failed to request mandatory farm mediation under Iowa Code § 654B.3(1). The landowner resisted the motion and requested a stay so that the court could determine whether the “time delay required for the mediation would cause [him] to suffer irreparable harm.”

The district court denied the landowner’s request and granted the neighbor’s motion to dismiss finding that Iowa law required the landowner to request mediation and receive a mediation release before he filed the lawsuit. The landowner appealed.

Applicability of Iowa Mandatory Farm Mediation Statute

Generally, an individual wishing to resolve a nuisance “dispute” involving a “farm resident” must first request mediation with the farm mediation service before beginning legal proceedings. Iowa Code § 654B.3(1)(a).[i] On appeal, the landowner claimed that section 654B.3(1)(a) did not apply because the definition of “farm resident” and “dispute” were not met.

A farm resident is “a person holding an interest in farmland, in fee, under a real estate contract, or under a lease, if the person manages farming operations on the land.” Iowa Code § 654B.1(5). It also includes certain business entities listed in Iowa Code section 9H.1.

Although the landowner did not specifically claim that the neighbor was a farm resident in his petition, he did allege that the neighbor applied manure on a field the neighbor “owned and operated.” Additionally, the court noted that the landowner seemed to concede that the dispute involved a farm resident when he requested mandatory farm mediation two months after filing suit.

The landowner next claimed section 654B.3(1)(a) was inapplicable because the “dispute” involved several allegations with elements distinct and separate from the elements of a nuisance claim. The statute defines a dispute as:  

a controversy between a person who is a farm resident and another person, which arises from a claim eligible to be resolved in a civil proceeding in law or equity if the claim relates to . . . [a]n action of one person which is alleged to be a nuisance interfering with the enjoyment of the other person.

Iowa Code § 654B.1(2)(b) (emphasis added).

The Court of Appeals determined that the statute encompasses all claims relating to nuisance actions. Here, the landowner’s claims of negligent use of adjoining premises, waste, and trespass all stemmed from the allegation that the manure runoff caused damage. Because the factual allegations for these claims all related to the nuisance allegation, the statute applied to all the landowner’s claims.  

Mandatory Farm Mediation Request

Relying on Rutter v. Carroll’s Foods of the Midwest, Inc., the landowner claimed that the district court erred in concluding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. 50 F. Supp. 2d 876, 883 (N.D. Iowa 1999) In Rutter, the federal court determined that obtaining a farm mediation release “is a ‘condition precedent’ to suit, not a jurisdictional prerequisite.” Therefore, failure to obtain a release is curable even after a lawsuit has been filed. Id. at 882-883.

The court rejected this argument. In 2000, the Iowa Legislature amended chapter 654B by adding that the “requirements of paragraph ‘a’ are jurisdictional prerequisites to a person filing a civil action that initiates a civil proceeding to resolve a dispute subject to this chapter.” See Iowa Code § 654B.3(1)(b). The Iowa Supreme Court has since found it “obvious” that “the legislature intended to respond to Rutter” and require “a mediation release from the farm mediation service to be a prerequisite to subject matter jurisdiction.” Klinge v. Bentien, 725 N.W.2d 13, 16 (Iowa 2006).

Irreparable Harm Caused by a Time Delay

Lastly, the landowner argued that the district court erred in denying his request to stay the proceedings to determine whether he would suffer irreparable harm from a time delay caused by the mediation proceedings. A “person shall not begin the proceeding until the person receives a mediation release or until the court determines after notice and hearing that . . . [t]he time delay required for the mediation would cause the person to suffer irreparable harm.” Iowa Code § 654B.3(1)(a).

Specifically, the landowner claimed he would suffer irreparable harm if the court dismissed his lawsuit because this “would essentially be a dismissal with prejudice as the claims asserted in the [p]etition may be barred by the applicable statute of limitations.”[ii] Although the statute does not define “irreparable harm,” the court found that it would not include self-inflicted harm for failing to complete mediation. Additionally, any harm suffered by the landowner would not be due to a “time delay for mediation” but from failing to request mediation.

A civil proceeding begins when a party files a petition with the court. Schaefer v. Putnam, 841 N.W.2d 68, 78 (Iowa 2013). Because the landowner failed to request mediation and obtain a release before “begin[ning] the proceedings,” the court affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.


[i] The State of Iowa has contracted with the Iowa Mediation Service to provide farm mediation services for certain types of farm disputes.

[ii] Under Iowa law, an action concerning injury to property must be brought within five years from the date of the alleged offense. Iowa Code § 614.1(4).