DES MOINES — The Iowa Court of Appeals last week overturned a district court ruling favoring potential land buyers in a years-long dispute over a failed Iowa Department of Transportation land sale.
On Wednesday, the appeals court, in a 2-1 decision, found that the district court erred in not granting the DOT’s request for summary judgment in a lawsuit brought by Jeffrey England, Larry England and Charlotte England.
The ruling was written by Judge Julie Schumacher and joined by Judge Gina Badding. Judge David May wrote a dissenting opinion, saying he believed the district court ruled correctly.
The appeal ruling returns the case to the district court for summary judgment in favor of the DOT to end the case.
Wednesday’s decision is the latest in a long line of administrative and legal battles over 28 acres of land in Wapello County. The DOT decided to sell the land in 2016, but clerical errors marred the sale and resulted in lawsuits from multiple parties.
The initial auction to sell the land involved three owners of an adjoining property: Jon and Cheryl Simparcel, Kurt and Carol Anderson; and Jeffrey England.
The owners received a bidding form, and the DOT said it would give preference to bids that exceeded or equaled fair market value, which it determined to be $45,000. A valid bid had to include a check.
The bid form specified $45,000 as the default bid amount. The Andersons submitted an offer form and a check for $45,000. England submitted the form with the default offer of $45,000, but a check from parents Larry and Charlotte England for $51,016. Upon learning that there was another bidder, the Andersons increased their bid to $50,000.
The bidding was then closed and the Andersons were informed that their bid was not accepted. The DOT then decided to send a new bid form to England so that the bid amount could be changed to match the amount of the check. However, the form was mistakenly sent to the Andersons.
Then begin the challenges. The Anderson raised concerns that while Jeffrey England was an adjoining owner and eligible to participate in the auction, his parents who signed the check were not.
After reviewing the concern, the DOT determined that the sale should be canceled and told the adjoining landowners there would be another bidding process later.
In the first round of judicial review, a district court ruled that the DOT was within its rights to rescind the sale and that the initial correspondence made it clear that the offers were being collected for “consideration.”
The decision was later upheld on appeal.
The Englands then filed a complaint against the DOT in 2019 about it. DOT attorneys argued that the case should be closed with summary judgment because the legal points were the same as previous challenges.
“The parties cannot sing the same song, second verse, and they cannot clog the court system with cases that have already been decided,” the DOT attorneys wrote. “Unfortunately, that’s what the plaintiffs are doing in this action.”
Englands lawyers said the DOT created two contracts to sell the land with Englands, one when they accepted Jeffrey England’s offer by depositing the check and another when they contacted Charlotte England to review the submission form.
District Court Judge Crystal Cronk wrote in the now-overturned decision that she would likely grant the DOT’s motion under normal circumstances, but called the case unique and ruled against the DOT’s motion. .
She wrote: “However, the unique circumstances of this case lead the Court to believe that the plaintiffs did not have a full and fair opportunity to argue the claim as to whether a contract existed in the first action.”