What’s left on the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2012-2013 docket

by Ryan Koopmans and Michael Currie | June 19, 2013

By Ryan Koopmans and Michael Currie

The Iowa Supreme Court’s 2012-2013 term ends on June 30, and the justices’ self-imposed goal is to issue decisions in all remaining cases by then (or a short time after).  The Court’s docket this term consisted of 96 cases, and the Court has filed a decision in 76 of them.  One case (Stotler v. Delevan, Inc.) settled days before oral argument; and the Court recently dismissed another case (St. John’s Full Gospel Baptist Church v. Tax 207 and Polk County Treasurer) as improvidently granted—meaning that the Court granted further review but decided, after close study, that the case did not meet its acceptance criteria.

That leaves 18 cases outstanding.  Below the jump is a list of those cases (in the order they were submitted to the Court) along with a few brief comments.

State ex rel. Miller v. Vertrue, Inc.

State v. Iowa District Court of Warrant County.

Horsfield Materials, Inc. v. City of Dyersville
In re Estate of Nelson

Sunrise Retirement Community. v. Iowa DHS
Miranda v. Said
State v. Finney

State v. Null
Ackelson v. Manley Toy Direct

State v. Pearson

Jones v. University of Iowa
Mitchell v. Cedar Rapids Community School District
State v. Neiderbach
In re Estate of Hord
State v. Kooima

State v. Ragland
Dorshkind v. Oak Park Pl of Dubuque II, L.L.C.
State v. Thompson

State ex rel. Miller v. Vertrue, Inc.: The Longest-Pending Case


Vertrue—the last case left from the Court’s September sitting— involves a multi-million dollar judgment against a “buying club” that provides discounts in return for a monthly membership fee.  The justices are deciding, among other things, whether Iowa’s Door-to-Door Sales Act applies to buying club sales that take place over the phone and internet (i.e., not door to door).

The case is a big one for the Attorney General’s office, which has been aggressive in its interpretation and use of the buying-club and consumer-fraud statutes.  It looks like Chief Justice Cady or Justices Appel or Waterman may be writing the opinion for the Court.  They have each written two opinions in cases from the September sitting, while the other justices have written three or four.  Chief Justice Cady also asked more questions at oral argument than he usually does, which further suggests that the opinion was assigned to him.

State v. Ragland, State v. Pearson, and State v. Null: At what length does a  juvenile offender’s sentence become cruel and unusual?

These cases deal with juvenile sentencing and the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.  Our earlier coverage of State v. Ragland, the most talked about of the three, is here.

Look for a split vote, especially in Pearson and Null.  There’s no telling who’s authoring what, but you can bet that Justice Appel is writing something—whether that be a majority, concurrence, or dissent.  He takes great interest in this issue and was active during the oral arguments (though he usually is).

Ackelson v. Manley Toy Direct: Punitive damages and the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

In Ackelson, the Court will decide (again) whether punitive damages are available under the Iowa Civil Right Act.  This has been a highly litigated issue in the Iowa district courts, though the vast majority of judges have said that punitive damages are not available.  (Disclosure: Nyemaster Goode represents Manley Toy Direct.)

State v. Kooima: Can the police stop a vehicle based on an anonymous tip of drunk driving?

Kooima and his friends stopped at a Doon, Iowa steakhouse while en route to Rock Valley, Iowa.  When they left for home forty-five minutes later,  a patron called the police and reported that a “carload of Rock Valley merchants, huge money guys” were drunk and heading towards Rock Valley.  When Kooima reached Rock Valley, a police officer stopped and arrested him for drunk driving.

The Court must decide whether the officer violated the Fourth Amendment by stopping Kooima based solely on the anonymous tip.  State and federal courts in other jurisdictions have gone both ways on this issue, so the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision could ultimately find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  (Our earlier coverage is here.)

At oral argument, the overall tenor seemed to favor of the State, but the case is a close one and the justices will likely be split—as they so frequently are in search and seizure cases.


Mitchell v. Cedar Rapids Community School District: Justice Baker returns to the Court


In March, former Justice David Baker returned to the Supreme Court—as an advocate.  He represents the Cedar Rapids Community School District in a case involving a 14-year-old girl who skipped her last class of the day and met up with a 19-year-old senior.  Four hours later, and after school had ended, the two students (both of whom were in special-education classes) had sex.  The girl’s parents filed suit against the school and won.

The school makes two arguments: (1) that it didn’t have a legal duty to protect the girl when she left school grounds, and (2) that it cannot be held liable for injuries that occurred after school ended.

Justice Baker’s first-hand knowledge of the Court’s decisions (and decision-making) made for an interesting oral argument.  It’s not every day that an advocate can respond to a justice’s question this way: “As we said in Thompson . . . . ”

These duty/scope-of-liability issues have been another frequent dividing line between the justices since 2010.  This decision will probably be split too.

And much more . . . .

In Miranda v. Said, the Court will decide whether a couple who was barred from the United States for ten years because of their attorney’s malpractice can recover emotional distress damages.  That decision could be big for immigration and criminal lawyers (and providers of malpractice insurance).

State v. Niederbach will have media appeal.  In a closely watched trial, Niederbach was convicted of six felony charges of child endangerment for abusing his infant son.  He’s now appealing a myriad of issues from the district court trial, ranging from inappropriate admission of hearsay evidence to prejudicial name-calling by the prosecution.

Dorshkind v. Oak Park Place of Dubuque II, L.L.C. will be closely followed by businesses and employment counsel.  The Court will decide whether to create a new exception to the employment-at-will doctrine for internal whistle-blowers   Read our earlier coverage here.  (Disclosure: Nyemaster Goode represents the Iowa Association of Business and Industry as amicus.)




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On Brief: Iowa’s Appellate Blog is devoted to appellate litigation with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.


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