University of Vermont AAHS

Carney v. Wallen

 

Iowa Court of Appeals
UNPUBLISHED, 2003 WL 1042974
March 12, 2003

 

Summary of Opinion

 

Plaintiff Carney placed a horse with Dick Wallen for boarding and has an oral agreement with Wallen’s son, James, for training and showing the horse.  Plaintiff paid all board bills on time, but for months did not receive a training bill from James.  Then a bill for almost $20,000 was presented, which plaintiff disputed and refused to pay.  Plaintiff’s demand for possession of the horse was refused on the ground defendant had an agister’s lien on the horse.  Plaintiff filed this lawsuit for possession of the horse.

 

The trial court found in favor of the plaintiff and defendant appealed.  In this opinion, the Court of Appeals agrees with the trial court.  The agister’s lien statute covers only board fees, not training and showing fees.  So plaintiff gets the horse back.  Defendant is free to file a separate lawsuit for payment of the reasonable value of the training service rendered.

 

Text of Opinion

 

James Wallen appeals from the district court's ruling denying the existence of a lien in the horse Lovely Looken and ordering possession of the horse be returned to the Carneys. We affirm.

 

 I. Background Facts and Proceedings. Based upon the evidence presented at trial, a jury could have found the following facts. On February 1, 1998, Joan Carney signed a written "board and training agreement" with Dick, James & Monty Wallen Training Stables  [FN1] for the horse, [FN2] Rodney, owned by Joan's minor daughter, Abby. The uncontroverted evidence suggests on June 4, 1998, Abby and Joan Carney purchased another horse, Lovely Looken, from Dick Wallen who orally agreed to provide boarding services for that animal as well. Abby and Joan Carney later orally agreed with James Wallen that he would provide training for Lovely Looken.

 

FN1. Dick Wallen testified that, although the contract document and some advertising materials identified his sons James Wallen and Monty Wallen as co‑principals with him in the business, he is the sole owner of Dick Wallen Training Stables, a sole proprietorship. James was employed by of his father until approximately April of 1999 when he began marketing and billing his horse training services separately from Dick Wallen Training Stables.

 

FN2. The contract called only for boarding services for the horse, Rodney.

 

Initially, the Carneys received a single billing from Dick Wallen Stables for both the boarding and the training of Lovely Looken. In April 1999, James Wallen began billing separately for training the horse. In the fall of 1999, James stopped billing for the training, although he continued to train Lovely Looken. On several occasions, Abby Carney asked James about the bills. James' response was that the Carneys should continue to pay for the training at the usual rate and that he would later bill for any additional expenses associated with horse shows. Joan, however, did not make any payments to James during the time James neglected to bill her, despite her knowledge that the horse continued to be trained. She did, however, continue to pay Dick Wallen Stables for Lovely Looken's boarding  [FN3].

 

FN3. The evidence is undisputed that Carneys paid for all boarding services provided by Dick Wallen Training Stables.

 

In January 2002, James sent the Carneys a bill for $19,810. Joan Carney disputed the charges, refused to pay them, and came to the stables more than once demanding possession of Lovely Looken. When the Wallens refused, asserting a lien in the horse, the Carneys filed a petition for writ of replevin.

 

James Wallen filed an answer and counterclaim to establish and foreclose a lien in the horse. The Carneys moved to strike or dismiss Wallen's counterclaim. The case was tried to the district court in March 2002, and on April 1, 2002, the district court entered its findings of fact, conclusions of law and ruling. In its ruling, the district court first dismissed Wallen's counterclaim as precluded by Iowa Code section 643.2 (2001), noting that Wallen was free to pursue a judgment in a separate action for the value of training services he provided. The district court concluded the horse should be returned to the Carneys. James Wallen appeals, alleging the district court erred in its determination that (1) the written contract did not apply to Lovely Looken; (2) the agister lien created by Iowa Code section 579 did not apply to James Wallen because he was a trainer of the horse and not a keeper of the horse; and (3) James Wallen was not entitled to a common law lien in the horse.

 

II. Standard of Review. Although James contends an action for writ of replevin is equitable in nature, Iowa Code section 643.2 (2001) states that an action for writ of replevin "shall be by ordinary proceedings." Ordinary proceedings are not actions in equity. Iowa Code § 611.3 (2001). Thus our review is for errors at law, and the findings of fact by the trial court shall have the effect of a special verdict. Keppy v. Lilienthal, 524 N.W.2d 436, 438 (Iowa Ct.App.1994). We will not disturb the district court's findings of fact as long as they are supported by substantial evidence. Iowa R.App. P. 6.14(6)(a ).

 

III. The Written Contract. The district court found (1) the original written contract related only to the horse Rodney for the limited purpose of providing pasture board and (2) the notation on the contract referencing the sale of Lovely Looken to the Carneys was added without the Carneys' knowledge after the contract had been signed. The district court also found the Carneys and James Wallen entered into an oral agreement for the training of Lovely Looken. After a review of the record, we determine these fact‑findings of the district court are supported by substantial evidence and should not be disturbed.

 

The question of whether the written contract was intended to apply to the training of Lovely Looken by James Wallen requires the court to interpret the contract. When, as in this case, the interpretation depends upon extrinsic evidence, a question of interpretation is left to the trier of fact unless "the evidence is so clear that no reasonable person would determine the issue in any way but one." Ellefson v. Centech Corp., 606 N.W.2d 324, 330 (Iowa 2000). We find substantial evidence in the record supporting the district court's determination that the written contract did not cover the training of Lovely Looken. The Carneys did not own Lovely Looken at the time the written contract was executed. The unilateral addition of Lovely Looken's name to the contract by the Wallens was insufficient to modify the contract formed to control the boarding of Rodney. We affirm on this issue.

 

IV. The Agister Lien. Iowa Code section 579.1(1) states: "Livery and feed stable keepers, herders, feeders, or keepers of stock shall have a lien on all property coming into their hands ... for their charges and the expenses of keeping ..." After finding James Wallen provided only training services for Lovely Looken, the district court concluded Wallen did not fit within the statutory lien scheme because he was not a keeper, herder, or feeder of stock. We agree with the district court. While we acknowledge some of the duties inherent in training a horse may overlap the duties inherent in keeping a horse, we conclude the statute was not intended to cover trainers of horses who are not keepers, herders or feeders. We rely on the supreme court's holding in Scott v. Mercer I, 63 N.W. 325, 325 (Iowa 1895) (Scott I). In that case, our supreme court was asked to interpret an agister lien statute nearly identical to the statute at issue in this case. [FN4] The court concluded a trainer who "took [a] horse to keep and handle" did not qualify for an agister lien under the statute. Id. at 325. If a party who both kept and trained a horse could not claim a statutory lien, then Wallen, who only trained Lovely Looken, is not protected by a virtually identical statute. We therefore affirm on this issue.

 

FN4. The statute in effect at the time provided that "keepers of livery and feed stables, herders, and feeders of stock for hire, shall have a lien on all stock and property coming into their hands as such ..." Iowa Code § 25.1 (1880).

 

V. Common Law Lien. The district court concluded James Wallen, as Lovely Looken's trainer, was not entitled to a common law lien in the horse. In its ruling on Wallen's motion to reconsider, the district court reasoned that while Scott v. Mercer, 98 Iowa 258, 260, 67 N.W. 108, 109 (1896) (Scott II) did allow a common law lien for a trainer of horses, the facts in that case established that the trainer had also kept the horse, which distinguished it from Wallen's claim.

 

The court in Scott II, after an extensive review of authorities on liens, determined that "a bailee for hire, who, by his labor and skill, has imparted an additional value to the goods, has a lien upon the property ..." Id. at 260, 67 N.W. at 109. The court consistently referred to the lienholder as a "bailee" and the property as "bailed." "A common‑law lien is the right to retain the possession of a chattel or personal property until some debt or demand due the person in possession is paid." Federal Land Bank of Omaha v. Boese, 373 N.W.2d 118, 120 (Iowa 1985); see also 51 Am.Jur.2d Liens § 29, at 138‑139 (1996). Thus we conclude possession is a necessary element in the establishment and preservation of a common law lien. While James Wallen was training Lovely Looken, and when he transported her to shows, he was undoubtedly intermittently in possession of the horse. However Wallen relinquished possession each time he ended a training session or returned from the show and placed the horse back into the possession of his father's stables  [FN5]. We conclude the sort of intermittent possession exercised by James is not the sort of possession which entitles him to a common law lien.

 

FN5. The uncontroverted evidence is that Dick Wallen owns the stable where the horse was kept and has been paid in full for the animal's boarding.

 

VI. Attorney Fees. The Carneys contend they are entitled to attorney fees under Iowa Code section 575.1(2)(b)(4), which provides for an award of attorney fees if the court determines the person claiming the lien has proceeded "willfully and maliciously."

 

The district court did not rule on the Carneys' prayer for attorney fees. Carneys do not cross‑appeal on the attorney fee issue. Moreover, because they did not file a post‑trial motion to obtain a district court ruling, their claim for trial attorney fees has not been preserved for our review. Meier v. Senecaut III, 641 N.W.2d 532, 539 (Iowa 2002) (a party "must ... request a ruling from the district court to preserve error for appeal on an issue presented but not decided"). The Carneys also request an award of appellate attorney fees on the ground James Wallen willfully and maliciously asserted a lien. See Iowa Code § 575.1(2)(b)(4). We conclude James Wallen's lien claim was not the sort of malicious and willful conduct required by the statute as a predicate for an award of attorney fees. Accordingly, we deny the Carneys' request for appellate attorney fees.


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