UPDATES & ANALYSIS

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Iowa Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in 11 appeals Jan. 18 and 19

by Rox Laird | January 14, 2023

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in 11 cases Jan. 18 and 19. Three 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 January cases.


Vasquez and Covington v. Iowa Department of Human Services

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 18, 9 a.m.

Question: Were transgender plaintiffs’ constitutional rights violated by an amendment to the Iowa Civil Rights Act that expressly denied Medicaid coverage for genders-affirming surgeries?

The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) appeals a Polk County District Court decision declaring unconstitutional a 2019 amendment to the Iowa Civil Rights Act and a DHS administrative rule that exclude Medicaid coverage of sex-change surgeries for transgender persons. The District Court held that the DHS rule and the Civil Rights Act amendment both violate the equal protection provision of the Iowa Constitution. The DHS is not appealing the District Court’s holding that the administrative rule banning gender-affirming surgeries is unconstitutional, but it argues the District Court did not have authority to declare the 2019 Civil Rights Act amendment unconstitutional in the contested case proceeding under Administrative Procedure Act because the DHS decision was based not on the amendment to the Act but on the administrative rule.

Aiden Vasquez and Mika Covington cross-appeal and urge the Supreme Court to reverse the District Court’s ruling barring their claims under the Iowa Civil Right Act because they did not first assert them before the Civil Rights Commission.

Amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in support of the plaintiff-appellees were filed by the American Medical Association and the Iowa Medical Society along with nine other groups of medical and mental health professionals; by three law professors at the University of Iowa College of Law and Drake Law School; and by the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom and 12 other organizations “committed to safeguarding and advancing the rights of transgender individuals.”

 

Estate of Roberta Butterfield v. Chautauqua Guest Home

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 18, 9 a.m.

Question: Was a medical expert’s affidavit required to be filed in plaintiffs’ wrongful death action for non-medical patient care?

The Estate of Roberta Butterfield seeks further review of an Aug. 17 Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming the Floyd County District Court’s dismissal of the Butterfield Estate’s personal injury and wrongful death claims against Chautauqua Guest Home for failure to provide a certificate of merit affidavit pursuant to Iowa Code section 147.140 (2020), which requires a plaintiff in a medical malpractice action requiring expert testimony file a certificate of merit signed by a qualified expert. The Butterfield Estate urges the Supreme Court to reverse the Court of Appeals and hold that Iowa Code section 147.140 does not require a causation certificate of merit affidavit in a case where expert testimony is not necessary to establish negligence arising from nonmedical, administrative, ministerial, or routine patient care.

 

Howsares v. Polk County District Court

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 18, 9 a.m.

Question: Did arrest warrants specifying no bond prior to an initial appearance before a judge violate defendants’ statutory and constitutional rights?

Kirk and Austin Howsare appeal the Polk County District Court’s denial of their motion to dismiss charges of simple misdemeanor assault against them filed by the Polk County Attorney. The Howares argue their arrests and detention for more than 20 hours in the Polk County Jail without bond violated their rights under state law and the federal and Iowa constitutions. At the Polk County Attorney’s request, a magistrate judge issued a warrant for the Howsares’ arrests on condition they not be released on bond prior to appearance before a magistrate and issuance of a no-contact order. They were subsequently arrested and held overnight at the Polk County Jail, as the warrant specifically denied bond until they appeared before a judge and the no-contact orders were issued. The Howsares moved for dismissal of the assault charges arguing their imprisonment for the simple misdemeanor allegation exceeded any likely sentence and the no-bond order essentially imposed punishment in advance of any adjudication of guilt. The District Court denied the motion and the Iowa Supreme Court agreed to hear their appeal on a writ of certiorari.

 

Benda, et al. v. Prairie Meadows, et al.

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 18, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Did a trial court err in denying a plaintiff’s motion to certify a class action lawsuit by racehorse owners against Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino?

Robert Benda appeals the Polk County District Court’s denial of his motion to certify as a class action his lawsuit against Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino for miscalculating bonus payments owed to Iowa horse breeders and owners. Benda’s proposed class includes all horse breeders or owners eligible to receive the bonus payments from 2012-15. Benda argues they were underpaid more than $2 million over a four-year period. Two groups of Iowa horse owners subsequently intervened in the case, joining Prairie Meadows as defendants, citing concerns about potential damage that could be done to the Iowa horseracing industry by the litigation. Benda argues the District Court committed numerous errors in denying class action certification, including concluding there was insufficient commonality of class claims and in finding a conflict of interest.

 

State Auditor v. an Unnamed Local Government Risk Pool

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 18, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Is a risk pool created for local governments a government subdivision and subject to a State Auditor’s subpoena?

The Iowa State Auditor appeals a Polk County District Court decision that the appellee-defendant, identified in this case as an Unnamed Local Government Risk Pool, is not a government subdivision of the State and thus is not subject to the Auditor’s subpoena seeking certain documents as part of an audit of the risk pool. The risk pool is made up of some 800 cities, counties, and other units of local government created to protect against liability as authorized by Iowa Code § 670.7, which governs tort liability of local governmental subdivisions. The auditor argues the risk pool meets the Iowa Code’s definition of governmental subdivision because its organization is consistent with the procedures set forth in Iowa Code chapter 28E, which provides for intergovernmental agreements.

 

Juckette v. Iowa Utilities Board, et al.

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 18, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Is a landowner entitled to compensation by a utility for routing an electric transmission line across her property to serve a single commercial enterprise?

Linda Juckette appeals a Polk County District Court decision affirming the Iowa Utility Board’s order granting MidAmerican Energy an electric franchise to build a power transmission line that crosses her property to serve a Microsoft data center. Juckette argues Iowa law does not allow the Board to grant a franchise for electric utility lines on private property without paying compensation to the property owner, and that MidAmerican is not entitled to a franchise for a transmission line that serves a single commercial structure and is not necessary to serve a public use. MidAmerican Energy and the Office of Consumer Advocate are intervenor-appellees as defendants in this case.

Amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs were filed with the Court by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, in support of Juckette; by the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, and the Iowa Utility Association in support of the IUB; and by ITC Midwest, an independent transmission company, in support of the IUB.

 

U.S. Bank National Association v. Bittner

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument Jan. 18.

Question: Did a decedent intend that 100% of his retirement fund go to his surviving wife or to a trust to provide income for the remainder of her life?

Jeffrey Bittner seeks further review of a June 15 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming the Scott County District Court’s decision that Bittner’s deceased father’s intent expressed in his will and beneficiary designation that 100% his IRA account should go to his wife, not as Jeffrey Bittner argues, to a trust created to provide her with lifetime income. The Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court that the decedent’s intent was clear from the words of the contract and that the matter could be decided without considering extrinsic evidence. In seeking further review, Jeremy Bittner argues the Court of Appeals ignored his late father’s clear intent that his IRA continue to be held in trust to insure his wife would be fully supported for the remainder of her life.

 

Jeffrey Bittner v. U.S. Bank National Association

Will be submitted to the Court Jan. 18 without oral argument.

Question: Is a trustee entitled to collect legal fees in a dispute over the distribution of assets from a decedent’s IRA trust?

Jeffrey Bittner appeals from a Scott County District Court ruling authorizing payment of U.S. Bank’s legal fees from Bittner’s deceased father’s IRA incurred in a dispute over the proper distribution of the IRA assets. Bittner argues U.S. Bank may not recover its attorney fees for advocating for one beneficiary in the dispute in which it served as a trustee. Bittner’s related appeal of the Scott County District Court’s decision in the underlying dispute over distribution of the IRA assets will also be submitted to the Supreme Court Jan. 18 without oral argument.

 

City of Ames v. Iowa Public Employment Relations Board

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 19, 9 a.m.

Issue: Are transit employees’ collective bargaining rights extended to a city’s non-transit employees belonging to a bargaining unit with 30% or more members who are transit employees?

The City of Ames appeals the Polk County District Court’s ruling affirming on judicial review a determination by the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board that Iowa Code section 20.32, which extends collective bargaining rights to certain transit employees, requires the City to provide public safety bargaining rights to non-transit employees who are in a bargaining unit that contains at least 30% transit employees. The City argues the Board and the District Court erred because section 20.32 applies only to transit employees. The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 234, a bargaining unit representing blue-collar workers including both transit and non-transit employees, intervened at the District Court as a defendant in support of the Board and the District Court decisions.

 

State v. Booker

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 19, 9 a.m.

Question: Did the State lack sufficient evidence to convict a defendant of sexual abuse and wrongly strike two jurors?

Patrick Booker Jr. seeks further review of a Feb. 16 Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming his conviction for sexual abuse in the third degree by the Dubuque County District Court. Booker argues in his application for further review that the State’s evidence was insufficient for the charge and that it failed to prove a prior conviction was appropriate for a sentence enhancement. Booker, who is Black, also argues the District Court erred in overruling his challenge to the State’s peremptory strike of a Black juror, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1986 decision in Batson v. Kentucky, which held that the Equal Protection Clause forbids a juror challenge based solely on race.

 

Valdez v. West Des Moines Community Schools

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 19, 9 a.m.

Question: Was a plaintiff alleging race discrimination in an employment action denied a fair trial when the defendant was allowed to strike the only Black juror?

Davina Valdez appeals a Polk County jury verdict in favor of West Des Moines Community Schools for her claims of race discrimination, hostile work environment harassment based on race, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Valdez urges the Court to reverse the judgment of the District Court and remand for a new trial. She cites several errors by the trial court, including allowing the defendant to strike the only Black juror. Valdez, who is Black, argues she was denied her constitutional right to a fair trial before a jury of her peers as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in Batson v. Kentucky (1986), which held that the Equal Protection Clause forbids a juror challenge based solely on race.

[Disclosure: Nyemaster Goode attorneys David Bower and Logan Eliasen represent the defendants-appellees.]

 

Green v. North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Authority and Iowa Municipalities Workers’ Compensation Association

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 19, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Should a claimant be able to reopen her previously denied claim for permanent disability benefits for a workplace injury?

North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Authority and Iowa Municipalities Workers’ Compensation Association seek further review of a March 2 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming the Webster County District Court’s reversal of the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner’s grant of summary judgment to the employer and its insurer on the question of appellee Alevia Green’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits for permanent disability following a workplace injury. The employer and its insurer argue Green does not have the right to seek review-reopening of her claim after she previously failed to prove any permanent disability caused by her work injury.

 

Lincoln Savings Bank v. Emmert

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 19, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Did a mortgage holder fail to give legally required notice of a default action by informing the attorney of record but not the borrower?

Debra Emmert seeks further review of a May 11 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming the Black Hawk County District Court’s rulings against her in Lincoln Savings Bank’s foreclosure action on two of Emmert’s properties. Emmert argues the bank failed to comply with the notice requirements of Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.972, which required the Bank to send notice of the intent to file for default to Emmet and to her attorney of record, and she disputes that the counsel who received notice was, in fact, the attorney of record. Emmert urges the Court to establish a bright-line rule that notice must be sent both to the individual and to the attorney of record.

[Disclosure: Nyemaster Goode attorneys Jeffrey Courter, David Bower, and Roy Leaf represent appellee Lincoln Savings Bank in this appeal.]

 

Blasdell v. Linnhaven and Accident Fund National Insurance/United Heartland

Will be submitted to the Court Jan. 19 without oral argument.

Question: Is a husband not entitled to his deceased wife’s workers’ compensation death benefit because he had abandoned her prior to her workplace injury?

Linnhaven and Accident Fund National Insurance/United Heartland seek further review of a July 20 Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming the Polk County District Court’s reversal of the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner’s decision that Blasdell was barred from receiving workers’ compensation benefits for the death of his estranged wife, Heather, who prior to her death was determined to have been permanently and totally disabled as a result of a workplace injury. Linnhaven and Accident Fund National Insurance/United Heartland argue, in seeking further review, that Roger Blasdell is not entitled to Heather Blasdell’s workers’ compensation benefits because he willfully deserted her prior to the work injury.

 

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