UPDATES & ANALYSIS

3.14

Iowa Supreme Court to hear arguments in seven cases March 20, 21

by Rox Laird | March 14, 2024

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in seven cases March 20 and 21. Six 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 cases to be argued.

 

Randolph v. Aidan LLC

Scheduled for oral argument March 20, 9:30 a.m.

Question: A renter injured in a fall down uneven stairs sued her landlord. Can the landlord then sue the city as a third-party for negligent hiring and retention of a city inspector who observed no code violation?

Plaintiffs Lori and Ronald Randolph and Third Party Defendant the City of Sioux City appeal the Woodbury County District Court’s grant of Aidan LLC’s motion for leave to file a Third-Party Petition against the City and the court’s denial of the City’s motion to dismiss Aidan’s Third-Party Petition. The Randolphs sued rental-property owner Aidan claiming Lori Randolph’s fall down uneven stairs was due to Aidan’s negligence. Aidan sought to bring a third-party claim against the City for negligent hiring and retention of a city inspector who found that the rental property complied with municipal code. The Randolphs and the City argue in their appeal of the trial court’s ruling that the city is immune from Aidan’s claim by the Iowa Municipal Tort Claims Act and that the City is not liable under the public-duty doctrine.

An amicus curiae brief was filed with the Court in support of the appellants by the Iowa League of Cities.

 

State v. Emmet County District Court

Scheduled for oral argument March 20, 9:30 a.m.

Question: Who should pay for a special-master review of a defendant’s emails: the State; the court system; or the defendant?

The State appeals an Emmet County District Court ruling that would require the State to prepay the cost of a special master’s review of defendant Craig Merrill’s emails seized under a search warrant to segregate privileged attorney-client information. Merrill, the former Armstrong police chief, is charged with multiple felonies, including ongoing criminal conduct, first-degree theft, assault with a dangerous weapon, and non-felonious misconduct in office. While the parties agreed to a special-master review of Merrill’s emails, the question is who should bear the cost. The district court agreed with Merrill and held that the State should bear the cost. The State, which argued the Judicial Branch should bear the cost, argues in this appeal that the district court had no statutory authority for its order.

 

State v. Brown

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

Question: A weapon and ammunition were found in a car that had been recently driven by a defendant. Was that sufficient evidence that the weapon belonged to the defendant?

The State seeks further review of an Oct. 25, 2023, Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming in part and reversing in part Clayton Brown’s conviction by a Boone County jury on charges of possession of a firearm by a felon, eluding while exceeding the speed limit by more than 25 mph, and driving while barred as a habitual offender. The Court of Appeals affirmed Brown’s driving-while-barred conviction, reversed the firearm possession conviction, and remanded for further proceedings on the charge of eluding while exceeding the speed limit. In its application for further review, the State argues the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the conviction, arguing there was sufficient evidence that a firearm and ammunition was found in the car he had been driving prior to his arrest.

 

State v. Wade

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

Question: Did a trial court err in finding the State had sufficient evidence that a defendant was the owner of a weapon found in a backpack in a truck he was driving?

Darius Wade seeks further review of a Nov. 8, 2023, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming his conviction in Buchanan County District Court on charges of possession of a firearm by a felon as a habitual offender and driving while intoxicated. In his application for further review, Wade argues the Court of Appeals erred in finding there was sufficient evidence to support his conviction for possession of a firearm by a felon as a habitual offender and in holding that the district court was authorized to sentence Wade to a probationary period of two to five years when the statute requires a definite term of probation.

 

Goche v. Kossuth County Board of Supervisors

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

Question: Can county supervisors and drainage district trustees be held personally liable for punitive damages claimed by owners of farmland?

William and Mary Goche LLC, Global Assets LLC, and Joseph Goche appeal the Kossuth County District Court’s dismissal on summary judgment of their claims against the members of the Kossuth County Board of Supervisors and trustees of three drainage districts regulating drainage tiles on the Goches’ land. The Goches allege they were damaged by the supervisor-trustees’ conduct regarding the drainage districts on their farmland. In their appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, the Goches assert the district court erred in holding the supervisor-trustees have no fiduciary duty to the plaintiffs and thus cannot be held personally liable for punitive damages. The Goches argue that because the defendants acted “maliciously, willfully, wantonly, or recklessly” they are personally liable for punitive damages under Iowa Code sections 468.526A and 670.12.

 

Olsen v. State of Iowa

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

Question: Does denying an Illinois sex offender’s application for relief from Iowa’s sex-offender registration law violate the Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause?

Nathan Olsen seeks further review of a Nov. 21, 2023, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming the Scott County District Court’s dismissal of his application to modify the requirement that he register in Iowa as a sex offender. Olsen received a deferred judgment for a sex offense in Wisconsin, which does not require sex-offender registration for deferred judgments. Olsen is now an Illinois resident where a deferred judgment also does not trigger a registration requirement. Olsen plans to move to Iowa and seeks to modify the registration requirement that would kick in under Iowa law upon move. The district court held that it lacked jurisdiction because Olsen, who did not reside in Iowa, does not meet the statutory requirement that, in order to be required to register, a sex offender must reside, be employed, or attend school in Iowa. In his application for further review of the Court of Appeals ruling, Olsen argues that preventing him from seeking relief from Iowa’s registration requirement prior to his move violates the privileges and immunities provisions of the U.S. and Iowa constitutions that prevent states from discriminating against non-residents.

 

State v. McCollaugh

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

Question: Does a video recording a minor using the toilet violate Iowa’s statute criminalizing sexual exploitation of a minor?

Jesse McCollaugh appeals his conviction in Boone County District Court for sexual exploitation of a minor after two videos were found on his cell phone showing a 15-year-old girl using the toilet. McCollaugh argues on appeal that the district court erred in convicting him on the charge of sexual exploitation under Iowa Code section 728.12(3), which provides that “It shall be unlawful to knowingly purchase or possess a visual depiction of a minor engaging in a prohibited sexual act or the simulation of a prohibited sexual act.” He argues the State failed to show that the girl engaged in nudity for the purpose of arousing or satisfying sexual desires, and the videos do not show sexual behavior; rather, they show the girl using the toilet in the bathroom and her nudity was incidental to a normal activity that was appropriate for the setting.

 

Miller v. Catholic Health Initiatives, et al.

Scheduled for oral argument March 21, 9 a.m.

Question: Did a court filing regarding a medical doctor fail to comply with Iowa’s certificate-of-merit requirement because the doctor does not practice in the “same or substantially similar” field as the doctors sued for medical malpractice?

Catholic Health Initiatives-Iowa Corp. dba MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center and individual Mercy physicians appeal the Polk County District Court’s denial of their motion for summary judgment regarding medical negligence claims brought by plaintiff-appellee Darrin P. Miller individually and on behalf of the estate of his wife, Meredith, who died of injuries following a car accident. Miller claims Meredith’s death was caused by the medical providers’ negligence in performing an esophageal intubation. The medical providers argue on appeal that the district court should have dismissed Miller’s complaint for failure to comply with the certificate-of-merit requirements of Iowa Code section 147.140 because Miller failed to establish his expert witness practices in the same or substantially similar field or specialty as the defendant doctors. Miller’s expert witness was an anesthestiologist, while the individual physician defendants were a trauma surgeon, general surgeons, and respiratory therapists. The defendants also argue that the district court should have dismissed Miller’s complaint because the report submitted as a certificate of merit was not signed under oath as required by the statute.

An amicus curiae brief was filed with the Court in support of the plaintiff-appellee by the Iowa Association for Justice.

 

Sundance Land Co. v. Remmark

Scheduled for oral argument March 21, 9 a.m.

Question: Did the boundary between two adjoining properties move when a fence line between the properties had been erected in a location away from the property line?

Sundance Land Co. seeks further review of a March 8, 2023, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming the Wapello County District Court’s denial of Sundance’s petition to quiet title regarding the boundary between its property and defendant-appellees Phillip and Bobbie Remmarks’ property to the south. A fence long recognized as the boundary between the two properties is north of the surveyed boundary. The district court held that the fence legally established the boundary under the doctrine of acquiescence where it is mutually recognized by two adjoining landowners for 10 years or more. In its application for further review, Sundance argues the record was not clear as to how long the boundary was mutually recognized and by whom; and Sundance urges the Supreme Court to resolve the question of whether a boundary by acquiescence is extinguished in a case where both properties had previously been owned by a single owner.

 

State v. Hightower

Will be submitted to the Court March 21 without oral argument.

Question: Did a trial court fail to properly inform a defendant that by entering a guilty plea her ability to later challenge the plea would be foreclosed?

Shannon Hightower appeals her convictions and sentences in Black Hawk County District Court following entry of written guilty pleas to charges of dependent adult abuse and second-degree theft. Hightower argues her guilty pleas were unknowing and involuntary, saying the written guilty pleas did not make clear that she would forfeit the ability to challenge any inadequacies in the pleas if she did not file a motion in arrest of judgment. Hightower also argues the district court erred in considering and relying on an improper factor in determining her sentences, and by imposing a $17,000 cash appeal bond to be applied to victim restitution.

 

State v. Lee

Scheduled for oral argument March 21, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Should a robbery of two people in their home have counted as two robberies for sentencing purposes?

Brandon Lee appeals his conviction by a Linn County jury on two counts of first-degree robbery and related willful injury charges for a robbery of a couple in their home and sentenced to two consecutive 25-year sentences for each robbery conviction. Lee argues on appeal that he should have been charged with only one robbery, and to the extent that the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2014 decision State v. Copenhaver allows for two charges, that case should be overruled and the single-larceny rule readopted. [This case was originally scheduled for oral argument in February but rescheduled for March.]

 

University of Iowa and Board of Regents v. Modern Piping Inc.

Scheduled for oral argument March 21, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Was a contractor wrongly awarded $12.5 million for a wrongful injunction?

The University of Iowa and Board of Regents appeal the Johnson County District Court’s $12.7 million award to plaintiff-appellee Modern Piping for its wrongful injunction claim. The university obtained a temporary injunction barring arbitration by the American Arbitration Association of a dispute between the university and Modern Piping over a construction project. The district court subsequently dissolved the injunction.  Modern Piping claimed in its wrongful injunction action that the arbitration delay allowed the university to occupy the partly finished project, complicating Modern Piping’s work. In its appeal, the university argues, among other things, that Modern Piping was not injured by the university’s partial occupancy and that the district court did not have jurisdiction to add the wrongful injunction claim to the case.

 

State v. Wilson

Will be submitted to the Court March 21 without oral argument.

Question: Was a man wrongly charged twice for indecent exposure witnessed simultaneously by two women?

Christopher Wilson appeals his conviction by a Story County jury on two counts of indecent exposure. Wilson was accused of exposing his penis to two women in a parking lot and was charged with two counts – one for each of the women who witnessed the exposure – and sentenced to two years in prison on each count to be served consecutively. Wilson argues in his appeal that he should have been charged with a single count because there was just one exposure and the two witnesses were together in the same car at the time.

 

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February 2024 Opinion Roundup

The Iowa Supreme Court entered opinions in eighteen cases during February 2024. You can read Rox Laird’s analysis of Singh v. McDermott, Selden v. DMACC, and Senator Roby Smith et al. v. Iowa District Court for Polk County. The remaining opinions from February are summarized here.

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