UPDATES & ANALYSIS

2.16

Iowa Supreme Court to hear arguments in nine cases Feb. 21, 22 and 23

by Rox Laird | February 16, 2022

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in nine appeals Feb. 21, 22 and 23. Three other cases will be submitted to the Court without oral argument, and three attorney-discipline cases will be submitted.

Following are brief summaries of the February cases to be argued. Go to On Brief’s “Cases in the Pipeline ” page to read briefs filed in these cases.

 

Wakonda Club v. Selective Insurance of America

Scheduled for oral argument Feb. 21, 7 p.m.

Issue: Was a dinner club’s business loss due to the governor’s Covid-19 closure order covered by its business-interruption insurance policy?

The Wakonda Club appeals a decision by the Polk County District Court granting Selective Insurance of America’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the Wakonda Club’s loss of business when it was forced to shut down by Gov. Kim Reynolds’ March 2020 proclamation in response to the Covid-19 outbreak was not covered by its business-interruption policy issued by Selective. [See our related On Brief post on this appeal.]

 

Larew v. Hope Law Firm

Scheduled for oral argument Feb. 22, 9 a.m.

Issue: Does an Iowa lawyer deserve a larger cut of a $1 million judgment awarded to the client of a firm he had assisted on the case?

Iowa City attorney James Larew appeals a decision by the Polk County District Court dismissing several of his claims against Hope Law Firm in a contract dispute regarding Larew’s work as of-counsel to Hope in a Minnesota civil case. Among the issues he raises on appeal, Larew argues the District Court improperly calculated the amount he is owed by Hope from the $1.134 million verdict in that case, which he calculates to be $873,839. In a cross-appeal, Hope also argues the District Court arrived at the wrong amount, saying instead a reasonable value for Larew’s legal work on the Minnesota case is $132,357.53.

 

Dorsey v. State

Scheduled for oral argument Feb. 22, 9 a.m.

Issue: Should constitutional protections for juveniles be extended to an offender whose crime was committed five days after he turned 18?

James Dorsey appeals a Polk County District Court decision granting the State’s motion to dismiss on summary judgment his application for post-conviction relief. Dorsey challenges his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole as unconstitutional. He argues on appeal that the Supreme Court should extend to adults such as him its holding in State v. Lyle (2014) that mandatory minimum prison sentences for juveniles in the absence of particularized hearings are unconstitutional. The Court in Lyle said trial judges may sentence a juvenile to a minimum sentence, but only after holding a separate hearing to assess the appropriateness of the sentence for an individual defendant using five factors: the offender’s age; family environment; the circumstances of the crime; the offender’s competency in navigating the legal system; and, the potential for rehabilitation. Dorsey was convicted of first-degree murder in 1984 of a murder committed when he was 18 years and five days old, when he says he lacked the maturity to make a rational decision to avoid his crime. Dorsey argues the Supreme Court’s line drawn in Lyle at 17 years and 364 days is arbitrary, and he cites studies showing maturity may be delayed into their 20s for some offenders in making the case for the court to erase that line.

 

Sandoval v. State

Will be submitted to the Court Feb. 22 without oral argument.

Issue: Should constitutional protections for juveniles be extended to an offender whose crime was committed when he was age 19?

Fernando Sandoval appeals the Polk County District Court’s dismissal on summary judgment of his application for post-conviction relief from his 2005 jury conviction on two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder and a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. In addition to challenging the District Court’s holding that his post-conviction relief application was untimely, Sandoval argues his sentence to life in prison without possibility of parole violates the Iowa Constitution’s version of the Eighth Amendment prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.” Sandoval was 19 when he participated in the shootings that led to his conviction, and he argues that his sentence is unconstitutionally disproportional because he was less culpable due to his lack of maturity as a teenager. He argues the District Court should have given him an individualized sentencing hearing to consider his age as a mitigating factor and his potential for rehabilitation and capacity for change.

 

Rausch v. City of Marion

Scheduled for oral argument Feb. 22, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Should a land owner be allowed to testify in a condemnation appeal regarding the loss in a property’s value using comparable sales based on his search of public records?

Phyllis Rausch, trustee of the William J. Rausch Family Trust, seeks further review of an April 14, 2021, Iowa Court of appeals ruling affirming a Linn County District Court ruling dismissing Rausch’s appeal of a compensation commission’s award of damage to the value of trust land as a result of the City of Marion’s condemnation of a portion of the property for a public street. In this Supreme Court appeal, Rausch argues the trial court erred in holding that her son, James Rausch, could not testify before the jury at trial regarding his estimate of damage to the property’s value based on comparable-sales figures he obtained from public records. Rausch argues the trial court decision conflicts with prior Iowa Supreme Court rulings, including Redfield v. Iowa Highway Commission (1959), which held that a witness testifying regarding the value of land in a condemnation could testify on direct examination about the sale of comparable property.

 

Carreras and Los Primos Auto Sales v. Iowa Department of Transportation

Scheduled for oral argument Feb. 22, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Should a car dealer’s license be revoked for a crime not related to vehicle sales?

Jesus Carreras and Los Primos Auto Sales seek further review of an Aug. 4, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming in part and reversing in part a Polk County District Court decision affirming on judicial review the Iowa Department of Transportation’s revocation of plaintiffs’ motor vehicle dealer license. The dealer license was revoked based on Carreras’ federal conviction for breaking large amounts of cash into smaller deposits to evade reporting requirements. The Court of Appeals affirmed the revocation of Carreras’ dealer license but reversed the District Court’s tolling order and remanded the case with instructions to reinstate Carreras’s license five years from the date of his conviction. Carreras argues that the statute – Iowa Code § 322.3(12), which provides for revocation of a dealer license for “an indictable offense in connection with selling or other activity relating to motor vehicles” – does not apply in his case because his conviction was for a banking regulatory offense, not for defrauding customers of his dealership.

 

Jesse’s Embers v. Western Agricultural Insurance Co.

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument Feb. 22.

Issue: Were a restaurant’s business losses due the governor’s Covid-19 closure order covered by its business-interruption insurance policy?

Jesse’s Embers appeals a Polk County District Court decision granting Western Agricultural Insurance Co.’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the policy issued by the insurance company did not cover the restaurant’s loss of business income as a result of the governor’s proclamation ordering bars and restaurants closed in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. [See our earlier On Brief post on a related case, Wakonda Club v. Selective Insurance of America.]

 

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Board of Medicine

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

Issue: Should the Court overturn its 2018 decision declaring a fundamental right to abortion under the Iowa Constitution?

The State of Iowa appeals a Polk County District Court decision that permanently enjoined enforcement of a statute enacted in 2020 requiring a physician performing an abortion to obtain informed consent from the pregnant woman at least 24 hours before performing the procedure. The District Court held the legislation violated the Iowa Constitution’s single-subject rule by incorporating the waiting-period provision with a separate provision regulating the withdrawal of life-sustaining medical procedures from a minor child over the objection of the parent or guardian. The trial court also held the waiting-period provision is an unconstitutional violation of the fundamental right of a woman to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy under the Iowa Constitution, as recognized by a 2018 decision of the Supreme Court. That decision, Iowa Attorney General Thomas J. Miller argues in a brief filed with the Court on behalf of the State, “relied on an interpretation of the Iowa Constitution that is demonstrably erroneous. Nothing in the text, structure, history, or tradition of the Iowa Constitution makes abortion a fundamental right,” and, the State argues, “It should be overruled.” [See our earlier post on this case.]

 

State v. Cahill

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

Issue: Was evidence credible that that defendant committed a murder 27 years earlier?

Annette D. Cahill seeks further review of an April 14, 2021, decision of the Iowa Court of Appeals affirming her conviction by a Muscatine County jury for second-degree murder 27 years after the crime. Cahill seeks reversal of her conviction and a new trial based on her argument that there was an absence of physical or forensic evidence pointing to a specific assailant; evidence was suppressed at trial that would have aided her defense; and, the testimony of a witness who was 9 years old at the time of the murder should be excluded at trial as not credible.

 

Chavez v. MS Technology and Westfield Insurance Co.

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

Issue: Should a rotator cuff injury be considered a “whole body” injury for determining the amount of workers’ compensation benefits?

Rosa Chavez appeals a Polk County District Court decision affirming the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner’s ruling that Chavez’s job-related rotator-cuff injury should be classified as a “shoulder injury” as opposed to a “whole-body” injury, which would result in a smaller workers’ compensation benefit. Chavez argues the Legislature, in Iowa Code section 85.34(2)(n) as amended in 2017, intended the term “shoulder” to mean the shoulder joint where the ball of the humeral head meets the shoulder joint. Since rotator-cuff tendons are proximal to the glenohumeral joint, Chavez argues her injury should be classified as a whole-body injury. Amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in support of Chavez were filed with the Court by the Iowa Federation of Labor, the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, and the Workers’ Compensation Core Group of the Iowa Association of Justice.

 

Sioux City Truck Sales v. Iowa Department of Transportation and Peterbilt Motors

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

Issue: Does Iowa’s franchise statute allow a new truck dealership in an existing dealer’s assigned territory?

The Iowa Department of Transportation seeks further review of a June 16, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals decision reversing the Polk County District Court ruling affirming on judicial review the Department’s approval of a Peterbilt Motors dealer franchise in Clear Lake, which was within the “community” served by Sioux City Truck Sales in its assigned area of responsibility. The Court of Appeals held that the Legislature provided a “clear and unambiguous” definition of “community” in Iowa Code Chapter 322A, which regulates motor dealer franchisers as “the franchisee’s area of responsibility as stipulated in the franchise.” The Department urges the Supreme Court to clarify how the franchise statute should be applied to dealerships that would share the same geographical area.

 

State v. Mathis

Will be submitted to the Court Feb. 23 without oral argument.

Issue: Did a trial court’s jury instruction misstate the need for sex-abuse victims’ testimony to be corroborated?

Justice Mathis seeks further review of a Nov. 3, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming his convictions by a Decatur County jury on three counts of second-degree sexual abuse for sexual abuse of two children. The Court of Appeals held there was sufficient evidence supporting Mathis’s convictions on all three counts and that while the trial court erred in a jury instruction regarding non-corroborated testimony of the alleged victims, the error was harmless. In his application for further review, Mathis argues the complainants’ uncorroborated and conflicting testimony was not sufficiently detailed and credible to support a finding of guilt, and he argues the District Court erred in denying his objection to a jury instruction that gave special attention and treatment to the un-corroborated testimony of the complainants. Mathis urges the Court to vacate his convictions and remand the case for dismissal or for a new trial.

 

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