Let the Motions Begin: Drainage Districts Seek Partial Summary Judgment

October 2, 2015 | Kristine A. Tidgren

The drainage districts being sued by the Board of Water Works Trustees (DMWW) have filed their first dispositive motion. On September 24, the districts filed a motion asking the court to enter summary judgment in favor of the drainage districts on the common law claims alleged by DMWW. These claims--which are all asserted under Iowa common law--include negligence, trespass, public nuisance, and private nuisance. The defendants also asked the court to enter judgment in favor of the defendants on DMWW’s constitutional claims.

The brief in support of the motion argues that DMWW’s tort claims cannot be maintained as a matter of law. Under Iowa law, the brief argues, drainage districts—which are creations of statutory law—cannot be sued for money damages. Instead, they can only be sued to perform delegated duties through mandamus. In the words of the Iowa Supreme Court, the brief continues, “drainage districts are ‘merely an area of land.’”

DMWW has attempted to get around this problem by alleging that Iowa law--in depriving DMWW the opportunity to sue drainage districts for tort damage--violates the United States Constitution. Specifically, DMWW asserts that such limitation would violate DMWW’s Equal Protection and Due Process rights. The defendants attack this position by stating that one political subdivision of a state cannot, as a matter of law, deprive another political subdivision of due process or equal protection rights. Because both the drainage districts and DMWW were created by the Iowa legislature, the defendants assert, “DMWW is in no position to complain that creating drainage districts, in the manner the Legislature did, somehow deprived DMWW of any right.” “As a political subdivision of the State of Iowa, DMWW may not bring due process and equal protection claims against other political subdivisions of the state, including drainage districts.” The brief continues, “Drainage districts, with their limited existence, are not proper parties to this suit.”

Finally, the defendants allege that DMWW lacks standing to bring its taking claim, another constitutional claim asserted by DMWW. Again, the defendants state that DMWW may not bring a takings claim against another political subdivision. They also assert that even if DMWW had standing to bring the claim, it could not prove that the defendants were taking “private property.” A permit to withdraw water for beneficial use “does not constitute ownership or absolute rights of use of the waters.” DMWW, the brief argues, can identify no private property being taken for public use.

Notice that this motion for partial summary judgment only seeks judgment on DMWW's common law and constitutional law claims. The claims under the Clean Water Act and the Iowa companion statute are not at issue in this round. Those motions are for another day. DMWW has 21 days from September 24 to file its opposition.

We will keep you posted.


Read the drainage districts' brief in support of their motion for partial summary judgment here.

Read the complaint by accessing this prior blogpost.