Iowa State Extension has produced a video about the mediation process. Click here to watch the video.
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution designed to draw conflicts to a close without costly and time-consuming litigation. Typically, a neutral third-party mediator works with two sides to a dispute in an attempt to reach an agreement that is acceptable to both parties. If a mediation agreement is signed, the parties are bound by the terms, as they would be bound by any contract.
To protect sometimes vulnerable farming interests, Iowa law has long required mediation for certain types of farm disputes. This fact sheet provides a general overview of Iowa’s requirements for mandatory agricultural mediation.
Since the time of the farm crisis in the mid 1980’s, Iowa law has provided that creditors may not initiate proceedings to enforce a debt respecting “agricultural property” without first attempting to mediate the dispute.[i] Under Iowa Code § 654A.4, this requirement applies to the enforcement of secured debts of $20,000 or more. Iowa Code § 654A.1(1) defines “agricultural property” as follows:
Agricultural land that is principally used for farming as defined in section 9H.1, and personal property that is used as security to finance a farm operation or used as part of a farm operation including equipment, crops, livestock, and proceeds of the security.
Consequently, the mandatory creditor-farmer mediation provision applies to debts of $20,000 or more for which land, equipment, livestock, or crops are the collateral.
Creditors wishing to initiate a proceeding to enforce a debt against agricultural property must first file a request for mediation with Iowa Mediation Service.[ii] This includes actions to foreclose a mortgage under Iowa Code § 654, actions to forfeit a contract to purchase agricultural real property under Iowa Code § 656, actions to enforce a secured interest in agricultural property under Iowa Code § 554, and actions to levy upon or otherwise attach agricultural property.
Iowa Mediation Service (IMS) is a non-profit corporation contracting with the Iowa Attorney General to provide mediation services as required under Iowa law.[iii] Forms to request mediation are available on the organization’s website at http://www.iowamediationservice.com/forms/.
This mediation requirement is mandatory for creditors. It is jurisdictional, meaning that a court cannot hear a dispute involving a debt to which the statute applies unless the creditor has followed the mediation requirements. Once a request for mediation is filed, IMS will consult with the debtor (at no charge), who may waive his or her right to mediation. If the debtor waives mediation, the creditor obtains a mediation release and is then free to pursue its action to enforce the debt.[iv] A court may also relieve the creditor of the mediation requirement if “after notice and hearing,” the court determines “that the time delay required for the mediation would cause the creditor to suffer irreparable harm.” The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that the mandatory mediation provisions do not apply where the creditor brings its foreclosure action as a counterclaim in a lawsuit initiated by the debtor.[v]
Under the statute, the mediation must be held within 42 days of the initial request, unless that time-frame is extended by an agreement between both parties.[vi] IMS must send a mediation notice to both parties within 21 days of the initial request. IMS must also send a notice to all known creditors of the debtor. The debtor is obligated to file a list of creditors with the Iowa Mediation Service.[vii]
In addition to the requirement that creditors mediate their disputes with debtors, the statute provides that debtors or creditors may also request voluntary mediation from the IMS relating to agricultural property indebtedness. Voluntary mediation request forms are available on the IMS website.
Another type of Iowa farm dispute for which mediation is mandatory is a dispute alleging that a farm operation is a “nuisance interfering with the enjoyment of the other person.”[viii] Iowa Code § 657.10 provides that a party may not bring a civil action for agricultural nuisance unless first obtaining a mediation release or unless a court (after notice and hearing) determines that mediation would cause that party to suffer irreparable harm. Forms to request nuisance mediation are available on the IMS website at http://www.iowamediationservice.com/forms/.
Also mandatory in Iowa is mediation of disputes involving performance under a “care and feeding contract.” These contracts are defined as:
Agreements, either oral or written, between a farm resident and the owner of livestock, under which the farm resident agrees to act as a feeder by promising to care for and feed the livestock on the farm resident's premises.[ix]
As with other mandatory mediation requirements, a party wishing to enforce a care and feeding contract must first file a mediation request with IMS. An action can only be filed in court if that party obtains a mediation release from the other party to the dispute or if a court determines (after notice and an opportunity to be heard) that mediation would cause the party to suffer irreparable harm.
Parties to a dispute regarding “animal feeding operation structures”[x] may also request mediation under Iowa Code § 654C. These structures are defined as:
A confinement building, manure storage structure, dry bedded confinement feeding operation structure as defined in section 459B.102, or egg washwater storage structure.[xi]
Disputes under this provision are limited to those involving controversies between an owner and a neighbor which arise from negotiations between the parties to establish an animal feeding operation structure within the separation distance. Mediation of these disputes, however, is not mandatory, and mediation will only continue if both parties agree to proceed. [xii]
[i] Iowa Code § 654A.6.
[ii] Iowa Code § 654A.6(1)(a).
[iii] See Iowa Code § 13.1.3
[iv] Iowa Code § 654A.6(1)(a).
[v] Schaeffer v. Putnam, 841 N.W.2d 68 (Iowa 2013).
[vi] Iowa Code § 654A.8.
[vii] Iowa Code § 654A.6(3).
[viii] Iowa Code § 654B.1(2)(b).
[ix] Iowa Code § 654B.1(1).
[x] Iowa Code § 654C.
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