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Farm Dispute in Iowa? Mediation is Mandatory

Iowa Code § 654B.3 provides mediation is mandatory for "care and feeding contracts." Specifically, "1(a) A person who is a farm resident, or other party, desiring to initiate a civil proceeding to resolve a dispute, shall file a request for mediation with the farm mediation service.

The person shall not begin the proceeding until the person receives a mediation release or until the court determines after notice and hearing that one of the following applies: (1) The time delay required for the mediation would cause the person to suffer irreparable harm. (2) The dispute involves a claim which has been brought as a class action." Id. § 654B.3

Filing a request for mediation with the farm mediation service is a jurisdictional prerequisite to filing a civil action. However, mediation may be waived after the initial consultation with the farm mediation service, but all parties must agree to waive mediation. Id. § 654B.3 1(b), 2.

A ''care and feeding contract,'' means an "agreement, either oral or written, between a farm resident and the owner of livestock, under which the farm resident agrees to act as a feeder by promising to care for and feed the livestock on the farm resident''s premises." Id. § 654B.1.

Under Chapter 654.B, Farm Mediation-Care and Feeding Contracts, a "dispute" is a "controversy between a person who is a farm resident and another person which … relates to … [t]he performance of either person under a care and feeding contract, if both persons are parties to the contract." Id. § 654B.1(2)( a ). A "farm resident" is a "person holding an interest in farmland, in fee, under a real estate contract, or under a lease, if the person manages farming operations on the land." Id. § 654B.1(5). An "other party" is a "person having a dispute with a farm resident." Id. § 654B.1(8). A "care and feeding contract" is "an agreement, either oral or written, between a farm resident and the owner of livestock, under which the farm resident agrees to act as a feeder by promising to care for and feed the livestock on the farm resident''s premises." Id. § 654B.1(1).

Most recently, on December 15, 2006, the Iowa Supreme Court reaffirmed the mandatory nature of mediation in farm disputes under Chapter 654.B. In Klinge v. Bentien, ___ NW2d ____, 2006 WL 3691183 (Iowa Dec. 15, 2006), an unpublished opinion, two pig farmers, attempting to resolve their contract dispute, filed claims in small claims court; the decision was then appealed to the district court, then the State Supreme Court. The Iowa Supreme Court reversed and remanded for dismissal holding because the parties failed to file a request for mediation, "the decision of the small claims court is void." Klinge, ___ NW2d ____, 2006 WL 369118, *1

The Court reasoned because neither party requested mediation pursuant to Iowa Code 654B.3, prior to filing the lawsuit, no court was vested with subject matter jurisdiction. The Court explained the difference between ''lack of subject matter jurisdiction'' and ''authority to hear a case'':

The significance of this distinction becomes evident when issues of waiver arise. In contrast to subject matter jurisdiction, ''a court''s lack of authority is not conclusively fatal to the validity of an order.'' Consequently, an order entered without authority is voidable rather than void. ''Thus if a party waives the court''s [lack of] authority to hear a particular case, the judgment becomes final and is not subject to collateral attack.''

Id., 2006 WL 369118, *3 (internal citations omitted).

The Court concluded because Klinge failed to file a request for mediation with the farm mediation services and obtain a mediation release before filing suit, as required by Iowa Code 654B.3, the small claims court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and therefore, the small claims court''s decision was void, as was the district court''s on review. Id. at *5.

Categories: Agricultural Law

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