UPDATES & ANALYSIS

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Iowa Supreme Court expected to release opinions in four cases Friday — 20 cases remain to be decided this term

by Rox Laird | June 3, 2021

Opinions in four cases are expected to be released by the Iowa Supreme Court Friday, June 4.

With those four cases decided, 20 cases that were argued in the 2020-21 term remain to be decided. Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page and click on the “Cases Argued” tab to see which cases that were argued this term remain to be decided.

Following are On Brief’s previously published summaries of the four cases scheduled for release June 4, and our previously published summaries of 13 of the 20 cases that have yet to be decided.

Poller v. Okoboji Classic Cars

Argued March 23, 2021

Issue: Did classic car restorer violate trade practices statute by failing to provide an estimate in advance of its work?

Al and Deb Poller seek further review of an Aug. 19, 2020, Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming a Dickinson County District Court decision that Okoboji Classic Cars did not violate Iowa Code Chapter 537B, the Motor Vehicle Service Trade Practices Act, by failing to provide an estimate of the cost of restoring the Pollers’ 1931 Chevrolet prior to beginning work. The Court of Appeals held that the Pollers violated the parties’ agreement on the restoration project by refusing to fully pay Okoboji Classic Cars’ $112,396.15 bill for the work, and that they did not suffer an ascertainable loss. Judge Anuradha Vaitheswaran concurred specially but disagreed with the panel’s conclusion that Okoboji Classic Cars did not violate the deceptive trade practices statute, which she said required Okoboji to provide an estimate upon request before beginning work on the Pollers’ car.

Andrew v. Hamilton County Public Hospital

Argued April 14, 2021

Issues: Is a county hospital protected from a defamation claim under state and federal law? And did a District Court correctly rule on plaintiff’s wage payment claim?

[Disclosure: Nyemaster Goode attorneys Frances Haas and David Bower represent defendant‐appellant Hamilton County Public Hospital in this appeal.]

The Hamilton County Public Hospital appeals a Hamilton County District Court ruling denying its motion to dismiss on summary judgment plaintiff-appellee Mark Andrew’s defamation claims against the hospital for its confidential reports made to a state medical board and to a federal medical database regarding its patient-safety concerns about Andrew, which are protected from liability by state and federal law. The hospital also appeals the District Court’s holding that compensation Andrew may have earned, had the Hospital terminated the Agreement “without cause,” constitutes wages under the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act.

State v. Sewell

Argued Feb. 17, 2021

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.

Williams v. Beckner, Bullock

Submitted to the Court without oral argument April 14, 2021

Issue: Did a University of Iowa police officer’s supervisors violate Iowa’s veterans’ preference law in terminating his employment?

Jeffrey Williams appeals a Johnson County District Court order that annulled Williams’ writ of certiorari and dismissed his claim that his University of Iowa Department of Public Safety supervisors who fired him from his job as a campus police officer violated Iowa Code Section 35C.6, which gives military veterans in public positions job protections. Williams argues the District Court misinterpreted and misapplied Section 35C.6’s requirements that veterans receive “due notice” with “stated charges” and a veterans’ preference hearing.

Following are On Brief’s previously published summaries of 13 of the 20 cases that remain to be decided.

State v. Wright

Argued Sept. 17, 2020

Question: Does a police search of a suspect’s trash violate the Fourth Amendment?

Nicholas Wright seeks reversal of a Feb. 5 Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming a Cerro Gordo District Court ruling that a Clear Lake police officer did not violate the Fourth Amendment by searching a suspect’s trash bags removed from his garbage cans next to the alley behind his home. Wright argues the Court of Appeals incorrectly concluded that he had no expectation of privacy, based on a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in dismissing his motion to suppress evidence of illegal drug possession derived from his garbage. Wright, citing a more recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, argues that his garbage bags and trash cans are personal “effects” under the Fourth Amendment’s protection of “persons, houses, papers and effects” from unreasonable searches and seizures.

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

Argued Oct. 14, 2020

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.

 Argued Oct. 14, 2020

 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. Kilby

Argued Oct. 15, 9 2020

Issue: Should a defendant’s refusal to submit to breath tests be admitted at OWI trial?

Hannah Marie Kilby appeals the Polk County District Court’s denial of her pre-trial motion to declare as inadmissible evidence of her refusal to submit to breath tests. The trial court took into account Kilby’s refusal of breath tests in finding her guilty of driving while intoxicated. Kilby argues she had a right under the Iowa Constitution to withhold consent to the breath tests, and she asks the Court to reverse her conviction, remand the case, and direct that the State is prohibited from using her refusal as evidence against her at trial.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement v. State of Iowa

Argued Dec. 16, 2020

Question: Do plaintiffs have standing to sue the State over the Raccoon River’s water quality, and is this a political question rather than one for the courts?

The State appeals a Polk County District Court ruling denying the State’s motion to dismiss Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food and Water Watch’s suit claiming the State failed to safeguard the interest of Iowans by allowing nitrogen and phosphorus discharges from agricultural sources to impair the Raccoon River. The State asserts the plaintiffs lack standing, their claims are not justiciable, and they failed to exhaust remedies under the Iowa Administrative Procedure Act. The State argues it is well-established that “courts will not intervene or attempt to adjudicate a challenge that involves a ‘political question’,” a principle rooted in the separation-of-powers doctrine. [For more background, go to On Brief’s earlier analysis of this appeal.]

This appeal has drawn interest from parties on both sides of the question who filed amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs with the Supreme Court.

Doss v. State

Argued Jan. 20, 2021

Issue: Was trial counsel ineffective in failing to adequately inform appellant of parole rules that included a ban on using the internet and attending church?

Kenneth Doss seeks further review of a July 22, 2020, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming a decision of the Warren County District Court denying his application for postconviction relief following his guilty plea for lascivious acts with a child and his special sentence of lifetime parole. Doss argues the District Court erred in holding he received effective assistance of counsel. Doss argues that he was not adequately informed at the time of his plea of the rules and requirements of the special sentence — including a ban on using the internet, having a girlfriend, and going to church — and that he would not have entered a guilty plea had he been aware of those unconstitutional conditions. Amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs were filed with the Court in support of Doss by The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Iowa Association for Justice. Also, an amicus brief was filed by the Iowa Board of Parole supporting the position of the State.

PSFS 3 v. Seidman

Argued Jan. 20, 2021

Issues: Do equipment financing agreements that do not specifically state a rate of interest comply with Iowa usury law? Did the Iowa District Court have jurisdiction based on a financing agreement’s forum-selection clause? And, do judgments against scores of defendants based on two “bellwether” trials violate due process?

The appellants in this case include nearly 300 doctors and dentists nationally who challenge a series of Polk County District Court summary judgment decisions finding that PSFS 3’s equipment financing agreements with the appellants were enforceable and valid, and that appellants were in default by failing to make payments on the financing agreements. Among the questions presented to the Supreme Court: Do the equipment financing agreements comply with Iowa’s usury laws? Does the Iowa District Court have jurisdiction to hear this case based on a forum-selection clause invoked by assigning the agreements to a newly formed corporate entity in Iowa? And, did the District Court violate the due process rights of the appellants by entering judgments against the nearly 300 doctors and dentists based on its findings in two “bellwether” trials? [Disclosure: Nyemaster Goode attorneys Benjamin Roach and Randall Armentrout represent the appellee in this case.]

Rumsey v. Woodgrain Millwork

Argued Feb.17, 2021

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.]

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Kim Reynolds

Argued March 23, 2021

Issue: Does barring abortion providers from teaching sex education violate equal protection?

The State of Iowa appeals a Polk County District Court summary judgment decision declaring unconstitutional an act of the Iowa Legislature that bars Planned Parenthood from receiving public money to conduct sexual education programs for teens. The legislation applies to organizations that perform, or advocate for access to, abortions. The District Court held that the act violated Planned Parenthood’s equal protection rights under the Iowa Constitution. The State argues that Planned Parenthood, which performs 95 percent of all abortions in Iowa, is not similarly situated to non-abortion providers because contracting with the state’s largest abortion provider to deliver sexual education creates the perception that the State “at least implicitly approves of Planned Parenthood’s performance of and advocacy in favor of abortions.” An amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in support of the State’s position was filed by The Family Leader Foundation.

Godfrey v. State of Iowa, Terry Branstad, in his official capacity as Governor, and Brenna Findley, in her official capacity as Legal Counsel to the Governor

Argued March 24, 2021

Issue: Did an appointed state officer assert legally viable claims against the former governor and his aides? [Disclaimer: Nyemaster Goode attorneys Frank Harty, Debra Hulett, Katie Graham, and David Bower represent the appellants in this case.]

Former Gov. Terry Branstad and other defendants appeal from a Polk County District Court judgment of $1.5 million in a 2012 civil suit filed against the governor and other Republican state officials by former Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey after the governor reduced his salary to the lowest amount allowed by statute. The jury considered Godfrey’s civil rights claims of sexual‐orientation discrimination and retaliation as well as a constitutional‐tort claim against the State, Branstad (in his official capacity), and two members of his staff (in their official capacities). Godfrey claimed a property interest in maintaining the salary established by Branstad’s predecessor, and alleged that the defendants denied him due process because he was a Democrat by asking him to resign and reducing his salary. The defendants make six assertions on appeal: The district court should have directed a verdict on all claims; evidentiary errors deprived defendants of a fair trial; the jury instructions materially misstated the law and allowed the jury to find defendants liable and award damages on legally improper grounds; rulings regarding Godfrey’s medical condition denied defendants their right to present a full and fair defense; the $1,500,000 damages award is excessive and the product of passion and prejudice; and, in response to Godfrey’s misconduct refusing to proceed with his case‐in‐chief, the District Judge forced an illegal venue change, denying defendants a fair trial.

State v. Hahn

Submitted to the Court without oral argument March 24, 2021

Issue: Did a search of trash taken from a trash can violate the Fourth Amendment?

Ryan Joseph Hahn appeals the Scott County District Court’s dismissal of his motion to suppress evidence obtained from a search of trash taken from a closed trash can on his property. Hahn was convicted by a Scott County jury of possession of marijuana with intent to deliver. Scott County deputies obtained a search warrant based on evidence seized from trash taken from a can on Hahn’s property. Hahn argued the deputies entered his property to seize the trash. The District Court accepted the deputies’ testimony that they did not have to enter Hahn’s property to obtain the trash, and held that the seizure and subsequent search of Hahn’s garbage was constitutionally permissible. Hahn urges the Supreme Court to vacate his conviction on the basis that the trash search was conducted in violation of his right against unreasonable searches and seizures under the federal and state constitutions.

EMC Insurance Group Inc. v. Shepard

Argued April 14, 2021

Issue: Did a shareholder properly exercise his right to challenge the price paid to minority shareholders as part of a corporate merger? [Disclosure: Nyemaster Goode attorneys Michael Thrall, Mark Dickinson, and Lynn Herndon represent plaintiff-appellee EMC Insurance Group Inc.]

Gregory Shepard appeals a Polk County District Court ruling granting summary judgment to plaintiff EMC Insurance Group Inc. (EMCI) on its petition for a declaratory order that Shepard had lost his right to challenge the share price EMC set for buying out minority shareholders. Shepard raises three issues in his appeal: 1) Was the list of record shareholders used by EMCI to send proxy voting forms to those record shareholders in connection with the proposed merger properly constituted under Iowa law? 2) Did EMCI waive its right to argue that Shepard failed to comply with the Iowa appraisal statute? 3) Can EMCI claim that Shepard failed to obtain record shareholder consent to an appraisal by canceling Shepard’s EMCI shares? An amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief was filed with the Court in this case by the Depository Trust Co., not in support of either party on the merits but to clarify the law on record ownership of securities.

Association of Business and Industry v. City of Waterloo

Argued April 14, 2021

Issue: Does the City of Waterloo’s ordinance barring employers from asking job applicants about their criminal history exceed state and federal law?

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI) appeals a Black Hawk County District Court ruling dismissing on summary judgment ABI’s claim that state and federal law preempt a Waterloo city ordinance that prohibits employers in the city from asking about criminal history on a job application, prohibits employers from making any inquiry into an applicant’s criminal history until a conditional offer of employment has been made, and prohibits employers from making adverse hiring decisions based solely on certain criminal records. ABI argues that Waterloo’s ordinance is invalid under Iowa Code Section 364.3(12), which states that a city may not adopt an ordinance that provides for “any terms or conditions of employment” that exceed or conflict with state or federal law relating to hiring practices. ABI states that neither state nor federal law contain prohibitions such as Waterloo’s.

Amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in support of appellee City of Waterloo were filed with the Court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP.

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