Board of Water Works v. Sac County Board of Supervisors et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER - granting in its entirety 34 MOTION for Summary Judgment on Counts III through X and 60 MOTION for Summary Judgment on Counts I and II. Because defendants are entitled to judgment on all counts of the complaint, this case is hereby dismissed. The Clerk shall enter judgment against the plaintiff and in favor of the defendants and close the case. Signed by Chief Judge Leonard T Strand on 3/17/17. (djs)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF IOWA
BOARD OF WATER WORKS
TRUSTEES OF THE CITY OF DES
SAC COUNTY BOARD OF
SUPERVISORS AS TRUSTEES OF
DRAINAGE DISTRICTS 32, 42, 65,
79, 81, 83, 86, et al.,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND
ORDER ON DEFENDANTS’
MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY
This case is before me on motions (Doc. Nos. 34, 60) for summary judgment filed
by all defendants. The Iowa Supreme Court has answered this court’s certified questions
concerning Iowa law1 and the parties have filed a joint status report (Doc. No. 81). The
motions are fully submitted and ready for decision. For the reasons set forth herein, the
defendants’ motions will be granted and this case will be dismissed in its entirety.
Plaintiff Board of Water Works Trustees of the City of Des Moines, Iowa, also
known as the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW), commenced this action on March 16,
See Board of Water Works Trustees of the City of Des Moines, Iowa v. Sac Cty. Bd. of
Supervisors, as Trustee of Drainage Dist. 32, 42, 65, 79, 81, 83, 86, et al., No. 16-0076, 890
N.W.2d 50 (Iowa 2017) (hereafter the Certified Questions Opinion) (filed herein as Doc. No.
2015, by filing a ten-count complaint (Doc. No. 2). The named defendants are the Sac
County Board of Supervisors, as Trustees of Drainage Districts 32, 42, 65, 79, 81, 83,
86, the Calhoun County Board of Supervisors and the Sac County Board of Supervisors,
as Joint Trustees of Drainage Districts 2 and 51, and the Buena Vista County Board of
Supervisors and the Sac County Board of Supervisors, as Joint Trustees of Drainage
Districts 19 and 26 and Drainage Districts 64 and 105 (collectively the defendants or the
drainage districts). The complaint includes the following causes of action:
Clean Water Act [33 U.S.C. § 1365]
[Iowa Code] Chapter 455B
Taking Without Just Compensation
Due Process & Equal Protection
Doc. No. 2. United States District Judge Mark W. Bennett, to whom this case was
initially assigned,2 has aptly summarized this case as follows:
The state of Iowa’s largest municipal water utility provider, providing
drinking water to an estimated half million customers in the Des Moines
area, alleges state tort claims and federal and state statutory and
constitutional claims against ten upstream drainage districts and three
upstream County Board of Supervisors as Trustees of the Drainage
Districts. This is a case about which political subdivision of Iowa must
cover the costs of complying with federal and state clean water regulations
due to increased nitrate levels, beyond the maximum allowed by law, in the
This case was reassigned to me on February 17, 2016, upon my appointment as a United States
water flowing downstream that is used by the State’s largest municipal
Doc. No. 50 at 4 [footnote omitted].
On September 24, 2015, defendants filed a motion (Doc. No. 34) for summary
judgment on Counts III through X.
DMWW filed a resistance (Doc. No. 35) and
defendants filed a reply (Doc. No. 42).
motion on December 21, 2015.
Judge Bennett conducted a hearing on the
Before the hearing, Judge Bennett issued an order
directing the parties to confer and “to determine all issues that may be appropriate for
certification to the Iowa Supreme Court pursuant to Iowa Code § 684A.1 (2015).” Doc.
No. 46 at 1.
After the hearing, Judge Bennett certified four questions to the Iowa
Supreme Court. Doc. No. 50.
While those certified questions of Iowa law were pending before the Iowa Supreme
Court, defendants filed a motion (Doc. No. 60) for summary judgment as to Counts I
and II. DMWW filed a resistance (Doc. No. 67) and defendants filed a reply (Doc. No.
On January 27, 2017, the Iowa Supreme Court filed the Certified Questions
Opinion. The Court answered the certified questions as follows:
Question 1: As a matter of Iowa law, does the doctrine of implied
immunity of drainage districts as applied in cases such as Fisher v. Dallas
County, 369 N.W.2d 426 (Iowa 1985), grant drainage districts unqualified
immunity from all of the damage claims set forth in the complaint (docket
Yes. As explained below, drainage districts have a limited,
targeted role—to facilitate the drainage of farmland in order to make it more
productive. Accordingly, Iowa law has immunized drainage districts from
damages claims for over a century. This immunity was reaffirmed
unanimously by our court just over four years ago.
Question 2: As a matter of Iowa law, does the doctrine of implied
immunity grant drainage districts unqualified immunity from equitable
remedies and claims other than mandamus?
Yes. Again, Iowa precedent, reaffirmed unanimously by
our court just four years ago, recognizes that drainage districts are immune
from injunctive relief claims other than mandamus.
Question 3: As a matter of Iowa law, can the plaintiff assert protections
afforded by the Iowa Constitution's inalienable rights, due process, equal
protection, and takings clauses against drainage districts as alleged in the
No. Although these constitutional clauses are fundamental
to our freedom in Iowa, they exist to protect citizens against overreaching
government. Generally, one subdivision of state government cannot sue
another subdivision of state government under these clauses. And even if
they could, an increased need to treat nitrates drawn from river water to meet
standards for kitchen tap water would not amount to a constitutional
Question 4: As a matter of Iowa law, does the plaintiff have a property
interest that may be the subject of a claim under the Iowa Constitution's
takings clause as alleged in the complaint?
No, for the reasons discussed in the answer to Question 3.
Doc. No. 82 at 3-4. At my request, the parties then filed a joint status report (Doc. No.
81) setting forth their positions as to how this case should proceed in light of the Certified
DMWW is a municipal water utility organized under Iowa Code Chapter 388 that
provides drinking water to customers in the Des Moines area. DMWW obtains its water
supply from the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers. Defendants are various drainage
districts organized under Iowa Code Chapter 468 located in upstream areas that drain
into those rivers. As Judge Bennett noted in his certification order:
Drainage districts are a funding mechanism property owners establish to
levy for drainage improvements. Fisher v. Dallas Cty., 369 N.W.2d 426,
428-29 (Iowa 1985). For a drainage district to be established, at least two
land owners must petition for its creation. IOWA CODE § 468.6. “The
right of a landowner to place tiles in swales or ditches to carry the water
from ponds upon and onto lower lands . . . is necessary [ ] in order that
low and swampy lands may be reclaimed, and a denial thereof would be
productive of incalculable mischief.” Dorr v. Simmerson, 103 N.W. 806,
807 (1905). The affairs of drainage districts are managed by the county
board of supervisors in a representative capacity. See IOWA CODE §§
468.37, .89, .231, .232, .617. If a repair exceeds $50,000, a hearing is
required to determine advisability and appeal is allowed. IOWA CODE §
468.126(1)(c). Similarly, improvements exceeding a certain amount can
be stopped through a process called remonstrance. IOWA CODE §
Doc. No. 50 at 7-8. Both DMWW and the drainage districts are political subdivisions
of Iowa. See Koethe v. Johnson, 328 N.W.2d 293, 298 (Iowa 1982); State ex rel. Iowa
Emp’t Sec. Comm'n v. Des Moines Cty., 149 N.W.2d 288, 291 (Iowa 1967).
Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3000 et seq., DMWW is
obligated to meet maximum contaminant level (MCL) standards established by the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its finished water. Among the contaminants
regulated are nitrates. To meet the EPA’s standards, DMWW must remove nitrates
from its water supply. DMWW alleges that there has been an increased level of nitrates
in the water supply caused by the drainage districts channeling of nitrate-contaminated
ground water into the water supply.
As a result of this increase, DMWW alleges that despite investments in
infrastructure and the development of strategies to manage periodic high nitrate levels,
there is a continued threat to the water supply caused by the actions of the drainage
districts. DMWW alleges that the only way to adequately protect citizens at a reasonable
cost is to prevent the discharge of nitrates from the drainage districts’ infrastructure.
DMWW requests entry of an order compelling the drainage districts to obtain national
pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permits and to comply with the Clean
Water Act (CWA) in limiting nitrate discharges. DMWW further seeks a declaratory
judgment that the drainage districts have violated both the CWA and Iowa Code Chapter
455B by failing to comply with effluent limitations prescribed by the NPDES permit
In addition, DMWW alleges that the drainage districts’ actions violate the
Takings Clause, the Due Process and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS
Any party may move for summary judgment regarding all or any part of the claims
asserted in a case. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Summary judgment is appropriate when
“the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the
moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
A material fact is one that “‘might affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law.’” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Thus,
“the substantive law will identify which facts are material.”
Facts that are
“critical” under the substantive law are material, while facts that are “irrelevant or
unnecessary” are not.
An issue of material fact is genuine if it has a real basis in the record, Hartnagel
v. Norman, 953 F.2d 394, 395 (8th Cir. 1992) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)), or when “‘a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party on the question,” Woods v. DaimlerChrysler
Corp., 409 F.3d 984, 990 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).
Evidence that only provides “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts,”
Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586, or evidence that is “merely colorable” or “not significantly
probative,” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50, does not make an issue of material fact
As such, a genuine issue of material fact requires “sufficient evidence supporting
the claimed factual dispute” so as to “require a jury or judge to resolve the parties'
differing versions of the truth at trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49.
moving for entry of summary judgment bears “the initial responsibility of informing the
court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record which show
a lack of a genuine issue.” Hartnagel, 953 F.2d at 395 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at
323). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must go beyond
the pleadings and by depositions, affidavits, or otherwise, designate specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Mosley v. City of Northwoods, 415 F.3d
910 (8th Cir. 2005). The nonmovant must show an alleged issue of fact is genuine and
material as it relates to the substantive law.
If a party fails to make a sufficient showing
of an essential element of a claim or defense with respect to which that party has the
burden of proof, then the opposing party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.
In determining if a genuine issue of material fact is present, I must view the
evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
Matsushita, 475 U.S. at
Further, I must give the nonmoving party the benefit of all reasonable
inferences that can be drawn from the facts. Id. However, “because we view the facts
in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, we do not weigh the evidence or
attempt to determine the credibility of the witnesses.” Kammueller v. Loomis, Fargo &
Co., 383 F.3d 779, 784 (8th Cir. 2004). Instead, “the court's function is to determine
whether a dispute about a material fact is genuine.”
F.3d 1372, 1376-77 (8th Cir. 1996).
Quick v. Donaldson Co., Inc., 90
Counts I and II
As noted above, the defendants’ original motion for summary judgment (Doc. No.
34) addressed Counts III through X. Only after Judge Bennett filed the certification
order did the defendants file a motion for summary judgment as to Counts I and II. Not
surprisingly, in their joint status report the parties disagree as to whether the Iowa
Supreme Court’s ruling impacts Counts I and II.
For example, DMWW notes that
Count I is based on federal law and suggests, therefore, that the Iowa Supreme Court’s
responses to questions of Iowa law have no impact on that claim. Defendants argue,
however, that the Court’s description and reaffirmation of the drainage districts’ limited
powers supports their claim that the doctrine of redressability requires dismissal of Counts
I and II.
The federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. U.S. Const., art.
III, § 1. They “have only the power that is authorized by Article III of the Constitution
and the statutes enacted by Congress pursuant thereto.”
United States, 4 F.3d 643, 646 (8th Cir. 1993).
threshold question in every federal case.
Marine Equip. Mgmt. Co. v.
A plaintiff’s standing to sue is a
Steger v. Franco, Inc., 228 F.3d 889, 892 (8th
Cir. 2000). “To show Article III standing, a plaintiff has the burden of proving: (1)
that he or she suffered an ‘injury-in-fact,’ (2) a causal relationship between the injury and
the challenged conduct, and (3) that the injury likely will be redressed by a favorable
decision.” Id. (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560–61 (1992)).
The last element, redressability, requires a showing that it is “‘likely’ as opposed
to merely ‘speculative,’ that the injury will be ‘redressed by a favorable decision.’”
Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560. “The redressability prong is not met when a plaintiff seeks
relief against a defendant with no power to enforce a challenged statute.”
Recognition Network, Inc. v. Hutchinson, 803 F.3d 952, 958 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting
Bronson v. Swensen, 500 F.3d 1099, 1111 (10th Cir. 2007)). Thus, “[i]f the defendants
have no power to redress the alleged injuries even if the court were to grant the requested
relief, the plaintiff has no case or controversy against those particular defendants.”
v. DiGuglielmo, 615 F. Supp. 2d 368, 373 (E.D. Pa. 2009) (citing Okpalobi v. Foster,
244 F.3d 405, 427 (5th Cir. 2001)).
The Clean Water Act
In 1972, Congress amended the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948. 33
U.S.C. §§ 1251 et seq.
This amendment became known as the Clean Water Act
The CWA was designed to eliminate “the discharge of pollutants into
navigable waters.” 33 U.S.C. § 1251. One way in which the CWA accomplishes this
goal is through a structure for regulating pollutant discharges. The CWA contains a
provision to establish the national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) for
the discharge of pollution. 33 U.S.C. § 1342. “[T]he NPDES requires dischargers to
obtain permits that place limits on the type and quantity of pollutants that can be released
into the Nation's waters.” S. Florida Water Mgmt. Dist. v. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians,
541 U.S. 95, 102 (2004). “The Act defines the phrase ‘discharge of a pollutant’ to
mean ‘any addition of any pollutant to navigable waters from any point source.’”
(quoting 33 U.S.C. § 1362(12)). Under the NPDES, the term “point source” means
“any discernible, confined and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe,
ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, container, rolling stock,
concentrated animal feeding operation, or vessel or other floating craft, from which
pollutants are or may be discharged.” 33 U.S.C. § 1362(14). Point sources do “not
include agricultural stormwater discharges and return flows from irrigated agriculture.”
Here, the parties disagree as to whether the drainage districts qualify as “point
sources” under the NPDES and, thus, whether they require permitting as provided by the
CWA. Further, even if drainage districts are point sources requiring permits under the
NPDES, the parties disagree as to whether DMWW’s alleged injury problem can be
redressed by a favorable ruling.
Defendants contend that the Certified Questions Opinion precludes the possibility
of redress. In other words, they argue that under Iowa law, drainage districts have no
power to redress DMWW’s alleged injuries, even if DMWW prevails on Count I and/or
Count II. I agree.
The Iowa Supreme Court made it clear that drainage districts have only those
rights and powers set forth in the statutes that created them. Doc. No. 82 at 27 (“[A]
drainage district is a legislative creation which has no rights or powers other than those
found in statutes which give and sustain its life.” (quoting State ex rel. Iowa Emp’t Sec.
Comm’n v. Des Moines County, 149 N.W.2d 288, 291 (Iowa 1967))). Under Iowa
Code Chapter 468, drainage districts are empowered to:
restore or maintain a drainage or levee improvement in its original
efficiency or capacity, and for that purpose may remove silt, debris, repair
any damaged structures, remove weeds and other vegetable growth, and
whatever else may be needed to restore or maintain such efficiency or
capacity to prolong its useful life.
Iowa Code § 468.126(1)(a). The Iowa Supreme Court noted that “[a]n improvement is
further defined as ‘a project intended to expand, enlarge, or otherwise increase the
capacity of any existing ditch, drain, or other facility above that for which it was
designed.’” Doc. No. 82 at 27-28 (quoting Iowa Code § 468.126(4)). The Court thus
held that “under the express language of the statute, the drainage district is empowered
only to ‘restore,’ ‘maintain,’ or ‘increase’ the flow of water through the drainage
system.” Id. (quoting Iowa Code § 468.126(1),(4)).
The Court made numerous references to the drainage districts’ limited powers and
duties, making it very clear that defendants lack the ability to redress DMWW’s alleged
injuries. For example:
Drainage district immunity is premised on their limited purpose, which is
“to build and maintain drainage improvements that provide for the ‘drainage
and improvement of agricultural and other lands, thereby making them
tillable or suitable for profitable use.’” Hardin Cty. Drainage Dist. 55,
Div. 3, Lateral 10 v. Union Pac. R.R., 826 N.W.2d 507, 510 (Iowa 2013)
(quoting Chi., Milwaukee & St. Paul Ry. v. Mosquito Drainage Dist., 190
Iowa 162, 163, 180 N.W. 170, 170 (1920)). Drainage districts have no
other function, power, or purpose.
Id. at 13-14.
Chapter 468 imposes no duty on the districts to filter out nitrates. Rather,
chapter 468 simply requires drainage districts to maintain drainage systems
to keep the water flowing to drain lands. See, e.g., Iowa Code §
468.126(1)(a)(requiring repairs as necessary to “restore or maintain a
drainage ... improvement in its original efficiency or capacity”). No
provision in chapter 468 authorizes drainage districts to mandate changes
in farming practices to reduce fertilizer runoff or to assess farmers for the
costs of removing nitrates from waters flowing through agricultural
Id. at 23.
The defendants’ lack of statutory authority to regulate farmer nitrate use
cuts against revisiting our longstanding precedent, which rests upon the
limited existence and powers of drainage districts. “Liability follows
control ....” Estate of McFarlin v. State, 881 N.W.2d 51, 64 (Iowa 2016).
A party in control of an activity can take precautions to reduce the risk of
harm to others. See McCormick v. Nikkel & Assocs., Inc., 819 N.W.2d
368, 374 (Iowa 2012) (“The reason is simple: The party in control of the
work site is best positioned to take precautions to identify risks and take
measures to improve safety.”); Allison by Fox v. Page, 545 N.W.2d 281,
283 (Iowa 1996) (“The general rule and exceptions reveal a common
principle: liability is premised upon control.”); Schlotfelt v. Vinton
Farmers’ Supply Co., 252 Iowa 1102, 1113, 109 N.W.2d 695, 701 (1961)
(declining to issue injunction in nuisance action for foot traffic entering
plaintiff’s business because “defendant ... should not be compelled to
control its customers and in any event could not do so”); see also Okpalobi
v. Foster, 244 F.3d 405, 427 (5th Cir. 2001) (reversing injunction against
government officials who “have no power to redress the asserted injuries”);
McDaniel v. Bd. of Educ., 956 F. Supp. 2d 887, 894 (N.D. Ill. 2013)
(rejecting equitable claims against parties who would “lack the power to
carry out the injunction”); State v. Lead Indus. Ass’n, 951 A.2d 428, 449–
50 (R.I. 2008) (holding public nuisance claim for contamination required
proof defendants were in control over the instrumentality causing the
alleged nuisance at the time the damage occurred). These basic principles
of tort law favor preserving, not abrogating, the immunity for drainage
Id. at 23-24.
Nothing in the home rule amendment broadens the supervisors’ operational
authority over drainage districts or gives drainage districts the power to
regulate farming practices or water quality.
Id. at 32.
The drainage districts are creations of Iowa law. In light of the Iowa Supreme
Court’s unambiguous description of the limited duties and powers of those districts, I
conclude that Counts I and II fail for lack of Article III standing under the doctrine of
Through those counts, DMWW seeks injunctive relief and the
assessment of civil penalties against the drainage districts arising from alleged duties and
powers that the districts simply do not possess under Iowa law. DMWW may well have
suffered an injury, but the drainage districts lack the ability to redress that injury.
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to Counts I and II will be granted.3
Counts III through IX
The parties agree that the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision disposes of the state law
claims set forth in Counts III through IX unless the principles of Iowa law described in
that ruling violate the United States Constitution. DMWW argues that Iowa’s grant of
immunity to drainage districts violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of
the Fourteenth Amendment, along with the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.4
The first problem with DMWW’s argument is that DMWW is not a private entity,
but instead “a public utility created by the Iowa legislature.” Doc. No. 82 at 40. It is
well-settled that “[a] political subdivision of a state cannot invoke the protection of the
fourteenth amendment against the state.”
Delta Special Sch. Dist. No. 5 v. State Bd. of
Educ., 745 F.2d 532, 533 (8th Cir. 1984) (citing City of Trenton v. New Jersey, 262
U.S. 182 (1923)); see also Hous. Auth. of Kaw Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma v. City of
Ponca City, 952 F.2d 1183, 1190 (10th Cir. 1991) (“We thus conclude that a political
subdivision of a state may not challenge the validity of an act by a fellow political
subdivision under the Fourteenth Amendment unless such an action is expressly
authorized by the creating state.”); Village of Arlington Heights v. Reg'l Transp. Auth.,
653 F.2d 1149, 1153 (7th Cir. 1981) (“[T]he principle that a municipality may not
challenge acts of the state under the Fourteenth Amendment applies ‘whether the
Because I find defendants’ redressability argument to be dispositive, I will not address their
other arguments concerning Counts I and II.
The Takings Clause is applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. Lingle v.
Chevron U.S.A. Inc., 544 U.S. 528, 536 (2005).
defendant is the state itself or another of the state's political subdivisions.’”); S. Macomb
Disposal Auth. v. Washington Twp., 790 F.2d 500, 505 (6th Cir. 1986) (collecting cases).
Here, one political subdivision created by the Iowa legislature has sued other
political subdivisions created by the same legislature and contends that the immunity
afforded by Iowa law to the defendants violates the plaintiff’s rights under the United
Such a claim is not cognizable.
In addition, as I will explain
below, the specific claims at issue have no merit, even if DMWW is otherwise entitled
to make them.
The Equal Protection Claim
DMWW argues that Iowa’s immunization of the drainage districts from suit
violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. DMWW frames
the issue as involving a classification scheme under which victims of torts committed by
some governmental subdivisions have a remedy, while victims of torts committed by
drainage districts do not. Doc. No. 35-2 at 21.
“When an equal protection claim is neither based on a ‘suspect class’ or grounded
in a fundamental right, it is subject to a rational basis review.”
Gilmore v. Cty. of
Douglas, State of Neb., 406 F.3d 935, 937 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing Carter v. Arkansas,
392 F.3d 965, 968 (8th Cir. 2004); City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S.
432, 446-47 (1985)). DMWW’s claim is not based on a suspect class or grounded in a
fundamental right. As such, if the challenged classification is rationally related to a
legitimate end, it is constitutional.
The Iowa Supreme Court has considered whether drainage district immunity
violates the Iowa Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, concluding that because
drainage districts have limited powers and serve a limited purpose, there is a rational
basis to allow suits against municipalities but not drainage districts.
Gard v. Little Sioux
Intercounty Drainage Dist. of Monona & Harrison Ctys., 521 N.W.2d 696, 699 (Iowa
1994). I find the Court’s analysis to be equally applicable to the federal Equal Protection
Clause. “Equal protection does not guarantee that all persons must be dealt with in an
identical manner and does not forbid all statutory classifications.”
Walker v. Hartford
Life and Accident Ins. Co., 831 F.3d 968, 976 (8th Cir. 2016) (internal quotations and
citations omitted). Those claiming there is no rational basis for a classification bear the
burden of negating every conceivable basis which might support it.
F.C.C. v. Beach
Commc’ns, Inc., 508 U.S. 307, 315 (1993) (quoting Lehnhausen v. Lake Shore Auto
Parts Co., 410 U.S. 356, 364 (1973)).
DMWW contends that the Iowa Supreme Court’s analysis in Gard did not fully
account for the true nature of drainage districts, arguing that they have much more power
than the Court determined. See Doc. No. 35-2 at 23. As demonstrated by the Certified
Questions Opinion, this is simply not true. Instead, as noted above, the Court has now
reiterated the limited statutory powers and purposes of drainage districts.
DMWW also contends that the distinction between drainage districts and other
governmental subdivisions creates irrational results. In doing so, DMWW advances a
policy argument, not a constitutional one. It states:
The precise issue is one of simple arithmetic. The Iowa Nutrient Reduction
Strategy, in line with national goals, seeks a 45% reduction of nitrate and
other nutrient pollution. (Dkt. 2 ¶¶ 39, 40). At the same time it estimates
that 8% of nitrate comes from currently regulated sources such as sewer
systems and 92% come from unregulated sources, namely agriculture, and
primarily drainage. (Dkt. 2 ¶¶ 39, 40). It strains rationality to believe
that 8% of the problem can create 45% of the solution.
Doc. No. 35-2 at 23-24. These contentions are best directed to the Iowa legislature.
Under rational basis review, the immunity Iowa law affords to drainage districts does not
violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.
The Due Process Claim
DMWW argues that drainage district immunity violates its substantive and
procedural due process rights by depriving it of an adequate remedy for the drainage
districts’ alleged pollution of the Raccoon River.
“To establish a substantive due
process violation, [plaintiff] must demonstrate that a fundamental right was violated and
that the conduct shocks the conscience.”
Hughes v. City of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 840
F.3d 987, 995 (8th Cir. 2016) (quoting Akins v. Epperly, 588 F.3d 1178, 1183 (8th Cir.
2009) (in turn citing Moran v. Clarke, 296 F.3d 638, 651 (8th Cir. 2002) (Bye, J.,
concurring))). DMWW seems to admit that there is no fundamental right at issue:
The interest at stake is reasonably clean water. . . . This is an important
interest, but not a fundamental right except to the extent it is protected by
Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and the Iowa Constitution.
Doc. No. 35-2 at 25. DMWW cites no authority supporting a finding that a municipal
water utility has a fundamental right to “reasonably clean water.” Moreover, given the
limited powers and purposes of drainage districts, as they have been created by Iowa law,
the fact that those districts are immune from suit falls far short of shocking the conscience.
DMWW notes that if a fundamental right is not at stake, the challenged
governmental action is subject to a rational basis test. Doc. No. 35-2 at 24-25. Citing
no authority, DMWW argues that Iowa’s decision to grant immunity from suit to drainage
districts is irrational, and therefore violates DMWW’s substantive due process rights. I
disagree. As the Iowa Supreme Court noted, “[d]rainage districts lack the broad police
powers exercised by counties and other political subdivisions.” Doc. No. 82 at 32. In
light of the limited powers and purposes of drainage districts under Iowa law, immunizing
those districts from suit withstands rational basis review.
Finally, DMWW advances an abbreviated, and seemingly half-hearted, suggestion
that Iowa’s decision to grant immunity to its drainage districts violates DMWW’s
procedural due process rights. Doc. No. 35-2 at 26. DMWW asserts that immunizing
drainage districts is based on “a false presumption of promotion of public health.”
Again, this may be a fine public policy argument for consideration by the Iowa
legislature, but it falls far short of establishing a violation of DMWW’s due process rights
under the United States Constitution.
The Takings Claim
The Takings Clause “expressly requires compensation where government takes
private property ‘for public use.’”
Lingle, 544 U.S. at 543. DMWW contends that its
rights under the Takings Clause have been violated because the drainage districts have
deprived DMWW of property rights without just compensation. The Iowa Supreme
Court rejected this argument under the Iowa Constitution, stating:
We also reject the DMWW’s “takings” claim. The takings clause
provides, “Private property shall not be taken for public use without just
compensation first being made . . . .” Iowa Const. art. I, § 18 (emphasis
added). No private property is involved in this case. To the contrary, we
have a dispute among various public subdivisions that only exist by the
grace of the Iowa General Assembly.
The drainage districts have not unconstitutionally deprived the
DMWW of any property. The Raccoon River is owned by the State of
Iowa in trust for the public. See Estate of McFarlin, 881 N.W.2d at 63.
The DMWW does not own the water flowing in the Raccoon River, nor
was it denied access to that water. “This case involves public water
supplies, not private property. There can be no taking of a public resource
. . . .” Del. Cty. Safe Drinking Coal., Inc. v. McGinty, No. 07–1782,
2008 WL 2229269, at *1 n.1 (E.D. Penn. May 27, 2008). In City of
Trenton v. New Jersey, the United States Supreme Court rejected a takings
claim under the Fifth Amendment. 262 U.S. 182, 191–92, 43 S.Ct. 534,
538, 67 L.Ed. 937, 942–43 (1923). The City of Trenton operated a water
utility and challenged the state's license fee for diverting river water as an
unconstitutional taking. Id. at 183, 43 S.Ct. at 535, 67 L.Ed. at 939–40.
The Court held that regardless of whether the city's water treatment facility
was a proprietary or governmental function, the city could not assert a
takings claim against the state. Id. at 191–92, 43 S.Ct. at 538, 67 L.Ed.
at 943; see also City of Hugo v. Nichols, 656 F.3d 1251, 1257 (10th Cir.
2011) (applying City of Trenton and its progeny to hold municipality could
not “sue its parent state under a substantive provision of the Constitution”);
Bd. of Levee Comm'rs of the Orleans Levee Bd. v. Huls, 852 F.2d 140,
142–43 (5th Cir. 1988) (holding political subdivisions cannot assert just
compensation claims against the state). We reach the same conclusion
under the Iowa Constitution. If the DMWW, a public entity, cannot assert
a takings claim against the state, nor can it assert such a claim against
another political subdivision of the state—a drainage district created by state
Doc. No. 82 at 35-36 (footnotes omitted).
I find the same analysis, and answer, to be equally applicable under the federal
Takings Clause. Property interests are “‘not created by the Constitution. Rather, they
are created and their dimensions are defined by existing rules or understandings that stem
from an independent source such as state law.’”
Town of Castle Rock, Colo. v.
Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748, 756 (2005) (quoting Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 709 (1976)
(in turn quoting Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972))). In other words:
“State law defines property rights for federal takings claims.”
Rucci v. City of Eureka,
231 F. Supp. 2d 954, 957 (E.D. Mo. 2002); see also Webb’s Fabulous Pharms., Inc. v.
Beckwith, 449 U.S. 155, 161 (1980); Washington Legal Found. v. Texas Equal Access
to Justice Found., 94 F.3d 996, 1000 (5th Cir. 1996) (“State law defines ‘property’ and
encroachment.”), aff’d sub nom. Phillips v. Washington Legal Found., 524 U.S. 156
Here, DMWW asserts that it has two property rights: (1) the right to obtain clean
water from the Raccoon River and (2) the right to use its treatment plant and facilities
without impairment from pollutants discharged into the Raccoon River. Even if these
could be considered cognizable property rights under state law, DMWW holds those
rights as a public entity, making them public property rights not protected by the Fifth
Amendment’s Takings Clause. Moreover, based on the federal law authorities cited by
the Iowa Supreme Court, a public entity such as DMWW cannot assert a Fifth
Amendment takings claim against another political subdivision of the state. For these
reasons, DMWW has no cognizable claim under the federal Takings Clause.
Summary – Counts III through IX
By virtue of its answers to this court’s certified questions, the Iowa Supreme Court
established that Counts III through IX have no merit under Iowa law. This leaves for
this court’s consideration only DMWW’s various contentions that Iowa law violates its
rights under the United States Constitution.
Having found those contentions to be
entirely devoid of merit, I will grant the defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to
all of these counts.5
For the reasons set forth herein:
Defendants’ motion (Doc. No. 34) for summary judgment on Counts III
through X of the complaint is granted in its entirety.
Defendants’ motion (Doc. No. 60) for summary judgment on Counts I and
II of the complaint is granted in its entirety.
Because defendants are entitled to judgment on all counts of the complaint,
this case is hereby dismissed.
The Clerk shall enter judgment against the plaintiff and in favor of the
defendants and close this case.
Count X, which is the final count of the complaint, asserts no substantive rights but, instead,
requests permanent injunctive relief. Because the defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter
of law on all of the substantive counts, Count X will be dismissed, as well.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED this 17th day of March, 2017.
LEONARD T. STRAND
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?