Iowa Supreme Court set to hear arguments in nine cases Tuesday and Wednesday

by Rox Laird | February 12, 2021

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in nine cases Feb. 16 and 17, and five additional cases will be submitted to the Court. Following are brief summaries of the February cases. Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read briefs in these cases.

Lewis v. Allen Investments

Scheduled for oral argument Feb. 16, 9 a.m.

Issue: Is the contract seller of a rental property liable for a renter’s damages in a fire?

Kristina Lewis appeals the Black Hawk County District Court’s dismissal on summary judgment of her claim against Allen Investments for her injuries in fire at her rental home. Allen Investments held the deed to the rental property but was in the process of selling it on contract to a third party. Lewis argues Allen Investments qualifies as the owner of the property under the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act (Iowa Code Chapter 562A). The District Court denied Lewis’ motion for summary judgment and granted Allen Investments’ summary judgment motion. The trial court cited a 1936 Iowa Supreme Court decision saying that, in a contract sale, ownership of the property passes to the purchaser when the seller retains title to the property as security for the debt until some portion of it is paid.

Rieder v. Segal

Scheduled for oral argument Feb. 16, 9 a.m.

Issue: Was a hospital negligent for failing to revoke the privileges of a surgeon subject to an Iowa Board of Medicine investigation?

Mercy Medical Center Cedar Rapids seeks further review of a Sept. 2, 2020, Iowa Court of Appeals decision reversing the Linn County District Court‘s summary judgment dismissal of claims by Roxanne and Tony Rieder that the hospital should have revoked the credentials of David Segal M.D. after he informed the hospital he was under investigation by the Iowa Board of Medicine. The Rieders sued Mercy Cedar Rapids along with Segal and others after Roxanne developed complications following spine surgery performed by Segal. The Rieders subsequently dropped all defendants except Mercy. The Rieders claimed the hospital should have revoked Segal’s credentials in light of the Board of Medicine investigation. Mercy urges the Supreme Court to affirm the District Court. An amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief was filed in this case in support of the Plaintiff-Appellees by the Iowa Association of Justice.

Kostoglanis v. Yates and Diamond Medical Spa & Vein

Scheduled for oral argument Feb. 16, 9 a.m.

Issue: Were claims of fraudulent misrepresentation wrongly dismissed under a statutory limit on medical malpractice actions?

Christine Kostoglanis appeals from the Scott County District Court’s dismissal on summary judgment of her negligent and fraudulent misrepresentation claims against Leroy L. Yates and Diamond Medical Spas & Vein. Kostoglanis claimed Yates misrepresented the nature of the weight reduction procedure proposed to her, and misrepresented Yates’ qualifications, which induced her to undergo a liposuction procedure that she had not originally sought. Kostoglanis claimed Yates was not qualified to perform the procedure and failed to properly perform it. The District Court held that Kostoglanis’ claims fell outside the two-year statute of limitations under Iowa Code Section 614.1(9)(a) limiting malpractice actions arising out of patient care.

Fortune v. State

Scheduled for oral argument Feb. 16, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Should a convicted sex offender’s post-prison restrictions be modified as allowed by statute?

Ron Fortune appeals the Humboldt County District Court’s decision rejecting his application under Iowa Code Section 692A.128 for modification of his sex-offender registry requirements. Fortune served nearly six years in prison for lascivious acts with a child. After being in the community for about 10 years, he filed an application for modification of his sex-offender restrictions, saying he qualified under the statute because he was assessed as a low risk for reoffending. Fortune argues that the trial court wrongly rejected his application for reasons apparently unrelated to his risk of reoffending. Fortune urges the Supreme Court to decide what discretion the District Court has in rejecting an application when an applicant claims to have established that he satisfies the criteria set by the Legislature.

Sand v. Doe and State Agency

Scheduled for oral argument Feb. 16, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Must a State agency comply with a State Auditor’s subpoena?

An unnamed State agency appeals the Polk County District Court’s ruling that State Auditor Rob Sand was engaged in a proper audit of the agency and was thus authorized to issue a subpoena of the agency’s records under Iowa Code Section 11.51. Because the statute requires the auditor to maintain confidentiality of audit work papers, the subpoena litigation was filed under seal, and the agency is not named in court documents. Sand issued the subpoena to the agency requesting production of documents and records regarding a financial transaction between the agency, a subdivision of the agency, and a consortium of private developers. The agency argues that Sand’s statutory subpoena power fell outside “an authorized audit or examination” since the fiscal 2020 audit had not officially begun. The agency also argues that, even if the auditor was authorized to issue a subpoena, the subpoena was overly broad and unduly burdensome.

An amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief was filed in this case by The Kirkwood Institute, which argues that the Supreme Court should dismiss the case because Iowa Code Section 679A.19 requires that State agencies resolve disputes by binding arbitration, not litigation.

Becher v. State

Will be submitted to the Court Feb. 16 without oral argument.

Issue: Should sex offender registration requirements have been modified for an offender deemed a “below average” risk of reoffending?

Dennis Becher appeals the Dubuque County District Court’s ruling denying his application to modify his lifetime sex offender registration requirements. Becher pled guilty to two counts of third-degree sexual abuse. After he discharged his prison sentence and completed sex-offender treatment, Becher sought modification of his sex offender registration requirements. The trial court held that it would not “remove the protection that the registration requirement affords the community simply because Becher, who put himself in this position by sexually abusing a child, is a ‘below average’ risk to reoffend.” Becher argues on appeal that the trial court failed to apply an appropriate legal standard for determining whether he is likely to reoffend.

In the interest of A.B. and I.B.

Issue: Were a mother’s parental rights properly terminated?

Will be submitted to the Court Feb. 16 without oral argument.

A mother identified by her initials Y.B. seeks further review of a Nov. 4, 2020, ruling by a divided Iowa Court of Appeals affirming a Mitchell County District Court ruling terminating her parental rights for her two children, A.B. and I.B. Two judges of the Court of Appeals supported affirming the trial court because the children cannot be returned to the mother’s care without exposing them to harm; a third judge dissented, arguing that because Y.B. had made “marked improvements” in her compliance with Department of Human Services expectations the trial court’s termination decision should be reversed.

Colwell v. MCNA Insurance Co. et al.

Scheduled for oral argument Feb. 17, 9 a.m.

Issue: Does Iowa law require a Medicare managed care provider to renew a dentist’s provider contract?

MCNA Dental appeals a decision of the Pottawattamie County District Court that MCNA violated Robert Colwell Jr.’s provider contract when it failed to renew the contract because Iowa’s “Any Willing Provider” statute (Iowa Code Section 249N.6) required MCNA to renew Colwell’s provider agreement. MCNA, which provides managed care dental services to states for Medicaid beneficiaries, notified Colwell that his contract would not be renewed for another successive one-year term due to problems MCNA encountered with the dentist. MCNA argues the District Court erred in applying the federal family planning “Any Willing Provider” rule to a dentist, and that the contract between the State and MCNA permits nonrenewal of Colwell’s provider contract.

NCJC, Inc. v. WMG, L.C.

Scheduled for oral argument Feb. 17, 9 a.m.

Issue: Were attorney fees correctly allocated between parties in a farm lease dispute?

Both NCJC and WMG, opposing parties to a farm lease dispute, seek further review of a May 13, 2020, Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming in part and reversing in part the Kossuth County District Court’s decision denying WMG’s request for attorney fees and costs and awarding attorney fees to NCJC as the prevailing party. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of WMG’s request for attorney fees but reversed its award of attorney fees to NCJC that includes fees for services provided after WMG’s offer to confess. WMG urges the Supreme Court to reverse the trial court as to NCJC’s and WMG’s attorney fees. NCJC urges the Court to rule that the District Court correctly awarded legal fees to NCJC and did not commit legal error in determining the amount of the award.

State v. Zacarias

Will be submitted to the Court Feb. 17 without oral argument.

Issue: Was a jury instruction based on a definition of “penetration of genitalia with an object” that is not supported by law?

Zachary Zacarias appeals from his conviction by a Polk County jury on a charge of assault by penetration of genitalia or anus with an object in violation of Iowa Code Sections 708.1 and 708.2(5). Zacarias argues the guilty verdict and judgment against him were based on an improper jury instruction that allowed the jury to convict him of assault by penetration of genitalia with an object based on a definition of an object that was not supported by law. Zacarias also argues he was prevented from fully impeaching the complaining witness’ testimony, and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel failed to object to prosecutorial misconduct.

In re C.Z.

Will be submitted to the Court Feb. 17 without oral argument.

Issue: Challenge to termination of a father’s parental rights.

The father of a minor child and the State of Iowa appeal the termination of the father’s parental rights. The county attorney, guardian ad litem for the minor child, and intervenors filed a joint resistance to the petitions on appeal.

State v. Sewell

Scheduled for oral argument Feb. 17, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Does an arrestee have a right to a confidential telephone conversation with a lawyer?

Matthew Sewell appeals the Dickinson County District Court’s denial of his motion to suppress breath-test evidence and to dismiss an operating-while-intoxicated charge. Sewell argues the county violated his statutory and constitutional rights by denying his request for a private, non-recorded telephone conversation with his lawyer to be advised on submitting to a chemical test. The trial court held that Iowa Code Section 804.20 does not permit an attorney to have privileged telephone communication with an arrestee. Sewell urges the Supreme Court to either interpret that statute as excluding active monitoring and recording of a phone conversation with counsel, or hold that the Iowa Constitution guarantees an arrestee a limited constitutional right to a confidential telephonic consultation with counsel.

Rumsey v. Woodgrain Millwork

Scheduled for oral argument Feb.17, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Should an instruction and verdict form questions have been submitted to the jury in an employment case regarding employees’ individual liability?  If so, what is the standard for individual liability in an employment discrimination case under the Iowa Civil Rights Act?  Should the trial judge have directed a verdict in the defendants’ favor? Was the jury award excessive? Was the plaintiff wrongly denied front pay, and were prior acts of discrimination against the plaintiff wrongly excluded?

Woodgrain Millwork and its individual employees appeal from a Polk County jury verdict in favor of Appellee/Cross-Appellant Ronald Rumsey for disability discrimination and retaliatory termination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Rumsey was assigned to light duty due to medical restrictions for work-related injuries. Rumsey was subsequently fired for misconduct and he sued Woodgrain and two of the company’s employees individually. Woodgrain Millwork makes five arguments: (1) the trial court erred in refusing to submit a jury instruction and questions on the verdict form regarding Woodgrain’s employees’ individual liability; (2) the court erred by not directing a verdict in favor of defendants on Rumsey’s claims; (3) the jury’s $450,000 emotional distress award is excessive; (4) the District Court abused its discretion in refusing to admit into evidence Rumsey’s $100,000 worker’s compensation settlement and other benefits; and (5) the court erred in refusing to offset Rumsey’s back pay award with the $100,000 lump-sum settlement. Rumsey cross-appeals, arguing the District Court erred in denying him front pay and wrongly excluded prior acts of alleged discrimination against him.

[Disclosure: Nyemaster Goode attorneys Randall D. Armentrout and Leslie C. Behaunek represent Appellants/Cross-Appellees Woodgrain Millwork, Liz Mallaney, and Clay Coppock.]

Daniels v. Holtz

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument Feb. 17.

Issue: Did a trial court properly dismiss a suit regarding a sheriff’s sale of real property on statute of limitations grounds?

John Holtz seeks further review of a Nov. 4, 2020, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling reversing a Lucas County District Court order granting Holtz’s motion to dismiss on statute-of-limitations grounds Curtis Daniels’ suit against him and others regarding a sheriff’s sale of real property. The Court of Appeals said it found “no valid basis for dismissing the case at this earliest stage of the proceedings.”


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