Mediation: Iowa's Top Court Says Pig Farmers Must Follow Mandatory ADR Rule (Web)

When an Iowa statute says that you have to file a mediation request before litigation, the Iowa Supreme Court asserted late last year that the law means what it says–even if you are fighting about feeding your pigs, and you’re only headed to small claims court.

The result is the Court’s strong backing for a mandatory mediation requirement directed at farming, Iowa Code 654B.3 (2005).

In Klinge v. Bentien, No. 111/04-0843, 725 N.W.2d 13 (Dec.15, 2006)(available at http://www.judicial.state.ia.us/Supreme_Court/Recent_Opinions/20061215/04-0843.pdf) the Iowa Supreme Court held that mediation is a jurisdictional prerequisite to filing a civil action in a farm-related dispute under the statute.

If the parties fail to request for mediation and obtain a mediation release before filing an action, the court will not have subject matter jurisdiction.

In the case, a small claims court upheld a $3,000 judgment against a farmer who owned pigs in favor of the farmer who was storing and feeding the pigs. The Court ruled that because there was no move to satisfy the mandatory mediation requirement, the court didn’t have jurisdiction in the case, and wiped out the award.

The facts: Klinge and Bentien entered into an agreement on raising and feeding pigs. Bentien owned the pigs; Klinge was supposed to care for them until they reached market weight.

Klinge filed suit against Bentien for $3,000, claiming that he wasn’t fully compensated for his work. Bentien counterclaimed for $5,000, alleging that Klinge's negligence killed 100 pigs. The parties appeared before the small claims court, without representation.

The small claims court ruled in favor of both parties: It first entered judgment for Klinge against Bentien for $3,000. And the court also entered judgment in favor of Bentien against Klinge for $5,000.

Klinge appealed. Neither party was represented by counsel in the appeal. The Clayton County District Court ruled that the small claims court should have dismissed both the claim and the counterclaim due to insufficient evidence. But since Bentien didn’t appeal the case, the district court held that the $3,000 judgment “must stand,” reversing only the small claims court judgment with respect to Bentien's claim against Klinge.

Bentien finally consulted an attorney, who told the district court that Iowa Code 654B required the parties to submit a case to mediation before filing suit. Since neither party requested mediation, Bentien's attorney claimed that the court lacked, and requested dismissal. The district court refused to act, and Bentien’s attorney appeals.

The Supreme Court analyzed the scope of the amended Iowa Code §654B.3 and whether the law would create a statutory bar for courts to have subject matter jurisdiction. The law provides, “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. . . .”

Accordingly, the Court found that section 654B.1, which focuses on definitions under the code section, applied to the case. The Court concluded that Klinge was required to file for mediation services and receive a mediation release before filing this suit in small claims court. Since Klinge failed to satisfy these requirements before filing the suit, the small claims court lacked in subject matter jurisdiction in hearing his claim and Bentien's counterclaim. The Court reversed the judgment against Bentien.

–By Julie John, CPR Intern