UPDATES & ANALYSIS

1.19

Iowa Supreme Court to hear 9 cases January 19 and 20

by Rox Laird | January 19, 2022

The Iowa Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in nine cases Wednesday and Thursday, and five other cases will be submitted to the Court without oral argument. Following are summaries of the January cases. Go to On Brief’s “Cases in the Pipeline” page to read the briefs filed in these cases.

 

In re the marriage of Suraj George Pazhoor and Hancy Chennikkara Pazhoor

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 19, 9:30 a.m.

Issue: Did the Court of Appeals set a spousal support figure too high?

Suraj George Pazhoor seeks further review of a Jan. 21, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming but modifying a Dubuque County District Court decree dissolving the couple’s marriage. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court with respect to child custody and other issues, but modified the trial court’s order on spousal support. In seeking further review of that decision, Suraj George Pazhoor argues that the Court of Appeals erred in increasing the District Court’s spousal support award of $7,500 a month for five years to an award payable in decreasing increments totaling $1.2 million over 12 years. Pazhoor urges the Iowa Supreme Court to vacate the Court of Appeals’ alimony modification and affirm the District Court’s order. He also urges the Court to “formally recognize and define transitional alimony as a fourth category of spousal support that will help future courts and practitioners in fashioning an equitable remedy and help avoid ‘extraordinary’ ‘non-categorical forms of spousal support.’ ”

 

Union Pacific and Midwestern Railroad Properties v. Drainage District 67 Board of Trustees, et al.

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 19, 9:30 a.m.

Issue: Did a drainage district properly assess the cost of replacing drainage tiles that cross railroad right-of-way?

[Disclosure: Keith P. Duffy of Nyemaster Goode, along with David M. Newman of Omaha, represents the railroad appellees.]

Drainage District 67 Board of Trustees seek further review of a June 16, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming as modified a decision by the Hardin County District Court granting Union Pacific and Midwestern Railroad Properties’ motion for summary judgment challenging the district’s reclassification of drainage benefits and assessments for repairs to drainage tile that crosses the railroad’s right of way. The drainage district trustees urge the Supreme Court to reverse the Court of Appeals and reinstate the drainage district’s reclassification of the railroad’s benefits from the drainage tile replacement.

 

Lennette v. State of Iowa, et al.

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 19, 9:30 a.m.

Issue: Does statutory or sovereign immunity bar appellant’s claims against the State?

Andrew Lennette on behalf of himself and his three minor children appeals a Johnson County District Court ruling dismissing on summary judgment his suit against the State and three Department of Human Services investigators. Lennette argues he was wrongfully removed from his home and separated from his children on the basis of what he calls a false allegation of sexual abuse of one of the children. The District Court dismissed the case holding that the State is immune from Lennette’s common law and constitutional claims under judicial process immunity, limitations on the State’s waiver of sovereign immunity in Iowa Code section 669.14, and section 232.73 immunity. Lennette raises eight issues in his appeal, arguing the trial court made a number of errors, including misapplying State statutes and Iowa Supreme Court precedent regarding absolute or qualified immunity for the State and for social workers.

 

State v. Newman

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument Jan. 19.

Issue: Should a trial court have ordered an evaluation of a defendant’s competence before accepting his guilty plea?

Dantreon Newman seeks further review of a Sept. 22, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming his conviction in Polk County District Court following his guilty plea to lascivious acts with a child. Newman argues that his due-process rights were violated when the trial court failed to order an evaluation of his competency to enter a plea after questions were raised about his competency to enter a plea. Newman seeks a remand to the District Court for resentencing with instructions to order an evaluation of his competency.

 

Beverage v. Alcoa and Iowa-Illinois Taylor Insulation

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 19, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Did the District Court wrongly interpret a statute granting immunity from liability in dismissing an asbestos-related complaint?

Larry Beverage individually and as personal representative of the Estate of Charles E. Beverage, Linda K. Anderson, and Bonnie K. Valentine seek further review of a March 17, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming the Scott County District Court’s decision dismissing on summary judgment the appellants’ products liability suit following the death of Charles E. Beverage of malignant mesothelioma. Charles Beverage had been exposed to asbestos from years of working in an Alcoa plant where asbestos insulation had been installed by Iowa-Illinois Taylor Insulation. The Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court’s holding that the defendant-appellees are immune from liability under Iowa Code section 686B.7(5), which says, “A defendant in an asbestos action or silica action shall not be liable for exposures from a product or component part made or sold by a third party.” Asbestos in the plant where Charles Beverage was exposed was not made or sold by the defendant-appellees. In their application for further review, the appellants argue that section 686B.7(5) was intended by the Iowa Legislature to limit the liability of manufacturers of replacement parts that contain asbestos, and that the District Court’s interpretation of the section leads to the “absurd result of barring all causes of action against premises owners that created dangerous conditions on their property through careless use of asbestos, and asbestos insulation contractors that sold asbestos products.”

An amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief was filed with the Supreme Court in support of the defendant-appellees by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, Iowa Insurance Institute, NFIB Small Business Legal Center, and Coalition for Litigation Justice, Inc.

 

In re the marriage of Susan Gayle Hutchinson and Robert Gregory Hutchinson

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 19, 1:30 p.m..

Issue: Should a divorce decree be modified because pension income was concealed?

Susan Hutchinson seeks further review of a divided July 21, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling reversing and remanding the Linn County District Court’s modification of the parties’ marriage dissolution decree. Susan Hutchinson sued Robert five years after their marriage was dissolved when she discovered Robert failed to disclose the existence of his employer’s pension plan as a part of the pair’s stipulation of settlement. The Court of Appeals majority reversed the District Court’s finding in favor of Susan on her request that the court award to her a share of Robert’s pension plan because she could have discovered Robert’s pension within one year of the entry of the divorce decree. One member of the three-judge panel wrote in an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part that, because the dissolution decree would have been different but for Robert’s concealment of his pension, the District Court’s determination that “the complete concealment of the pension involves extrinsic fraud should be affirmed.”

 

State v. West Vangen

Will be submitted without oral argument Jan. 19.

Issue: Are recent legislative amendments affecting the rights of criminal defendants unconstitutional?

Erica West Vangen appeals her conviction by a Linn County jury for fourth-degree criminal mischief following vandalism to a vehicle. West Vangen argues on appeal there was insufficient evidence to support her conviction as a principal or as an aider and abettor, and the District Court erred in requiring West Vangen to pay court costs and attorney fees without considering her reasonable ability to pay. West Vangen makes two constitutional arguments on appeal: First, she argues recent legislation, which amendedIowa Code section 814.28 to bar Iowa appellate courts from reversing general verdicts when one of the theories presented to the jury lacks factual support, violates the Iowa Constitution. Second, she argues that amendments to Iowa Code Chapter 910, which says criminal defendants are presumed to have the ability to pay for court costs, are unconstitutional.

 

Riley Drive Entertainment I, et al., v. Kimberly Reynolds; Iowa Department of Public Health

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 20, 9 a.m.

Issue: Is a suit challenging the legality of the governor’s 2020 proclamation closing bars moot now that the order has been lifted?

Riley Drive Entertainment and five other hospitality companies appeal a decision by the Polk County District Court granting a motion to dismiss their lawsuit against Iowa Gov. Kimberly Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Public Health in which they argued the governor exceeded her authority by issuing a disaster proclamation during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 that ordered the closure of certain establishments that serve alcoholic beverages. The District Court dismissed the case as moot since the emergency order had been lifted. In their appeal, the appellants cite the public-interest exception to mootness doctrine in urging the Supreme Court to reverse the District Court and remand the case for further proceedings on the merits of their claims that the governor’s proclamation exceeded her authority and violated the plaintiffs’ right to equal protection and due process.

 

Site A Landowners and Mahaska County v. South Central Regional Airport Authority; City of Pella; City of Oskaloosa

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 20, 9 a.m.

Issue: May governmental entities build and operate an airport through an agency formed under Iowa Code Chapter 28E, and may that agency jointly exercise the governmental entities’ legislative and regulatory authority pursuant to such agreement??

[Note: Nyemaster Goode attorney David Bower is an attorney for the South Central Regional Airport Agency, which is a party to this case.]

In their consolidated appeals Site A Landowners and Mahaska County appeal decisions by the District Court in Mahaska and Washington Counties regarding the legality of an intergovernmental agreement under Iowa Code Chapter 28E, which created a new agency to build and operate a regional airport in Mahaska County. The 28E agreement provides the agency with authority to regulate zoning and road locations, issue building permits, and use eminent domain to condemn land for the proposed airport that would otherwise belong to Mahaska County. When Mahaska County sought to withdraw from the agreement, the cities of Pella and Oskaloosa sued, and the Mahaska County District Court held the agreement to be valid and enforceable. In its appeal to the Supreme Court, Mahaska County argues the 28E agreement exceeded the city and county governments’ authority, is contrary to state law, and improperly restricts the county’s legislative authority. The Site A Landowners, whose land lies within the proposed airport site, argue the agreement is illegal and unenforceable because it irrevocably delegates the county’s legislative and police powers, and violates the landowners’ right to equal protection.

 

Goche v. WMG LC

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument Jan. 20.

Issue: Does an Iowa statute allow an employee to be reimbursed for legal fees incurred in litigation against his employer?

WMG seeks further review of a divided June 16, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling reversing a Kossuth County District Court decision that Joseph Goche, WMG’s manager, could not collect attorney fees incurred while litigating against WMG, including so-called “fees on fees” incurred in litigation seeking indemnification for legal fees from the underlying litigation. WMG argues on appeal that state law does not allow an LLC manager to recover attorney fees incurred while litigating against his own LLC. A majority of the Court of Appeals panel held that Goche may be indemnified for both sets of legal fees. One member of the three-judge Court of Appeals panel argued in dissent that the Iowa Code does not require WMG to pay Goche for attorney fees he incurred through his litigation against WMG.

 

State v. Basquin

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument Jan. 20.

Issue: Should a defendant’s written guilty plea instead have been made in open court before a judge?

Defendant-appellant Timothy Basquin appeals from his conviction by the Fayette County District Court for possession of methamphetamine with the intent to deliver after entering in writing an Alford plea (in which a defendant acknowledges the likelihood of conviction based on the State’s evidence but does not admit to the criminal offense). Under Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure, a court must address the defendant personally in open court before accepting a felony guilty plea in order to assure the defendant understands the consequences of the plea. Written pleas such as Basquin’s were allowed by the Iowa Supreme Court in a 2020 supervisory order issued in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. On appeal, Basquin argues the supervisory order authorizing written felony pleas violated due-process requirements of the U.S. and Iowa constitutions, and the case should be reversed and remanded.

 

Tripp v. Scott Emergency Communications Center; Iowa Municipalities Workers Compensation Commission

Scheduled for oral argument Jan 20, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Is a 911 dispatcher eligible for workers’ compensation benefits for her traumatic reaction to a distraught caller?

Mandy Tripp appeals a Scott County District Court decision affirming the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner’s decision that Tripp did not sustain a compensable “pure mental injury” (also called mental-mental injury) because she did not meet the test for legal causation established by the Iowa Supreme Court in Brown v. Quik Trip Corp. (2002). The commissioner’s decision stated that Tripp, an emergency dispatcher, had “some sort of mental health condition” that was triggered in part by a call she took from a distraught mother of a dead infant but that she did not show legal causation under the Brown standard. In addition to asking the Supreme Court to reverse the trial court and hold that Tripp established legal causation as defined in Brown, she urges the Court to modify or overturn the Brown standard for mental-mental injuries resulting in PTSD because the test is incompatible with modern medical understandings of PTSD.

 

American Home Assurance v. Liberty Mutual Life Insurance Co.

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 20, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Was an insurer entitled to be reimbursed by another insurer for workers’ compensation benefits paid to an injured worker?

American Home Assurance seeks further review of a July 21, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling reversing a Polk County District Court holding that American Home Assurance was entitled to reimbursement from Liberty Mutual for Workers’ Compensation benefits paid to an injured employee. After American Home had paid an injured worker 125 weeks of benefits as ordered by the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, American Home discovered it was not the insurer on the date of the injury and sought reimbursement from Liberty Mutual. The Commissioner subsequently ruled that American Home was not entitled to reimbursement under Iowa Code section 85.21, which was reversed by the District Court on judicial review. The Court of Appeals, however, held that the Commissioner’s decision was consistent with its practices and precedents, and reversed the trial court.

 

State v. Williams

Will be submitted to the Court Jan. 20 without oral argument.

Issue: Was an African-American defendant’s Sixth Amendment right violated by a jury-selection process that allegedly systematically excluded African-American jurors?

Antoine Williams appeals a Floyd County District Court ruling on remand that he is not entitled to a new trial on his claim that his Sixth Amendment right to a jury drawn from a fair cross-section of the community was violated. Williams, who is Black, previously appealed his conviction by a jury of second-degree murder, and the Iowa Supreme Court remanded the case to the District Court to rule on Williams’ claim that African-Americans were under-represented in the pool from which his jury was picked. On remand, the District Court held that Williams failed to establish a causal connection between the jury-selection process and an underrepresentation of African-Americans in his jury pool. In this appeal, Williams argues the District Court erred in denying his motion for a new trial arguing that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated by the systematic exclusion of African-American jurors in his jury pool.

 

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