UPDATES & ANALYSIS

11.09

Iowa Supreme Court to hear arguments in seven cases Nov. 15 and 16

by Rox Laird | November 9, 2023

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in seven cases Nov. 15 and 16. Eight other cases will be submitted to the Court without oral argument. Following are brief summaries of the November cases. [Go to On Brief’s “Cases in the Pipeline” page to read briefs filed in these cases.]

 

Jorgensen v. Smith, Smith P.C., and Tri-State Specialists

Scheduled for oral argument Nov. 15, 9 a.m.

Question: Is a certificate of merit affidavit required in a negligent-retention claim related to a medical malpractice case?

Adam Smith M.D. and Tri-State Specialists appeal the Woodbury County District Court’s denial of their motion for partial summary judgment seeking dismissal of Charlene Jorgensen’s negligent-retention claim related to a medical malpractice claim against Smith and Tri-State Specialists. The defendants argue the negligent-retention claim should be dismissed because the plaintiff failed to file a certificate of merit affidavit signed by an expert pursuant to Iowa Code section 147.140, and they argue the district court erred in concluding that Tri-State’s decision to retain Dr. Smith fell within the scope of “nonmedical, administrative, or ministerial acts” and thus did not require expert testimony. The defendants argue on appeal that medical industry standards for supervision of medical professionals treating a patient with plaintiff’s condition are not within the ordinary knowledge of laypersons and instead require expert testimony.

 

Pratt v. Smith, Smith P.C., and Tri-State Specialists

Scheduled for oral argument Nov. 15, 9 a.m.

Question:  Is a certificate of merit affidavit required in a negligent-retention claim related to a medical malpractice case?

Alyssa Pratt appeals the Woodbury County District Court’s ruling granting Dr. Adam Smith and Tri-States Specialists’ motion for partial summary judgment seeking dismissal of Pratt’s claim of negligent retention related to her medical malpractice claim. (Issues relating to Pratt’s malpractice claim are addressed in the appeal below.) Pratt did not file a certificate of merit affidavit signed by an expert witness as prescribed by Iowa Code section 147.140. The district court concluded a certificate of merit should have been filed because expert testimony was required with respect to whether Adam Smith PC and Tri-State breached the standard of care by retaining Dr. Smith and whether there is sufficient causal connection between any such breach and Pratt’s claimed damages. Pratt argues on appeal that her claim of negligent retention is within the realm of common knowledge and therefore the district court was incorrect in granting the defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment with respect to that claim.

 

Pratt v. Smith, Smith P.C., and Tri-State Specialists

Will be submitted to the Court Nov. 15 without oral argument.

Question: Is a certificate of merit in a medical malpractice action signed by a retired physician valid?

Adam Smith M.D., Adam Smith P.C., and Tri-State Specialists appeal the Woodbury County District Court’s denial of their motion for summary judgment dismissal of Alyssa Pratt’s medical malpractice claim. The defendants argued the certificate of merit affidavit signed by Dr. Richard Marfuggi did not meet the requirements of Iowa Code section 147.140 because Dr. Marfuggi had retired and his medical license was inactive when he signed the affidavit. The district court ruled that Dr. Marfuggi’s retired/inactive licenses satisfied the requirement that he be “licensed to practice” at the time he offered his certificate of merit affidavit against Dr. Smith. The defendants argue on appeal that the statute is clear that “license to practice” means a license that permits its holder to practice medicine, and Dr. Marfuggi’s medical licenses did not permit him to practice at the time he signed the certificate of merit affidavit.

 

Estate of Deanna Dee Fahmann, et al. v. ABCM Corp., et al.

Will be submitted to the Court Nov. 15 without oral argument.

Question: Did plaintiffs in a wrongful death action substantially comply with certificate of merit requirements?

The Estate of Deanna Dee Fahrmann by Executor Jeffrey A. Fahrmann, et al., appeals the Franklin County District Court’s summary judgment dismissal of their wrongful death action for failure to substantially comply with the certificate of merit affidavit requirement in Iowa Code section 147.140. The plaintiffs argue on appeal they substantially complied with the requirements of Iowa Code section 147.140 governing the disclosure of expert opinions in professional negligence cases involving medical care facilities.

 

State v. Bauler

Scheduled for oral argument Nov. 15, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Were a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights violated in a traffic stop that resulted in a search of her car and her purse following a drug-detection dog’s sniff?

Kyra Bauler appeals her convictions by the Plymouth County District Court for possession of contraband in a correctional facility, possession of methamphetamine, and operating while intoxicated, following a bench trial. Bauler raises three issues on appeal. First, she argues The Plymouth County sheriff’s detective did not have sufficient cause to stop Bauler’s car in violation of the Fourth Amendment and its equivalent under the Iowa Constitution and the district court erred by not suppressing the evidence gained from the stop. Bauler also argues that a drug-detection dog’s sniff of Bauler’s car violated her rights against unreasonable searches because the dog physically trespassed on her car. Finally, Bauler argues that the search of Bauler’s purse without a warrant violated her rights against unreasonable searches because her purse was not inside the car at the time of the dog-sniff alert.

 

State v. Bailey

Scheduled for oral argument Nov. 15, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Was it extortion to demand for $10,000 in exchange for not carrying out a threat to report an alleged crime?

The State appeals the Winnebago County District Court’s order granting a motion to dismiss a trial information charging Jerome Bailey Sr. with extortion. Bailey threatened to ask Hancock County prosecutors to criminally charge the manager of his apartment building for sending a sex offender to Bailey’s house, where his wife provided child care, when the apartment manager sought to serve Bailey with a no-trespass notice. Bailey demanded $10,000 in exchange for not going to the county attorney, and he threatened to inform the manager’s employer if she refused to pay. The district court concluded Bailey’s threats “do not legally rise to the level of extortion as defined in Iowa Code § 711.4(1) and are subject to the defense set out in Iowa Code § 711.4(3).” On appeal, the State argues Iowa Code section 711.4(3) is inapplicable because Bailey made an extortionate demand for an arbitrary amount of cash and his threats had no connection to any claim of right. And, even if Bailey’s threats could potentially fall within section 711.4(3), the State argues a fact question remains as to whether Bailey “reasonably believed that he had a right to make such threats” and whether he had “a good faith claim” to the $10,000 he was demanding.

 

Hummel v. Smith, Smith P.C., and Tri-State Specialists

Will be submitted to the Court Nov. 15 without oral argument.

Question: Is a certificate of merit in a medical malpractice action signed by a retired physician valid?

Smith, Smith P.C., and Tri-State Specialists appeal a Woodbury County District Court’s denial of their motion to dismiss Renee Hummel’s medical negligence claims. The defendants moved for dismissal arguing the certificate of merit affidavit offered by Hummel did not meet the statutory requirements because the physician held retired/inactive licenses when it was signed. The district court concluded that the doctor’s retired/inactive licenses satisfied the requirement that he be “licensed to practice” at the time he offered his certificate of merit affidavit. The defendants argue on appeal that the doctor was not “licensed to practice” when he signed the certificate of merit affidavit in this case because the retired/inactive licenses he held did not permit him to practice medicine.

 

Hilts v. Smith, Smith PC, and Tri-State Specialists

Will be submitted to the Court Nov. 15 without oral argument.

Question: Is a certificate of merit in a medical negligence action signed by a retired physician valid?

Smith, Smith P.C., and Tri-State Specialists appeal a Woodbury County District Court’s denial of their motion to dismiss Britni Hilts’ medical negligence claims. The defendants moved for dismissal arguing the certificate of merit affidavit offered by Hilts did not meet the statutory requirements because the physician held retired/inactive licenses when it was signed. The district court concluded that the doctor’s retired/inactive licenses satisfied the requirement that he be “licensed to practice” at the time he offered his certificate of merit affidavit. The defendants argue on appeal that the doctor was not “licensed to practice” when he signed the certificate of merit affidavit in this case because the retired/inactive licenses he held did not permit him to practice medicine.

 

Penny v. City of Winterset, Dekker

Scheduled for oral argument Nov. 16, 9:30 a.m.

Question: Did a police officer act recklessly when he drove through a stop sign on his way to an emergency call and collided with another vehicle?

The City of Winterset and Christian Dekker seek further review of a divided June 7 Iowa Court of Appeals decision reversing the Madison County District Court’s dismissal on summary judgment James Penny’s claim that Winterset Police Officer Dekker acted recklessly in responding to an emergency call when he drove through a stop sign and struck Penny’s truck. The Court of Appeals, in a decision supported by two members of the three-member panel, held there is a “genuine issue of material fact” as to whether Dekker met with his duty to drive with necessary regard for the safety of all persons as prescribed by Iowa Code section 321.231(5) when he drove through the stop sign, or whether his failure to do so amounted to “reckless disregard for the safety of others.” The third member of the panel dissented, arguing the facts did not support a finding that Dekker was reckless.

 

Tweeten Farms and Grinnell Mutual Insurance v. Corey Tweeten

Scheduled for oral argument Nov. 16, 9:30 a.m.

Question: Is a workers’ compensation benefits claimant entitled to disability benefits for a work-related injury on his family’s farm?

Lon Tweeten, doing business as Tweeten Farms, and Grinnell Mutual Insurance appeal a Polk County District Court decision affirming the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner’s finding that Corey Tweeten was entitled to disability benefits for injuries related to his work on the family farm. Among other things, the defendant-appellants argue the Commission’s subject-matter jurisdiction over Corey Tweeten’s claim was barred by a compromise settlement with the Second Injury Fund regarding a prior injury, and that his claim was barred by the statute of limitation as the second injury occurred more than two years before the claim was filed.

 

State v. Gordon

Will be submitted to the Court Nov. 16 without oral argument.

Question: Did a trial court have authority to reconsider a defendant’s sentence to prison and instead enter a deferred judgment?

David Gordon appeals his sentence to prison following his entry of a guilty plea to first-degree theft and willful injury. In response to Gordon’s motion to reconsider his sentence and impose a deferred judgment instead, the Cerro Gordo County District Court concluded it lacked authority to do so under the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in State v. Giunta, imposed a prison sentence, suspended it, and placed Gordon on probation. Gordon argues the district court had the authority to enter a deferred judgment upon reconsideration of a sentence.

 

Loew v. Menard, Inc., and XL Insurance America

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument Nov. 16.

Question: Should an employer challenging workers’ compensation claim be credited for a disability benefit paid for an employee’s earlier claim?

Justin Loew appeals a Polk County District Court ruling affirming the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner’s decision that Loew was not entitled to disability benefits for two work-related back injuries because he had previously been awarded 30% industrial disability as a result of an earlier workplace injury to his lower back. Loew argues on appeal the district court should be reversed, that Menard should not be credited for the 30% disability benefit, and he should be awarded benefits for his 8% functional impairment for the subsequent injuries.

 

White v. State of Iowa and Iowa Department of Human Services

Scheduled for oral argument Nov. 16, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Should a plaintiff claiming a hostile work environment be allowed to introduce evidence of harassment of other employees?

The State appeals from a Polk County jury verdict awarding Iowa Department of Human Services employee Tracy White $790,000 for past and future emotional distress related to her claim her supervisor created a hostile work environment due to her gender. The State argues on appeal the district court erred in allowing evidence that “impassioned” jurors, which resulted in excessive damages, and in allowing trial testimony that included allegations of race and sexual orientation discrimination against nonparties even though White is a straight, white woman. The State urges the Court to resolve the question of whether evidence of hostile work environment claims under the Iowa Civil Rights Act based on evidence of harassment of other employees may be used to prove the existence of a hostile work environment.

 

Marc Harding d/b/a Harding Law Firm v. Rick Sasso d/b/a Indiana Spine Group

Will be submitted to the Court Nov. 16 without oral argument.

Question: Did the Polk County District Court have jurisdiction to hear a Des Moines lawyer’s claim against an Indiana physician over the refund of a $10,000 retainer?

Marc Harding, doing business as Harding Law Firm, appeals a Dec. 21, 2022, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling reversing a Polk County District Court finding that the court had personal jurisdiction to hear the Des Moines lawyer’s claim that Indiana physician Rick Sasso should refund part of all or a $10,000 retainer Harding paid for his expert consultation on a potential medical malpractice claim that ultimately was not pursued. The Court of Appeals held that because Sasso’s only connection with Iowa was initiated by Harding exploring the possibility of litigation in Iowa, the district court should have granted Sasso’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

 

Hagen v. Serta/National Bedding Co. and Safety National Casualty Co.

Will be submitted to the Court Nov. 16 without oral argument.

Question: Were exhibits untimely filed by a workers’ compensation claimant improperly excluded by the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner?

Serta/National Bedding Co. and its insurer seek further review of a March 29 divided Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming a Worth County District Court’s reversal of an Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner’s decision to exclude as untimely two exhibits offered by Lorri Hagen in her workers’ compensation benefits case. The district court found that the Commissioner excluded the reports without making the necessary finding that admitting the reports would be unfairly prejudicial to Serta. Two members of a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court, saying that because Serta failed to show that the receipt of the evidence would be unfairly prejudicial, the Commissioner abused his discretion in excluding the untimely reports. A third member of the panel dissented, saying the district court erred in finding that the commissioner abused his discretion by excluding the reports after Hagen failed to meet well-established deadlines.

 

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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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