UPDATES & ANALYSIS

6.12

Iowa Supreme Court adds cases to be heard in 2020-21 term

by Rox Laird | June 12, 2020

The Iowa Supreme Court is in the final month of its 2019-20 term before breaking for two months to focus on court administration and rules. Meanwhile, the Court has been adding cases to its 2020-21 term that begins in September with a full complement of seven justices.

Since May 1, the Court has granted further review to 14 decisions of the Court of Appeals.

Following are brief summaries of eight cases that will be heard by the Court next fall. Go to On Brief’s Updates and Analysis page for previous summaries of cases to be heard on further review next term. And, to read the parties’ briefs and applications for further review, go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page.

Dix, et al. v. Casey’s General Stores, Inc.

Question: Were employees improperly required to take drug tests?

Casey’s General Stores seeks further review of a Jan. 9 Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming a Polk County District Court ruling that the company improperly included two employees in a pool of safety-sensitive workers selected for drug tests. Two former Casey’s employees cross-appeal the trial court’s holding that they failed to prove that their drug tests were adverse employment actions.

An amicus curiae brief was submitted to the Supreme Court by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry in support of Casey’s General Stores. [Disclosure: The amicus brief was written by Nyemaster Goode attorney Leslie Behaunek.]

Woods v. Charles Gabus Ford, Inc.

Question: Did an employer substantially comply with Iowa’s drug-testing statute?

Charles Gabus Ford seeks further review of a Jan. 9 Iowa Court of Appeals decision reversing a Polk County District Court ruling that the company did not violate Iowa’s drug-testing statute by failing to include the cost of a confirmatory drug test in its post-test notice to Woods that he had failed the company’s drug test. Gabus argues that it substantially complied with the requirements of the statute.

State v. Buelow

Question: Are a victim’s mental-health records admissible in a murder trial?

The State seeks further review of a Dec. 18, 2019 Court of Appeals decision reversing a Dubuque County District Court ruling regarding admissibility of the victim’s mental-health records in the second-degree murder trial of Fontae Cole Buelow’s to support Buelow’s defense that the victim committed suicide rather than being murdered.

State v. Shackford

Question: Were court costs properly assessed and the defendant’s ability to pay considered?

Tavish Coleon Shackford seeks further review of a Jan. 9 Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming in part and vacating in part a Polk County District Court sentencing order following his conviction for willful injury. Shackford challenges the trial court’s assessment of court costs and correctional fees without considering apportioning costs between two criminal counts, and without determining whether he had a reasonable ability to pay the fees.

Wermerskirchen v. Canadian National Railroad, et al.

Question: Does federal railroad safety law preempt common-law damage claims?

Richard Wermerskirchen, who was injured when his road grader was struck at a crossing by a freight train, seeks further review of a Feb. 19 Iowa Court of Appeals decision regarding a Black Hawk County District Court ruling dismissing on summary judgment two of Wermerskirchen’s claims against the railroad as preempted by the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The trial court submitted Wermerskirchen’s third claim to a jury, which found no negligence. The appeals court reversed and remanded the District Court’s summary judgment ruling but affirmed the jury verdict.

Benskin Inc. v. West Bank

Question: Was a borrower’s damage claim against a bank barred by statute of limitations?

West Bank seeks further review of a March 4 Iowa Court of Appeals decision reversing and remanding a Polk County District Court ruling dismissing Benskin’s claims of breach of contract as barred by the statute of limitations and its claim of slander of title for failure to state a claim. The appeals court held that Benskin’s petition “adequately alleged the doctrine of equitable estoppel as a response to West Bank’s statute-of-limitations defense,” and that the Benskin petition “adequately apprised West Bank of the claim of slander of title.”

GreatAmerica Financial Services Corp. v. Natalya Rodionova Medical Care, P.C.

[Disclosure: Plaintiff-appellee GreatAmerica Financial Services is represented in this case by Nyemaster Goode attorneys Randall Armentrout and Leslie C. Behaunek.]

Question: Does a company ratify a finance agreement with a forged signature by making seven monthly payments on the agreement?

GreatAmerica Financial Services seeks further review of an April 1 Court of Appeals ruling reversing and remanding a Linn County District Court decision granting GreatAmerica’s motion for summary judgment on its claim that Natalya Rodionova Medical Care violated an equipment-financing agreement with GreatAmerica by attempting to cancel the agreement.

Natalya Rodionova argues a non-cancellation provision of the agreement is unenforceable because the signature on the agreement was forged; GreatAmerica counters that Natalya Rodionova ratified the agreement by making payments for seven months. A three-judge panel of the appeals court, with one dissent, held that the District Court erred in finding that GreatAmerica “proved ratification as a matter of law.”

State v. Roby

Question: Was a subsequent criminal charge from the same incident double-jeopardy?

Christopher Roby Jr. seeks further review of an April 1 Court of Appeals ruling affirming his conviction and sentencing by the Black Hawk County District Court for eluding, possession with intent to deliver, and third-degree sexual abuse. Following his sentencing, Roby filed a pro se motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Roby argues the State committed double-jeopardy in pursuing the eluding charge after he pled guilty to speeding arising from the same incident.

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