Iowa Court of Appeals Awards Damages in a Replevin Action for Farm Equipment

January 26, 2023 | Kitt Tovar Jensen

On January 25, 2023, the Iowa Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s order denying damages stemming from a replevin action of farm equipment. After determining that the plaintiffs were the rightful owners, the district court denied the plaintiffs’ request for damages reasoning that the defendant was justified in holding onto the equipment. Although the defendants reasonably claimed to be the rightful owner, the court ultimately determined they were not. Therefore, the plaintiffs were entitled to damages for the illegal detention of the equipment. Iowa Code § 643.17.


After a farmer passed away, the plaintiffs filed a replevin action to reclaim two grain trailers and a combine that had been in the farmer’s possession. The farmer’s estate resisted. The next month, both parties agreed to the entry of a consent order preventing “all [p]arties . . . from selling, transferring, distributing or in any other way disposing of, without a [c]ourt [o]rder” the contested machinery. The probate court also ordered the estate to maintain control of the equipment.

After the initial trial was continued, the plaintiffs filed an application for immediate possession of the equipment in September 2020 asserting that they needed the equipment for the upcoming harvest. In December, the district court held a hearing and determined that the plaintiffs could have possession of the two grain trailers after posting bond. See Iowa Code § 643.7. The plaintiffs never posted bond.

Several months later, the district court held a bench trial. Despite finding “the lack of documentation for the transactions [between the parties] troubling,” the district court concluded that the there was sufficient evidence that the farmer was leasing the equipment under a rent-to-own agreement. However, because both the court order and consent order required the estate to maintain possession of the equipment, the district court denied the request for the damages. The plaintiffs appealed the denial of damages.

Damages Resulting from Wrongful Possession of Property

Replevin is a legal action to regain rightful possession of goods or personal property. It is not an action for damages, but the court “shall also award damages” for cost incurred due to the wrongful possession of the property. Iowa Code § 643.17. The determination of whether damages should be awarded is based on whether the possession is wrongful, not whether the possession is justified. Although the estate did not act with bad intentions by relying on the court order, the estate did not have rightful ownership of the equipment at that time.

Damages for a wrongful detention is the “net market value of the use of the property during the period it was wrongfully detained.” Universal C.I.T. Credit Corp. v. Jones, 227 N.W.2d 473, 479 (Iowa 1975). The rightful owner does not need to prove that the property would have been used, but that he was deprived of his rightful possession. Based on the evidence of the cost incurred to hire grain trailers and custom harvesting, the Court of Appeals awarded the plaintiffs $66,814.53 in damages.