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Iowa on the National Stage for more than the Big Dance.

If it was a $50 fine to murder someone, we wouldn’t have a population problem anywhere. This phrase sums up why people follow the law. Either they fear the punishment (life in prison appears to be a higher deterrent) or they think the law is a good idea to begin with(most folks just wouldn’t). If the cost of non compliance is low, even a toddler knows that paying the piper is worth the fun or risk of non compliance. When no one really knows who is supposed to comply, then the rule enforcers are left with no clear line to enforce and anybody who doesn’t really want to expend effort to do anything doesn’t have to.

This principle is playing out in a case of national importance filed right here in Iowa. Currently, Iowa has a voluntary nutrient reduction system designed to combat the ever growing nitrate level in our drinking water. However, the laws on the books are unclear on who is on the hook for making sure the water stays clean. The Des Moines Board of Water Works Trustees (DMWW) has about 500,000 customers that it owes a duty to provide clean water to. It is spending a lot of money attempting to do so. Not satisfied with the lack of progress on the matter, they filed a federal Clean Water Act (CWA) lawsuit against the supervisors and drainage districts of three counties. The lawsuit alleges that the county supervisors, as trustees for the drainage districts, are operating the drainage districts in an “unlawful and antisocial” manner that is contrary to the “public health and welfare.” The DMWW seeks a court order to cease “all discharges of nitrate that are not authorized by an NPDES or state operating permit.” They specifically targeted counties that had data to support their concerns about nitrate infiltration.

What DMWW really wants is change and since they aren’t getting their way through cooperation, they are seeking it through judges rulings. Its goal is to force national and state agencies change regulations and positions they have had for years. If successful, this case could impact the entire nation industry of agriculture. Farmers will feel the impact if they have to apply for discharge permits. It could ad some depth to the current voluntary nutrient reduction strategy. If state and local governments are mandated to take actions, perhaps funding will be available to farmers to implement buffer strips and other reduction stratagems that they will be compelled to complete if DMWW gets their way. Of course, those funds have to come from somewhere, schools, roads, bridges or tax payers wallets are all candidates I would suppose.

Can a farm tenant, who is terminated on the lease, sue for damages against the land owner for not being able to make corn stalk bales before fall tillage starts for the operator? Under Iowa Law, as of 1 July 2010 ,unless the parties agree otherwise, the tenant has the right to the property until the lease expires. In a recently decided case, the terminated tenant sued successfully for trespass damages where he had established that prior to the trespass of fall tillage, he was going to make corn stalk bales, even though the lease was enacted before the law change. Because the lease renewed automatically on 1 September 2010, after the law change in 2010, the change in the law was applied to the contract.

The kicker on this is that the tenant only had the lease with the change in the law because he hadn’t been properly terminated on 1 September 2010.The take away from this case is clear, following ag law and its rules is not a task to be tended to right before catching the opening monologue of Jimmy Fallon. The rules are complex, the courts will treat your operation like a business.

Animals are at the core of many, many farm operations, but even the grain farmer is likely to have a few animals or a farm dog around, and most anyone who farms is bound to encounter wild animals that impact the operation.  The rules that affect animals cover a swath of farm life as varied as the animals themselves and the activities that involve them.

A dog owner is liable for the action of his dog. Don't post "Beware of Dog" signs; you are responsible regardless of what sign you post.  Your best advice is to control your animals. Every dog must have a rabies vaccination.  Any dog (or cat or other animal) which has bitten or attacked a person must be reported.  If rabies is suspected, animal-control officials can order the owner to confine the animal or it can be impounded by animal-control officials, who can hold the dog for ten (10) days and may then humanely destroy it.  If the dog is returned to its owner, the owner must pay fees for impoundment.

Note:  If you confine a non-livestock animal for suspected rabies (or any other reason), be aware that the Iowa Code makes it unlawful to "to fail to supply the animal during confinement with a sufficient quantity of food or water, or to fail to provide a confined animal with adequate shelter, or to torture, deprive of necessary sustenance, mutilate, beat, or kill such animal by any means which causes unjustified pain, distress or suffering."

It is illegal to abandon your dog. Dogs under six months of age, and all other dogs that are wearing a collar with attached tags showing a valid rabies vaccination, along with the name and address of the animal's owner, are presumed to be someone's property.  If these dogs are impounded, you must claim them, prove that they are current on vaccinations, and pay impoundment fees within seven days, or your dog could be destroyed. Dogs not provided with a rabies vaccination tag are not presumed to be anyone's property. If a dog over six months of age is running loose and not wearing a valid rabies vaccination tag, it can be terminated by law enforcement.

Liability for Damages Caused by a Dog

The owner of a dog is liable to an injured party for all damages done by the dog  when the dog is caught in the action of worrying, maiming, or killing a domestic animal; or the dog is attacking or attempting to bite a person, except when the person damaged is doing an unlawful act, directly contributing to the injury. You could also be held liable for damages to other property caused by your dog, if you allow it to run loose in violation of the law. 

For example, if your neighbor complains about your loose dog, but you do nothing to restrain it, and it goes over again and digs up her newly-planted (and costly) rose bed and shrubs, you may have to pay to replace the plantings.

Saturday, February 23, 2019
  • Patrick B. Dillon
  • Jill Dillon
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Patrick B. Dillon enjoys finding solutions to legal issues and catching problems for clients. Pat practices in the Sumner office regularly represents clients in district, associate district and magistrate courts for agricultural, real estate, criminal and collection issues. He drafts wills and trusts, creates estate plans and helps clients through the probate process.
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Jill Dillon focuses on family law, estate planning and IRS matters. Jill is a University of Northern Iowa undergraduate (Political Science Cum Laude) and a Drake University Law School graduate. Jill spent extensive time advocating for low income tax payers in front of the IRS and the State of Iowa Department of Revenue while at Drake.

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