Pugh Hagan Prahm attorney Siobhan Briley recently prevailed at trial in a Washington County case concerning the Bunker Mill Bridge, a historic iron truss bridge located in Washington County, Iowa. The bridge crosses the English River between Kalona and Richmond, via Nutmeg Avenue. Residents of Washington County consider the bridge a local historic treasure, and one of the defendants in the case is a descendant of David Bunker, after whom the bridge was named.
The case arose after the collaboration of Friends of Bunker Mill Bridge (FBMB) with an Iowa nonprofit corporation, North Skunk River Greenbelt Association, Inc. (NSRGA), for repair and restoration of the bridge deteriorated. FBMB contracted with NSRGA in 2013, after the bridge burned due to arson and the Washington County Board of Supervisors voted to demolish the bridge. The individual defendants, along with many other Kalona area residents, formed FBMB as an unincorporated nonprofit association to save the bridge from demolition, and raised nearly $150,000 for its repair and restoration ($80,000 of which was granted by the Washington County Board of Supervisors). FBMB also convinced the Washington County Board of Supervisors to sell it the bridge for $1.00. NSRGA’s executive director demanded that NSRGA also be named in the purchase agreement for the bridge—possibly to set the stage for the lawsuit.
In 2016, when construction on the bridge was substantially complete, NSRGA’s executive director took the position that NSRGA was the sole owner of the bridge because FBMB had not yet incorporated when the purchase agreement for the bridge was executed. (Siobhan helped FBMB incorporate in 2017.) On this basis, NSRGA filed suit to quiet title to the bridge in NSRGA. NSRGA also sought approximately $35,000 from FBMB as contribution for purported construction on the bridge that NSRGA had paid for with funds not raised by FBMB.
After a four-day trial in equity, the Washington County District Court quieted title to the bridge in FBMB and denied NSRGA’s request for contribution. The court also ruled in FBMB’s favor on several minor issues, denying NSRGA all other requested recovery.