Iowa Court Says an Appeal is the Exclusive Remedy to Challenge Drainage District Assessment

January 31, 2022 | Kitt Tovar Jensen

On January 12, 2022, the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed that a group of landowners did not follow the required statutory appeal route to challenge a drainage assessment. After a county drainage district assessed the cost of a failed annexation against landowners in the district, the landowners filed a petition for declaratory judgment. Because the landowners did not file an appeal as required under Iowa Code section 468.83(1), the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the landowners’ petition for failure to state a claim.

Appealing Drainage District Assessments

Landowners may challenge an assessment by a drainage district by appealing to the district court. See Iowa Code § 468.83(1). Here, the landowners argued that they sought equitable relief to void an illegal assessment and, accordingly, Iowa Code section 468.83 did not apply. The court rejected this argument finding that the statutory appeal process is the only remedy for aggrieved parties to challenge an assessment. Iowa Code § 468.96.

The court differentiated the current case from Voogd v. Joint Drainage Dist., on which the landowners relied. 188 N.W.2d 387, (Iowa 1971). In Voodg, the Iowa Supreme Court allowed an independent suit to proceed where “the proceedings [were] not merely irregular but [were] void.” In this case, the landowners did not allege that the trustees’ actions would render the proceeding void. Therefore, because the landowners did not follow the statutory appeal route required under chapter 468, the court affirmed the dismissal.