UPDATES & ANALYSIS

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Iowa Supreme Court to hear arguments in eight cases Apr. 10-11

by Rox Laird | April 5, 2024

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in eight cases April 10 and 11. Four other cases will be submitted to the Court without oral argument. Go to On Brief’s “Cases in the Pipeline” page to read briefs filed in these cases. Following are brief summaries of the April arguments.

 

Clark v. State

Scheduled for oral argument April 10, 9 a.m.

Question: Is a $12 million jury award allowed for emotional damages in a legal malpractice against a defense lawyer?

The State appeals a Johnson County jury verdict in favor of Donald Clark in his legal malpractice suit against a State public defender and awarding $12 million in emotional distress damages. Clark’s defense lawyer, John Robertson, defended Clark in his criminal trial for sexual abuse. After a jury returned a verdict against Clark in that case, he filed for post-conviction relief and won the right to a new trial on grounds that included ineffective assistance of counsel. The State declined to reprosecute, and Clark brought his malpractice action against Robertson.

On appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, the State argues emotional-distress damages are not available in this case where the prosecutor’s actions, even if negligent, are not illegitimate (such as encouraging a client to lie).

 

Janssen v. Security National Bank and Collins

Scheduled for oral argument April 10, 9 a.m.

Question: Was a defendant in a will contest wrongly dismissed from the case hours before the trial?

Gary and Larry Janssen appeal a Woodbury County District Court order for a new trial in the brothers’ suit challenging their late father’s will and claiming their sister, Sheryl Collins, unduly influenced her father to change his will disinheriting the brothers. The Janssen brothers’ suit initially named Sheryl’s sister, Debra Shultz, but she was voluntarily dismissed as a defendant just hours ahead of the trial. After the jury verdict was returned in the brothers’ favor, Collins moved for a new trial arguing her sister had been wrongly dismissed from the case. The trial judge agreed and ordered a new trial with Shultz joined as a defendant. On appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, the Janssen brothers argue Shultz was properly removed as a defendant and the district court’s order for a new trial should be reversed and a verdict directed in their favor.

 

Peterzalek and Weber v. Polk County District Court

Scheduled for oral argument April 10, 9 a.m.

Question: Should subpoenas seeking testimony of two assistant attorneys general in an employment case be quashed as violating attorney-client privilege?

Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Peterzalek and former Assistant Attorney General Molly Weber appeal the Polk County District Court’s denial of their motion to quash subpoenas seeking their testimony in an employment discrimination case against the State and the Department of Public Safety. Peterzalek represents the Department of Public Safety and Weber was assigned to represent the Department in the employment case. In their appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, they argue it would violate the longstanding attorney-client privilege if the plaintiff in the employment action should be allowed to depose attorneys for the opposing party.

 

Delaney v. Second Injury Fund

Will be submitted to the Court April 10 without oral argument.

Question: Is a worker eligible for workers’ compensation benefits from the Second Injury Fund of Iowa for a second work-related leg injury?

Both Dee Delaney and the Second Injury Fund of Iowa seek further review of an Oct. 25, 2023, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling reversing the Polk County District Court’s ruling affirming the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner’s decision denying Second Injury Fund benefits to Delaney for a second work-related leg injury. In its application for further review, the Second Injury Fund urges the Supreme Court to vacate the Court of Appeals ruling and affirm the district court. Delaney argues in her application for further review that the Court of Appeals left unaddressed a question regarding inconsistencies in administrative and appellate law on classification of injuries with respect to workers’ compensation benefits.

 

K.C., minor child v. Polk County District Court

Scheduled for oral argument April 10, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Did a trial court violate the constitutional rights of an indigent juvenile defendant by capping an expert witness fee at a value substantially lower than the fee quoted by the expert?

K.C., who was age 17 at the time of proceedings in Polk County District Court Juvenile Division, appeals the district court’s order capping the allowable fee for a State-paid expert witness to assist him in his defense against the State’s motion to try K.C. in adult court. K.C.’s expert witness initially asked for $7,990; the district court set the maximum amount at $4.990. On appeal to the Supreme Court, K.C. argues the district court’s cap on the allowable expert fee at a rate thousands of dollars below the prevailing market rate violated his constitutional rights as an indigent defendant to due process and equal protection.

Amicus curiae briefs in support of K.C. were filed with the Court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa Foundation; by the Juvenile Law Center, the National Center for Youth Law, and the Youth Law Center; and by the Office of the State Public Defender.

 

Elizabeth Roberts v. Estate of Roberts

Will be submitted to the Court April 10 without oral argument.

Question: Did a partial revocation of an antenuptial agreement comply with Iowa Code section 596.7 governing revocation of premarital agreements?

Elizabeth Roberts, the surviving spouse of the late W. David Roberts, appeals the Pottawattamie County District Court’s ruling that a partial revocation of an antenuptial agreement between Elizabeth and David that effectively cut her out of David’s will is authorized by Iowa law. Elizabeth would have received a third of David’s estate upon his death under the original antenuptial agreement but nothing under the amended version, thus leaving David’s entire estate to his son Eric. On appeal, Elizabeth argues the partial revocation violates Iowa Code section 596.7 governing revocation of premarital agreements.

 

Rivera v. Clear Channel Outdoor, Lamar Media Corporation and TLC Properties

Scheduled for oral argument April 11, 9 a.m.

Question: Was an easement void because it was granted by the previous owner without the purchaser’s knowledge or consent?

Medardo Rivera appeals the Polk County District Court’s grant of summary judgment for Clear Channel Outdoor dismissing his action to quiet title to his land and to remove an easement that Rivera argues was void. The easement was granted to Clear Channel Outdoor by a third party, who sold the land in question to Rivera on contract, and the easement was subsequently assigned to defendant-appellees Lamar Media and TLC Properties. The district court held that Rivera’s claim was time barred because he brought his claim more than 10 years after the recording of the easement. Rivera argues on appeal that the easement was void because the prior owner illegally granted the easement to defendants-appellees without his knowledge or consent one day after the purchase contract was signed.

 

Conservatorship of Janice Geerdes v. Cruz

Scheduled for oral argument April 11, 9 a.m.

Question: Was there sufficient evidence to invalidate a deed because the land owner lacked mental capacity to know what she was signing?

Albert Gomez appeals a divided Dec. 6, 2023, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming the Kossuth County District Court’s holding that Janice Geerdes lacked the necessary capacity to deed to Gomez a half interest in her property where they had a joint hog operation. Two members of the Court of Appeals panel agreed that Geerdes, who at age 79 exhibited dementia, did not understand the effect of the deed when she signed it. A third member of the panel dissented, saying after-the-fact observations by lay witnesses alone are not enough to satisfy the necessary burden for invalidating the deed.

 

Smith v. State

Scheduled for oral argument April 11, 9 a.m.

Question: Was a defendant accused of sex abuse entitled to a new trial because of ineffective assistance of counsel?

The State seeks further review of a divided Nov. 21, 2023, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling reversing the Cass County District Court’s denial of his application for post-conviction relief following his conviction on two counts of sex abuse. Two members of the Court of Appeals panel agreed that Timothy Smith’s counsel was ineffective in failing to preserve error by requesting additional juror strikes after his two strikes for cause were denied. A third member of the panel dissented, saying she would affirm the trial court.

 

Puente v. Iowa City Civil Service Commission

Will be submitted to the Court April 11 without oral argument.

Question: Was an appeal from a Civil Service Commission decision filed under the wrong chapter of the Iowa Code?

Emilio Puente seeks further review of a Sept. 13, 2023, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming the Johnson County District Court’s dismissal of his petition for judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act (Iowa Code Chapter 17A) of the Iowa City Civil Service Commission’s adverse decision. The Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court’s holding that Chapter 17A is not applicable in Puente’s case and that he failed to properly file his appeal under Chapter 400 governing civil service.

 

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, et al., v. Kim Reynolds ex rel. State of Iowa and Iowa Board of Medicine

Scheduled for oral argument April 11, 1:30 p.m.

Question: What standard should the Iowa Supreme Court apply to determine the constitutionality of a state statute banning abortion after fetal cardiac activity has been detected?

The State appeals a Polk County District Court ruling granting plaintiff-appellants’ motion for a temporary injunction barring the State from enforcing its statute that prohibits doctors from performing abortions after fetal cardiac activity has been detected. The district court concluded the petitioners are likely to succeed under the undue-burden test established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey (1992). The State argues in this appeal the district court was not bound to apply that test and should have applied a less-stringent rational basis test. The State urges the Court to find the abortion statute passes the rational-basis test, reverse the district court’s injunction order, and render judgment for the State.

The Court scheduled 50 minutes for oral argument.

Amicus curiae briefs were filed with the Court on both sides of the question.

Amicus briefs in support of the State were filed by: 45 members of the Iowa Legislature and the American Center for Law and Justice; the Alliance Defending Freedom; American College of Pediatricians; Concerned Women for America; 32 State Family Policy Councils and Family Policy Alliance; Indiana and 16 other states; Foundation for Moral Law and Lutherans for Life; American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists; Kirkwood Institute.

Amicus briefs in support of Planned Parenthood: Interfaith Alliance of Iowa; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Medical Association, Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Society of Family Planning, and American Society for Reproductive Medicine; Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault; Medical Students for Choice; the National Infertility Association; non-Iowan abortion care providers.

 

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