Iowa Court Considers Whether Alleged Farm Nuisance is Permanent or Continuous

 

On August 7, 2019, the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled that an alleged farm nuisance was a continuous, rather than permanent, nuisance. As a result, the court held that the statute of limitations did not bar the neighbors’ claims of nuisance, trespass, and negligence.

Background

The plaintiffs in this case lived next to a cattle operation which began in 2006. In 2009, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) investigated the cattle lot due to manure-run off. At that point, the DNR required the operation to take remedial action. In 2013, the DNR again investigated the farm for manure run-off.

In 2016, the neighbors brought this lawsuit against the cattle farm. In the complaint, the plaintiffs claimed that manure from the farm repeatedly entered their property. They brought claims of negligence, trespass, and nuisance.

Statute of Limitations

Under Iowa law, an action concerning injury to property must be brought within five years from the date of the alleged offense. The district court ruled that because the manure runoff had been an ongoing issue, the statute of limitations began to run in 2006. Because the case was not filed until 2016, the district court held that the action was barred by the five-year statute of limitations. The plaintiffs appealed.

Permanent v. Continuing Nuisance

To determine when the statute of limitations began to run for this action, the court had to determine whether the flowing of manure onto the neighbor’s property was a permanent or a continuous action. If a nuisance is considered permanent, the statute of limitations begins to run at the time of the first injury. If the alleged offense is temporary, but continuous, the statute of limitations for the last offense begins on the date of that offense rather than the date of the first injury.

A nuisance may be considered permanent even if the offense is intermittent. In another nuisance case concerning a hog confinement facility, the Iowa Supreme Court found that because there was no technology to prevent or abate the odor from the facility, it was a permanent nuisance. Weinhold v. Wolff, 555 N.W.2d 454, 463 (Iowa 1996). Unlike nuisance cases involving odor, the Iowa courts have frequently found cases involving manure to be a continuing nuisance because the defendants could remedy the nuisance. See Earl v. Clark, 219 N.W.2d 487, 490 (Iowa 1974); Bennett v. City of Marion, 93 N.W. 558, 559 (Iowa 1903).

Here, if the nuisance claimed was permanent, the statute of limitations would have started in 2006 and the plaintiffs’ claim would be barred. Because the cattle farm did not demonstrate that the damage to the plaintiff property could not be abated, it did not meet its burden to show this was a permanent nuisance. The Court of Appeals thus reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgement and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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