UPDATES & ANALYSIS

3.19

Iowa Supreme Court set to hear arguments in eight cases March 23 and 24

by Rox Laird | March 19, 2021

The Iowa Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in eight cases March 23 and 24. Eight other cases will be submitted to the Court without oral argument.

Following are brief summaries of the March cases. Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read the briefs filed in these cases. Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read briefs filed with the Court in these cases.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Kim Reynolds

Scheduled for oral argument March 23, 9 a.m.

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.

StateLine Cooperative v. Iowa Property Assessment Appeal Board, and Emmet County Board of Review

Scheduled for oral argument March 23, 9 a.m.

Issue: What is the correct standard for tax exemptions for machinery used in manufacturing?

The Iowa Property Assessment Appeal Board and the Emmet County Board of Review seek further review of a Nov. 4, 2020, Iowa Court of Appeals decision reversing an Emmet County District Court ruling regarding Emmet County’s assessment of the property tax value of StateLine Cooperative’s feed mill. The issue before the Supreme Court is the correct application of the Iowa Code regarding tax exemptions for “machinery used in manufacturing establishments.” StateLine unsuccessfully challenged Emmett County’s $4.2 million assessment of its plant’s taxable value before the Emmet County Board of Review, appealed that decision to the Iowa Property Assessment Appeal Board, which mostly upheld the county board, and then appealed the state board’s decision to the Emmet County District Court, which affirmed the state board’s decision. The appellants now ask the Iowa Supreme Court to reverse the Court of Appeals and affirm the District Court.

Rilea v. State

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument March 23

Issue: Must the State refund fines collected from illegally issued traffic citations?

Rickie Rilea appeals the Polk County District Court’s summary judgment dismissal of his claim that the State of Iowa was unjustly enriched by collecting a traffic fine from a speeding ticket issued by an Iowa Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Enforcement Officer later determined by the Iowa Supreme Court to lack authority to issue such traffic citations. The Iowa Legislature subsequently amended the statute to authorize IDOT enforcement officers to enforce all state laws, but Rilea sought remedy for the State’s unjust enrichment in collecting the fine from him before the change. The District Court held that Rilea’s unjust enrichment claim was an improper collateral attack on his speeding ticket. Rilea, who seeks to certify his case as a class action for all others in his situation, urges the Supreme Court to hold that his action for unjust enrichment is not an improper collateral attack against his speeding conviction but an attempt to hold the State responsible for refunding decades of illegally collected fines, surcharges, and court costs.

State v. Fetner

Will submitted to the Court without oral argument March 23

Issue: Was a prison sentence based on an impermissible sentencing factor?

William Fetner seeks further review of a Sept. 23, 2020, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming his sentence to two consecutive two-year prison terms by the Cerro Gordo County District Court following his guilty plea to possession of marijuana and driving while barred. Fetner argued that the District Court considered an impermissible sentencing factor based on Fetner’s trial attorney’s statement in court that Fetner worked at a daycare center. The trial judge expressed the opinion that “It’s not safe for you to be caring for children if you’re under the influence.” Feltner argues that, because there was no sworn testimony regarding whether he worked at a daycare center while under the influence of marijuana, that allegation based on speculation was an impermissible sentencing factor.

Poller v. Okoboji Classic Cars

To be argued March 23, 1:30 p.m.

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.

David Buboltz and Donna Reece v. Patricia Birusingh, individually and in Her Capacity as Co-Executor of the Estate of Cletis C. Ireland, and Kumari Durick

Scheduled for oral argument March 23, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Should a claim of intentional interference with inheritance have  been submitted to a jury?

David Buboltz and Donna Reece appeal from a Pottawattamie County District Court summary judgment ruling dismissing their claim of intentional interference with inheritance. At issue is the Cass County Century Farm owned by the late Cletis Ireland, whose 2001 will named plaintiffs as beneficiaries. Ireland changed her will in 2015 to say defendant-appellee Kumari Durick would inherit the farm and defendant-appellee Patricia Birusingh would inherit the vast majority of her money and personal assets. The District Court in granting partial summary judgment held that the plaintiffs were required to show that the defendants knew of the plaintiffs’ expected inheritance from Ireland. The plaintiffs’ separate claim for undue influence regarding Ireland’s 2015 will was submitted to the jury, which returned a unanimous verdict for plaintiffs. The plaintiffs urge the Supreme Court to reinstate their claim for intentional interference with inheritance. Appellees cross-appeal seeking a new trial due to the trial court’s admission of prejudicial hearsay testimony, and a prejudicial closing argument by plaintiffs’ trial counsel.

State v. Bear

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument March 23

Issue: Should a federal statute stripping Iowa of jurisdiction over offenses committed on the Tama Indian Settlement have been applied retroactively?

Hollis Bear appeals his judgment, conviction, and sentence following a Tama County District Court bench trial for first-offense domestic abuse assault causing bodily injury and criminal mischief in the fourth degree. Bear, a Native American and resident of the Tama Indian Settlement in Tama County, argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss based on his argument that the State court lacked jurisdiction to prosecute his case because Congress enacted a federal law on Dec. 11, 2018, that repealed a 1948 law that had conferred jurisdiction on the State of Iowa over offenses committed by or against Indians on the Sac and Fox Indian Reservation. The trial court denied Bear’s motion to dismiss, saying that the criminal charges against Bear filed on Nov. 16, 2018, occurred prior to enactment of the federal statute; thus, Iowa had jurisdiction prior to Dec. 11, 2018. Bear argues that retroactivity standard does not apply to statutes that affect jurisdiction, citing a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said “a jurisdiction-conferring or jurisdiction-stripping statute usually ‘takes away no substantive right but simply changes the tribunal that is to hear the case.’”  Bear urges the Iowa Supreme Court to conclude that the 2018 federal act be applied retroactively and remand his case for dismissal.

Marek v. Johnson and City Development Board

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument March 23

Issue: Are residents in a city that’s been dissolved liable for a defamation judgment against the former mayor?

The City Development Board of the State of Iowa seeks further review of a Nov. 30, 2020, Iowa Court of Appeals decision reversing in part a Henry County District Court ruling that granted the Board’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ action against the Board. This case stems from a disputed $100,000 judgment for defendant-appellants Dan and Linda Johnson against the mayor of Mount Union, Iowa, for defamation. While the defamation suit was pending, the residents of Mount Union voted to dissolve the city. The City Development Board approved the city’s dissolution but held that the $100,000 judgment must be paid. Plaintiffs John Marek and other Mount Union residents objected to paying the judgment and sued the Johnsons and the Board. The Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision affirmed the District Court ruling granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs saying the Johnsons’ money judgment was void due to the judgment being entered against an entity that no longer exists, but reversed the trial court’s denial of the Board’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims against the Board.

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

Scheduled for oral argument March 24, 9:30 a.m.

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.

In the matter of the Estate of Vera E. Cawiezell, deceased

Scheduled for oral argument March 24, 9:30 a.m.

Issue: Did a trial court correctly rule on provisions of a will contested by executors?

The executors of the Estate of Vera E. Cawiezell seek further review of a Nov. 4, 2020, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming the Muscatine County District Court’s ruling regarding Cawiezell’s will. The Court of Appeals held that the District Court properly ruled that a restriction on alienability in the decedent’s will was not valid, affirmed the trial court’s ruling on the provisions of the will concerning the farm tenant’s first right of refusal to purchase the farmland and his continued leasing of the property, and held that the trial court properly determined the boundary lines of the decedent’s residence.

State v. Holmes

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument March 24

Issue: Does an offender serving a life sentence have a reasonable ability to pay all restitution amounts?

Thomas Deshawn Holmes appeals the Black Hawk County District Court’s denial of his motion challenging a restitution order following his conviction and sentence to life in prison for kidnapping and robbery. Holmes’ restitution order, which included $15,260 for the Victim Assistance Program, $6,042 for court costs, and $25,453 for attorney fees, contained no reference to whether Holmes had the ability to pay those amounts. Holmes argues that, since no court has issued a finding that he has a reasonable ability to pay restitution, the Supreme Court should remand his case to the District Court for a hearing to determine whether he has the reasonable ability to pay all restitution amounts.

State v. Hahn

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument March 24

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.

Lukken v. Mount Crescent Ski Area, and Challenge Quest, et al.

Scheduled for oral argument March 24, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Did the installer of a zipline brake owe a duty to an injured party after it had earlier transferred the zipline to its owner?

Thomas Lukken appeals a Pottawattamie County District Court ruling on summary judgment dismissing his negligence suit against Mount Pleasant Ski Area and Challenge Quest for injuries he sustained in a zipline accident when he collided with a wooden pole at the base of the zipline and fractured his neck. The District Court granted summary judgment motions for both Mount Pleasant and Challenge Quest. Among Lukken’s arguments on appeal: The District Court erred in finding that the installation of a new zipline braking system was a superseding event that interrupted the chain of causality and liability; and, the trial court incorrectly found that Challenge Quest had no duty to Lukken after it completed its work and transferred control of the zipline to Mount Crescent.

Ryan Koster v. Harvest Bible Chapel and Garth Glenn

Scheduled for oral argument March 24, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Was a pastor’s disclosure of a congregant’s confidential information an invasion of privacy?

Ryan Koster appeals a Scott County District Court’s dismissal on summary judgment of Koster’s suit against Harvest Bible Chapel and Pastor Garth Glenn. Glenn sent emails to fellow pastors, staff, and members of Koster’s church group that included intimate details about Koster’s marriage obtained in confidence. Koster sued Glenn for breach of a fiduciary relationship, invasion of privacy, and defamation. He made a claim of vicarious liability against Harvest Bible Chapel. The trial court held that communications made within a church between congregants are privileged under the U.S. Constitution.

Bauer v. Brinkman

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument March 24

Issue: Was a vulgar FaceBook post defamatory, or opinion protected by the First Amendment?

Richard Bauer seeks further review of a Nov. 30, 2020, Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming the Woodbury County District Court’s denial of Bauer’s motion for partial summary judgment of his defamation suit. Bauer’s opposition to construction of a commercial dog kennel next to his Sloan, Iowa, apartment building prompted Bradley Brinkman’s FaceBook post calling Bauer a “piece of shit” and a “Slum Lord.” The Court of Appeals held that however vulgar and offensive, Brinkman’s post was a non-actionable statement of opinion protected by the First Amendment. Bauer argues that Brinkman’s Facebook post was not opinion but a statement of alleged fact made with the intent to harm Bauer’s reputation and with knowledge it was false or with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity. [Read On Brief’s earlier post on the Court of Appeals decision in this case.]

Toney v. Parker

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument March 24

Issue: Did a trial court err in dismissing a suit involving a dispute over a lease and ownership of a farm?

Julian Toney appeals the Decatur County District Court’s dismissal on partial summary judgment his claims against the defendants and ordering that he pay actual and punitive damages following a bench trial. Toney petitioned for declaratory judgment and an injunction regarding a lease and ownership dispute over a Decatur County farm. The defendants filed a counterclaim that included claims for slander of title, ejectment, trespass, and quiet title. The District Court granted summary judgment for defendants and against Toney.

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