UPDATES & ANALYSIS

10.10

Iowa Supreme Court to hear arguments in eight appeals Oct. 12 and 13

by Rox Laird | October 10, 2022

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in eight cases Oct. 12 and 13. Five other cases will be submitted to the court without oral argument. Following are short summaries of the October cases. Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read briefs filed with the Court in these cases.

 

State v. Trane

Scheduled for oral argument Oct. 12, 9 a.m.

Question: Did a trial court wrongly determine that a defendant did not establish that an alleged sex-abuse victim had previously made false accusations of sexual assault?

Benjamin Trane appeals a Lee County District Court ruling that he failed to show by a preponderance of evidence that the State’s key witness in his prosecution on charges of sex abuse, sexual exploitation by a counselor, and child endangerment had previously made false accusations of sexual assault. The trial court was ordered by the Supreme Court following Trane’s first appeal in 2019 to conduct a hearing prescribed by Rule 5.412 of the Iowa Rules of Evidence and grant him a new trial if the District Court concluded the alleged victim had made such false accusations. Trane argues the trial court committed several errors, including the judge’s failure to recuse himself due to prejudice against Trane. Trane urges the Supreme Court to reverse the District Court decision and remand for a new trial.

 

Dickey v. Hoff, et al.

Scheduled for oral argument Oct. 12, 9 a.m.

Question: Did the Iowa Supreme Court violate the constitutional separation of powers in extending the statute of limitations during the Covid-19 outbreak?

Reed Dickey, a high school wrestler from Lincoln, Nebraska, sustained a head injury while competing in a wrestling meet in Council Bluffs. Dickey and his parents Michael and Andrea Dickey sued six defendants, including Dickey’s school district and coach, a referee, and an athletic trainer. The Pottawattamie County District Court dismissed their negligence claims against defendants. On appeal, the Dickeys argue the trial court erred in holding that their suit was filed after the statute of limitations had expired and that the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2020 supervisory orders extending the statute of limitations by 76 days during the Covid-19 pandemic violated constitutional separation of powers.

 

State v. Mong

Will be submitted to the Court Oct. 12 without oral argument.

Question: Did the Iowa Court of Appeals err in reversing a trial court’s conviction of a defendant accused of attempted murder?

The State seeks further review of a Feb. 16 Iowa Court of Appeals decision reversing Anthony Mong’s conviction by a Polk County jury for attempted murder, intimidation with a dangerous weapon, and willful injury causing bodily injury. The Court of Appeals held there was insufficient evidence to support the first two charges and reversed them, but it conditionally affirmed his conviction for going armed with intent and remanded the case to the District Court for development of the record on Mong’s challenge to the racial composition of the jury. In its application for further review, the State urges the Supreme Court to reverse the Court of Appeals and affirm Mong’s convictions for attempted murder, intimidation with a dangerous weapon, willful injury causing bodily injury, and going armed with intent.

 

In re the Marriage of Mills

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument Oct. 12.

Question: Should an appellant’s ex-spouse have been awarded traditional spousal support?

Jason Mills seeks further review of a March 30 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling modifying a Wapello County District Court dissolution of marriage decree and awarding spousal support to his former wife. The Court of Appeals concluded there is little likelihood that Erinn Mills’ disability will allow her to become self-supporting at a standard of living comparable to the one enjoyed during the marriage. Jason Mills argues in his application for further review that the Court of Appeals improperly determined Erinn should be awarded traditional spousal support.

 

State v. Petro

Scheduled for oral argument Oct. 12, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Was an ex-spouse’s no-contact order wrongly extended for five years despite lack of evidence of any threats?

Rick Petro seeks further review of a divided March 2 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming the Warren County District Court’s ruling extending for five years a criminal no-contact order obtained by his ex-wife. Court of Appeals Judge Anuradha Vaitheswaran dissented, saying there was insubstantial evidence to support the extension. In his application for further review Petro argues there is no need to continue the no-contact order since he has exhibited no conduct in over a decade that can be objectively deemed a threat.

 

State v. Torres

Scheduled for oral argument Oct. 12, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Did police officers violate a suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights in seizing him in the course of a child-endangerment investigation?

Santos Rene Torres seeks further review of a divided May 25 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming his conviction by the Warren County District Court of second-offense operating while intoxicated. The charge arose in the course of a child-endangerment investigation. The Court of Appeals, in a divided ruling, affirmed the District Court’s denial of Torres’ motion to suppress evidence and his challenge of the sufficiency of evidence to prove he was intoxicated. In a partial concurrence and partial dissent, Court of Appeals Judge Anuradha Vaitheswaran agreed there was substantial evidence to support the OWI conviction but she would have reversed the suppression ruling and remanded for a new trial with the challenged evidence excluded. Torres argues in his application for further review that the officers violated his right against unreasonable search and seizure under the U.S. and Iowa constitutions.

 

Dolly Investments v. MMG Sioux City

Will be submitted to the Court Oct. 12 without oral argument.

Question: Did a landlord violate a lease with its tenant by locking the doors after the tenant failed to pay rent and permanently closed the business?

Dolly Investments seeks further review of a Dec. 15, 2021, decision of the Iowa Court of Appeals affirming the Woodbury District Court’s ruling that Dolly materially breached the lease of a commercial building to MMG Sioux City for a restaurant by entering the building and changing the locks after the restaurant permanently closed. The Court of Appeals held that Dolly breached the lease when it entered the property and changed the locks to exclude MMG from the building without first giving MMG 15 days’ notice as required by the lease. In its application for further review, Dolly argues MMG was first to materially breach the lease by failing to pay rent, voiding Dolly’s obligations under the lease, including any notice requirement.

 

Save Our Stadiums v. Des Moines Independent Community School District

Scheduled for oral argument Oct. 13, 9 a.m.

Question: Did the Des Moines School District properly reject petitions from citizens seeking a referendum on a stadium project?

Save Our Stadiums and four individual plaintiffs appeal the Polk County District Court’s dismissal on summary judgment of their claim that the Des Moines Independent Community School District illegally rejected their petitions calling for a referendum on a stadium project financed in part with state school-infrastructure funds. The school district rejected the petitions as falling short of the statutorily required number based on Iowa Code section 423F.4(2)(b). The District Court ruled that the number of required signatures is based on the number of voters who voted at the last election regardless of whether they voted for specific measures, races, or candidates. By that measure, the trial court said, the number of signatures fell short. On appeal, the plaintiffs argue the “number of voters at the last preceding election of school officials” as set forth in 423F.4(2)(b) is the not the overall number of those who voted but the number of people who cast votes in the at-large school board director’s race, and by that measure the plaintiffs had a sufficient number of legally required signatures.

 

Carter v. State of Iowa and Mark Ludwick

Scheduled for oral argument Oct. 13, 9 a.m.

Question: Did the state and a special agent violate the appellant’s common law and constitutional rights in conducting a criminal prosecution against him and aiding in a private wrongful death suit against him?

Jason Carter appeals the Polk County District Court’s dismissal of his claim that the State and Special Agent Mark Ludwick violated his constitutional and common law rights in prosecuting him for the shooting death of his mother, Shirley Carter, and in participating in a wrongful death suit brought against Jason by his father for liability for Shirley’s death. The civil jury returned a $10 million verdict against Jason, who was subsequently acquitted of a criminal charge of first-degree murder. The trial court in Carter’s suit against the State and Agent Ludwick held the State had sovereign and qualified immunity against all of Jason Carter’s claims. Carter argues on appeal that the State cannot claim immunity when an agent lies, hides evidence, misrepresents witness statements, and fails to follow important leads to other suspects.

 

State v. Paye

Will be submitted to the Court Oct. 13 without oral argument.

Question: Was a police officer’s traffic stop justified because he could not clearly see one letter on the vehicle’s license plate partly blocked by a trailer hitch ball?

The State seeks further review of an April 27 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling reversing the Polk County District Court’s denial of Prince Paye’s motion to suppress evidence from a traffic stop initiated by a police officer alleging the license plate on Paye’s vehicle was partly obstructed by a trailer hitch ball in violation of Iowa Code section 321.38 (2019). That statute says, in part, that a vehicle registration plate must be “ in a place and position to be clearly visible and shall be maintained free from foreign materials and in a condition to be clearly legible.” The panel majority held that Paye’s plate was clearly visible and legible and that because the “free of foreign materials” language is a reference to maintenance of the license plate itself, not to an obstruction such as a ball hitch, Paye was not in violation of the statute. In a dissent, Judge David May [who has since been appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court], wrote that Paye’s license plate was not clearly visible because it was partially hidden by the trailer ball. Thus, Judge May argued the officer was justified in making the stop and the motion to suppress was properly denied.

 

Martinez v. State of Iowa

Scheduled for oral argument Oct. 13, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Can the State be held liable to a plaintiff who was injured in a crash caused by a fleeing criminal suspect being pursued at high speeds by a state trooper?

The State of Iowa appeals the Polk County District Court’s denial of the State’s motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of a civil action brought by Amber Martinez alleging a state trooper was negligent in pursuing at high speeds a fleeing criminal suspect who crashed head-on into her vehicle on a city street resulting in lasting injuries. The District Court, in denying the State’s motion for summary judgment, held that the trooper owed Martinez a duty of care under Iowa Code section 321.231(5), which articulates a standard of care for drivers of emergency vehicles, and that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the officer acted with reckless disregard for public safety in continuing to pursue the fleeing suspect. The State argues on appeal that the statute does not establish a duty of care between the trooper and Martinez, citing case law that section 321.231(5) applies only to negligence regarding an officer’s manner of driving, not a decision whether to initiate or continue a pursuit.

 

State v. Thompson

Scheduled for oral argument Oct. 13, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Was hearsay testimony from a murder victim wrongly admitted in the defendant’s first-degree murder trial?

Christopher Thompson, who was convicted of first-degree murder by a Polk County jury, seeks further review of an April 27 Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming the trial court’s ruling admitting hearsay testimony from a friend of the victim who told the friend she feared Thompson would kill her. The Court of Appeals held that the testimony, admitted under the Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.803(3) exception to the hearsay rule for statements that express the declarant’s then-existing state of mind, rebutted the defendant’s argument that Thompson’s actions were impulsive and not premeditated.

 

Dornath v. Employment Appeal Board

Will be submitted to the Court Oct. 13 without oral argument.

Question: Did the Iowa Employment Appeal Board err in denying unemployment benefits while an apprentice was unable to work while attending required classroom training?

Kyle Dornath appeals a Polk County District Court ruling affirming the Employment Appeal Board’s denial of unemployment benefits to Dornath for the week that he was required by his apprentice program to attend classroom training instead of working at his regular job. Iowa Workforce Development’s initial denial of his application for benefits was affirmed by the Employment Appeal Board. Dornath urges the Supreme Court to reverse or remand the Board’s decision to deny his unemployment benefits, arguing the Board’s conclusions depart from established precedent.

 

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