109 Iowa. L. Rev. 1863 (2024)



Public dedication is one method by which cities, towns, and municipalities acquire new roads and highways. The common law doctrine of dedication has developed to balance the property rights of landowners and the public. When property is dedicated to the public, the landowner generally retains title to the land while the public acquires an easement. Dedications can be made expressly through official grants or by inclusion in a plat. They can also be implied through a landowner’s overt words or actions, use by the public, or maintenance at the public’s expense. The key factor in determining whether a dedication has occurred is the intention of the landowner—the animus dedicandi. However, for implied dedications, “intent” may be determined not only by the subjective intent of the landowner, but by whether it was reasonable for the public to believe that the landowner had intended to dedicate the road to public use. In the 2022 case McNaughton v. Chartier, the Supreme Court of Iowa examined a publicly constructed access road built partially atop a landowner’s driveway at the behest of the landowner. Despite the expenditure of public funds on and public use of the road, the McNaughton majority held that no dedication had occurred. This Note argues that McNaughton reinterpreted Iowa’s dedication caselaw in such a way that it no longer aligns with the purpose and logic of the doctrine. This Note also suggests that the Iowa state legislature follow the lead of other states and enact statutory dedication rules. Two statutory provisions could mitigate the effects of McNaughton and provide increased predictability when courts consider cases involving dedication: setting a standard for whether public maintenance results in dedication and establishing guidelines on how landowners can avoid inadvertently dedicating their property.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024