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Legal Issues

Sarah Crane and Mike Richards Score a Victory and Provide Greater Clarity for Iowa Municipalities - March 29, 2018

Sarah Crane and Mike Richards of the Davis Brown Law Firm recently received a favorable opinion from the Iowa Supreme Court on an issue of first impression which provides clarity regarding a legislative immunity for municipalities in Iowa: the “state-of-the-art” defense set forth in Iowa Code section 671.4(1)(h).

The legal contest began in 2015 when a City of Albia resident filed a lawsuit alleging improper and negligent design and construction of a storm sewer system had caused flooding on her property since 2008, resulting in a recurring nuisance.  Davis Brown represented Albia in the lawsuit.

Davis Brown moved to dismiss the lawsuit arguing the resident’s claims of negligence and nuisance were barred by the state-of-the-art defense enumerated in Iowa Code section 671.4(1)(h) because the sewer system, which was designed in 1972, met the generally recognized engineering standards in existence at the time of its construction.  The District Court agreed with the City’s argument and dismissed the case. 

On appeal, the Iowa Court of Appeals overturned the district court and remanded the nuisance claim for trial, finding the state of the art defense did not bar the nuisance claim.  Crane and Richards sought further review before the Iowa Supreme Court, which overturned the Court of Appeal’s opinion and dismissed the case in Albia’s favor.

In the opinion, the Supreme Court provides municipalities with guidance regarding the law of negligence claims verses nuisance claims, and the applicability of the state-of-the-art defense.  After analyzing what the Court referred to as the “impenetrable jungle” of law surrounding nuisance claims, the Supreme Court agreed with Crane and Richards’ argument that the state-of-the-art defense was not restricted merely to negligence claims, but instead was meant to apply to nuisance actions which are “based upon or arising out of” a theory grounded in negligent design or construction.

The City of Albia was happy to resolve the matter.  "The City is pleased with the result and in bringing this matter to a conclusion" added Albia City Attorney Bob Breckenridge.

For any questions regarding the applicability of this defense, or other municipal law questions, please feel free to contact Crane and Richards at Davis Brown.

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