UPDATES & ANALYSIS

12.11

Iowa Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in 10 appeals this week — all by remote video conference

by Rox Laird | December 11, 2020

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in 10 cases Tuesday and Wednesday. Four other appeals will be submitted to the Court without oral argument.

Due to the recent rise in new Covid-19 cases, the justices will hear all December arguments by video conference remotely. Go to the Court’s YouTube channel to watch the arguments.

Following are brief summaries of the December cases.  Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read briefs in these cases.

Wermerskirchen v. Canadian National Railroad, et al.

To be argued Dec. 15, 9 a.m.

Question: Does federal railroad safety law preempt common-law damage claims?

Richard Wermerskirchen, who was injured when his road grader was struck at a crossing by a freight train, seeks further review of a Feb. 19 Iowa Court of Appeals decision regarding a Black Hawk County District Court ruling dismissing on summary judgment two of Wermerskirchen’s claims against the railroad as preempted by the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The trial court submitted Wermerskirchen’s third claim to a jury, which found no negligence. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the District Court’s summary judgment ruling but affirmed the jury verdict.

Bribriesco-Ledger v. Klipsch, City of Davenport

To be argued Dec. 15, 9 a.m.

Question: Is a mayor empowered to remove a city civil rights commissioner without cause?

Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch appeals a Scott County District Court ruling denying his motion to dismiss on summary judgment a lawsuit by the mayor’s appointee to the Davenport Civil Rights Commission. Commission member Nicole Bribriesco-Ledger claims the mayor lacked authority to remove her from the commission without cause. Klipsch argues that Iowa Code Section 216.19(2), which provides for creation of an “independent” civil rights commission, is not in conflict with Section 372.15, which authorizes the mayor to remove his or her appointments, without having to show cause.

Valles v. Mueting

To be argued Dec. 15, 9 a.m.

Question: Are a plaintiff’s medical expenses paid for by another state’s Medicaid program recoverable in an Iowa medical negligence action?

Rosalinda Valles, individually and on behalf of F.L., her minor child, appeals following a Woodbury County jury medical negligence verdict in favor of Dr. Andrew Mueting, Dr. Joseph Liewer, and Northwest Iowa Emergency Physicians. Valles alleged that the defendants failed to properly diagnose and treat the child’s bacterial meningitis, which led to a debilitating brain injury. Among her claims on appeal, Valles argues the District Court incorrectly ruled that Iowa Code Section 147.136 precludes liability for medical expenses paid by the Texas Medicaid program and that the Texas Medicaid program is also not permitted to recover those expenses either directly from the defendants or indirectly from Valles.

State v. Waigand

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

Question: Should restitution be limited to a creditor’s loss due to the borrower’s criminal conduct, or the creditor’s total loss?

Joseph Scott Waigand seeks further review of an August 5 Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming a Union County District Court ruling that Waigand pay $988,636.25 in restitution following his guilty plea to ongoing criminal conduct for selling grain pledged as collateral on a bank loan. Waigand argues the acts he pleaded to resulted in a loss of no more than $288,000 and that the restitution should not have included the bank’s $988,636.25 foreclosure action. Waigand argues the trial court should have offset the criminal restitution with payments made on the civil judgment. And, he argues that the right to a jury trial should apply to the restitution determination under the federal and Iowa constitutions.

State v. Hillery

To be argued Dec. 15, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Was a police officer’s offer of leniency used to obtain incriminating statements and criminal evidence?

Michael Hillery seeks further review of a July 22 Iowa Court of Appeals decision reversing a Scott County District Court ruling suppressing incriminating statements Hillery made and physical evidence obtained from him by a police officer. Hillery argues that the police officer crossed the line in obtaining the confession and evidence by promising Hillery that he would not be going to jail that day. Hillery also argues the evidence should be suppressed because he was interrogated in custody prior to making incriminating statements and producing controlled substances, and without being read his Miranda rights.

Commerce Bank v. McGowen

To be argued Dec. 15, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Is deferred compensation income exempt from garnishment to recover a debt?

Robert McGowen appeals a Polk County District Court ruling denying his motion to exempt from garnishment payments due to him from his employer’s deferred compensation plan. Commerce Bank obtained a $1.5 million judgment against McGowen in Minnesota and subsequently initiated collection by garnishment of his wages. McGowen argues that payments owed to him by his employer’s deferred compensation plan are exempt from garnishment under Iowa Code Section 627.6(8)(e) because his employer’s plan is a “pension, annuity, or similar plan or contract” that paid benefits “on account of illness, disability, death, age, or length of service.”

GreatAmerica Financial Services Corp. v. Natalya Rodionova Medical Care, P.C.

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

Question: Does a company ratify a finance agreement with a forged signature by making seven monthly payments on the agreement?

[Disclosure: Plaintiff-appellee GreatAmerica Financial Services is represented in this case by Nyemaster Goode attorneys Randall Armentrout and Leslie C. Behaunek.]

GreatAmerica Financial Services seeks further review of an April 1 Iowa  Court of Appeals ruling reversing and remanding a Linn County District Court decision granting GreatAmerica’s motion for summary judgment on its claim that Natalya Rodionova Medical Care violated an equipment-financing agreement with GreatAmerica by attempting to cancel the agreement.

Natalya Rodionova argues a non-cancellation provision of the agreement is unenforceable because the signature on the agreement was forged; GreatAmerica counters that Natalya Rodionova ratified the agreement by making payments for seven months. A three-judge panel of the appeals court, with one dissent, held that the District Court erred in finding that GreatAmerica “proved ratification as a matter of law.”

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement v. State of Iowa

To be argued Dec. 16, 9 a.m.

Question: Do plaintiffs have standing to sue the State over the Raccoon River’s water quality, and is this a political question rather than one for the courts?

The State appeals a Polk County District Court ruling denying the State’s motion to dismiss Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food and Water Watch’s suit claiming the State failed to safeguard the interest of Iowans by allowing nitrogen and phosphorus discharges from agricultural sources to impair the Raccoon River. The State asserts the plaintiffs lack standing, their claims are not justiciable, and they failed to exhaust remedies under the Iowa Administrative Procedure Act. The State argues it is well-established that “courts will not intervene or attempt to adjudicate a challenge that involves a ‘political question’,” a principle rooted in the separation-of-powers doctrine. [For more background, go to On Brief’s earlier analysis of this appeal.]

This appeal has drawn interest from parties on both sides of the question who filed amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs with the Supreme Court.

State v. McGee

To be argued Dec. 16, 9 a.m.

Question: Is it constitutional to take a blood draw from an OWI suspect who is unconscious?

Brian McGee appeals his OWI conviction in Polk County District Court arguing that the warrantless blood draw was unconstitutional as he was unable to give consent because he was unconscious while under sedation at the hospital. McGee urges the Court to hold that a warrantless blood draw permitted under Iowa Code Section 321J.7 is unconstitutional. The statute provides that a person who is “dead, unconscious, or otherwise in a condition rendering the person incapable of consent or refusal is deemed not to have withdrawn the consent,” and the test may be given if a licensed physician or other medical professional certifies that the person is incapable of consent or refusal.

No Boundry LLC v. Hoosman

To be argued Dec. 16, 9 a.m.

Question: Did a disabled defendant make a good faith attempt to set aside a default judgment?

Cornell Hoosman asks the Iowa Supreme Court to reverse a Jan. 9 ruling by the Iowa Court of Appeals affirming a Black Hawk County District Court decision denying Hoosman’s motion to set aside a default judgment against him in an action following transfer of deed to his home for nonpayment of $220 in property taxes. Hoosman argues the Court of Appeals erred in finding that he did not show good cause, based on his disability, to set aside the default judgment.

Hrbek v. State

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

Question: Does a statute barring pro se filings in post-conviction relief cases violate the Constitution?

John Hrbek appeals a Pottawattamie County District Court ruling that he may not file any pro se documents with the trial court in his application for post-conviction relief in his 1981 conviction for two counts of first degree murder. Hrbek’s post-conviction relief case has proceeded, on and off, since 1987 both with Hrbek acting pro se and with assistance of counsel. In August 2019 the District Court ruled that Hrbek must submit any pro se filings through appointed counsel, or dismiss his counsel to represent himself. The Iowa Supreme Court stayed the District Court order pending the outcome of this appeal. The trial court ruling was based on Iowa Code Section 822.3A enacted in 2019 that says an applicant seeking post-conviction relief who is represented by counsel “shall not file any pro se document, including an application, brief, reply brief, or motion, in any Iowa court. The court shall not consider, and opposing counsel shall not respond to, such pro se filings.” Hrbek argues the statute should not be applied retroactively to him, and that, if applied to him, it is unconstitutional.

Guge and McDonald v. Kassel Enterprises

To be argued Dec. 16, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Did the District Court properly determine the fair value of a farm corporation in a judicial dissolution case?

Kassel Enterprises Inc. appeals a Palo Alto County District Court determination of the fair value of plaintiffs Susan Guge and Peggy McDonald’s common stock in Kassel Enterprises Inc. Guge and McDonald, minority shareholders in the farming corporation, petitioned for judicial dissolution of the corporation. Kassel Enterprises also argues the trial court abused its discretion by assessing attorney and expert witness fees against it. Guge and McDonald cross-appeal on the fair-value determination.

Jones v. Glenwood Golf Corp.

To be argued Dec. 16, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Did trial court incorrectly apply Iowa’s comparative fault statute?

Glenwood Golf Corp. appeals a Mills County District Court ruling granting Terry and Christine Jones’ motion for a new trial on the issue of damages awarded to plaintiff Terry Jones for his injuries in a golf cart accident on Glenwood’s golf course. Glenwood also appeals the denial of its motion for summary judgment, and the District Court’s application of Iowa’s comparative fault statute. A jury returned a verdict finding the driver of the cart 100% at fault and awarded plaintiff $500,000. The trial court subsequently reduced the award against Glenwood, as owner of the cart, to zero in light of the plaintiffs’ prior settlement with the driver for a larger amount.

Clark v. State

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

Question: Does a finding of ineffective assistance of counsel apply in a legal malpractice action?

The State appeals a Johnson County District Court ruling granting David Clark’s motion for partial summary judgment on his claim that an assistant State Public Defender was guilty of legal malpractice in failing to properly represent him in a criminal prosecution for child abuse. The State argues the trial court incorrectly concluded that an ineffective-assistance of counsel finding in Clark’s post-conviction relief action satisfies the element of breach of duty in his legal malpractice claim against the public defender.

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