UPDATES & ANALYSIS

3.21

Iowa Supreme Court to hear arguments in eight cases March 23 and 24

by Rox Laird | March 21, 2022

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in eight cases March 23 and 24. Seven other cases will be submitted to the Court without oral argument.

Following are brief summaries of the March 23-24 appeals. Go to On Brief’s “Cases in the Pipeline” page to read briefs filed in these cases.

 

Amaya v. State Public Defender

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

Issue: Does a state statute violate the Sixth Amendment by requiring privately retained defense counsel to work for less than their usual hourly rates in representing indigent defendants?

The State Public Defender appeals a ruling by the Polk County District Court holding that Iowa Code section 815.1, as amended by the Legislature in 2018, violates the Sixth Amendment right to counsel by requiring private counsel representing an indigent defendant to accept the lower hourly rate set by statute. Rodrigo Amaya is represented by private counsel working on a $15,000 retainer. Amaya’s counsel projects the number of hours required to prepare his defense, including the cost of an investigation and depositions, will exceed his retainer based on his counsel’s rate of $300 an hour. Amaya petitioned the trial court for his additional defense costs to be paid for by the State, which under the amended section 815.1 would require his counsel to work for the statutory rate of $55 an hour for court-appointed counsel for indigent defendants. In its appeal of the trial court ruling, the State Public Defender argues section 815.1 as amended does not violate the Sixth Amendment nor deny criminal defendants the right to counsel.

An amicus curiae brief in support of the appellant State Public Defender was filed with the Court in his case by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller on behalf of the State.

 

Garrison v. New Fashion Pork LLP and BWT Holdings LLP

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

Issue: Are statutory protections for animal confinements against nuisance suits unconstitutional facially or as applied to a next-door neighbor?

Gordon Berg Garrison appeals rulings by the Emmet County District Court denying his motion challenging the constitutionality of immunity granted to animal feeding operations by Iowa Code sections 657.11(3)(c) and 657.11A(2) and his motion challenging the constitutionality of the cap on damages in Code section 657.11A(3)(c). And he appeals the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants. Garrison brought suit against the defendant-appellees claiming New Fashion Pork’s hog confinement operation created a nuisance due to odor affecting his enjoyment of his property, trespass due to pollutants draining onto his property from hog manure applied on defendant-appellee BWT Holdings’ land, and violation of state water drainage law. Garrison asserts the District Court improperly applied the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Gacke v. Pork Xtra regarding the constitutionality of nuisance immunity as applied in his case.

An amicus curiae brief in support of appellees New Fashion Pork and BWT Holdings was filed with the Court in this case by the Iowa Pork Producers Association and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

 

Deng v. Farmland Foods and Safety National Casualty Corp.

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

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

Mary Deng appeals a Crawford County District Court ruling affirming a decision by the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner that her job-related rotator cuff injury should be classified as a “shoulder injury” as opposed to a “whole body injury” for purposes of her workers’ compensation claim, thus resulting in a smaller workers’ compensation benefit. Deng argues the injury to her shoulder should be classified as a “whole body” injury under a 2017 legislative amendment to Iowa Code section 85.34 governing permanent disabilities in the workers’ compensation chapter. [The Supreme Court on Feb. 23 heard arguments in a similar case, Chavez v. MS Technology and Westfield Insurance Co. See our Feb. 16 summary of that case.]

Amicus curiae briefs in support of Deng were filed with the Court in this case 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.

 

ACC Holdings v. Rooney

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

Issue: Is a petitioner foreclosed from filing a third forcible entry and detainer action after voluntarily dismissing two previous actions?

Todd Rooney appeals a decision of the Warren County District Court granting ACC’s petition for forcible entry and detainer to gain possession of Rooney’s residence, which ACC purchased at tax sale. Among other things, Rooney argues he is entitled to an extended period to redeem his residence because he suffers from a severe reading and learning disability and was unable to understand notices sent to him regarding taxes owed on the property. Rooney also argues that because ACC voluntarily dismissed two previous forcible entry and detainer actions against Rooney, it was barred from filing the third petition – the subject of this appeal. Rooney cites Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.943, which states that a second action dismissed by a party against the same defendant “shall operate as an adjudication against that party on the merits.”

 

Meade v. Christie, et al.

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

Issue: Did a committee of the EMC Insurance Group board breach its fiduciary duty to owners of publicly traded shares in the stock in the company EMC sought to purchase?

Peter S. Christie, Stephen A. Crane, Jonathan R. Fletcher, and Gretchen H. Tegeler appeal a decision of the Polk County District Court denying their motion to dismiss a class action civil suit brought by Kendall J. Meade alleging the defendants violated their fiduciary duty to Meade and other owners of publicly traded shares of stock in EMC Insurance Group (EMCI) by failing to properly vet the proposed purchase of all EMCI public shares of stock by its largest shareholder, Employers Mutual Casualty Co. (EMCC). The defendants were members of a special committee of EMCI independent board members appointed to negotiate and approve the deal. Meade sued on behalf of himself and other owners of EMCI publicly traded stock claiming the actual value of the stock was higher than the amount paid by EMCC. The District Court dismissed Meade’s claims against all parties except the four defendants named above. A key question in this case is whether Meade’s claims of injury were “derivative,” meaning that his and other shareholders’ injuries arose from their status as shareholders as EMCI.

The Iowa Legislature amended state law on that question in 1989, and the District Court left it to the Supreme Court to decide how the amended statute might have affected the Court’s precedent on that question.

An amicus curiae brief in support of appellants was filed with the Court in this case by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry and the Iowa Business Council. The amici urge the Iowa Supreme Court to adopt the pleading standards applicable in federal court under Bell Atlantic. v. Twombly with respect to shareholder claims of breach of fiduciary duty.

[Disclosure: Nyemaster Goode attorneys Michael Thrall, Mark Dickinson, and Lynn Herndon represent the defendants-appellants in this appeal.]

 

Estate of Susan Farrell v. State of Iowa, City of Waukee, City of West Des Moines

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

Issue: Does Iowa’s “public duty” doctrine protect state and local governments from liability for a traffic death caused by a drunk driver diving on the wrong side of an interstate highway because he may have been confused by a newly constructed entrance ramp?

The State of Iowa and the cities of Wakuee and West Des Moines seek further review of a Nov. 23, 2021, decision by the Iowa Court of Appeals affirming a ruling by the Polk County District Court denying their motion for judgment on the pleadings in a negligence suit brought by the Estate of Susan Farrell. Farrell, a Des Moines police officer, was a passenger in a vehicle transporting a prisoner to Des Moines when she was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver who was driving on the wrong side of I-80. Farrell’s estate argues the State and the municipalities were negligent due to the defective design of the interchange that led the confused drunk driver to enter the interstate driving into oncoming traffic. In affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeals held that Iowa’s “public duty doctrine” applies to the claims against the government parties, who owed no special duty to Farrell versus the general public. The Farrell Estate asks the Supreme Court to reverse the ruling of the Court of Appeals and remand the case to the District Court for further proceedings. If, however, the Supreme Court agrees with the Court of Appeals’ application of public-duty doctrine precedent, the Farrell Estate urges the justices to discard the doctrine.

 

State v. Hunt

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

Issue: Was the seizure of evidence obtained a pat-down search allowed by the Fourth Amendment if the officer could not specify what type of drugs were in the defendant’s pocket?

Earnest Hunt Jr. seeks further review of a Nov. 23, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals decision reversing a ruling by the Dubuque County District Court granting his motion to suppress evidence seized in a pat-down search. Hunt argues the search violated the Fourth Amendment because the Dubuque police officer was uncertain what type of drugs were in a bag he felt in Hunt’s pocket and thus lacked probable cause for the warrantless search. The Court of Appeals held that the “plain feel” exception to the Fourth Amendment applied because the officer correctly determined the bag contained illegal drugs without having to specify precisely what type of drugs. Hunt argues it was not “immediately apparent” that the object in his pocket was contraband and that while certainty may not be required, the officer faced multiple options regarding what was in the bag, and the incriminating nature of an item felt during a search is not “immediately apparent” if an officer is torn between multiple options.

 

Little v. Davis

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

Issue: Is an amendment to an irrevocable trust invalid if it is contrary to the terms of the trust?

Keith and Donald Davis appeal a summary judgment decision of the Keokuk County District Court holding that an amendment to a trust created by their parents was invalid because the amendment, made by their father following the death of their mother, was not authorized under terms of the trust, which under Iowa Code section 633A.1105 takes precedence over Code Chapter 633A, the Iowa Trust Code. The appellants’ sister, appellee Katina Little sued, arguing the amended trust, which substantially reduced her share of the trust assets, was invalid. Appellants argue that reading section 633A.2202 along with section 633A.1102(18) indicates that a person who created a trust may modify an irrevocable trust with the consent of all of the beneficiaries.

 

State v. Middlekauff

Scheduled for oral argument March 24, 9 a.m.

Issue: Was a defendant wrongly prosecuted in Iowa for possession of marijuana legally purchased in Arizona with a prescription issued for medical marijuana?

Pamela Middlekauff appeals from her conviction in Warren County District Court for possession of marijuana. Middlekauff was stopped in Iowa for speeding on her way from Arizona to Wisconsin and charged with possession of the controlled substance. Middlekauff argues she should not have been charged with possession in Iowa because she had a valid prescription for medical marijuana issued by her Arizona doctor for pain from osteoarthritis, which she legally purchased from an Arizona dispensary. If the Court concludes an Arizona medical marijuana ID card does not comply with Iowa Code section 124.401(5), which provides an exemption for possession of a controlled substance obtained with a valid prescription, Middlekauff urges the Court to hold that section 124.401(5) is impermissibly vague and the prosecution violated her constitutional right to due process.

 

Estate of Linda Berry v. Grossman and Catholic Health Initiatives

Scheduled for oral argument March 24, 9 a.m.

Issue: Was a medical negligence lawsuit filed too late because the defendants allegedly concealed the plaintiff’s true medical condition?

Dr. Paul Grossman and Catholic Health Initiatives seek further review of an Oct. 6, 2021, decision of the Iowa Court of Appeals reversing a Polk County District Court ruling on summary judgment in their favor. The District Court held the Berry Estate’s suit was barred by the six-year statute of repose for medical malpractice claims. Citing an exception in common law for fraudulent concealment, the Berry Estate claims it was prevented from bringing suit within the statute of repose limit because Grossman failed to inform Linda Berry of the presence of a mass on her kidney. The District Court held that the exception could not be applied because the alleged act of concealment was the same as the claimed malpractice.  The Court of Appeals disagreed, saying the negligent act was distinct from the subsequent concealment of the defendants’ actual knowledge of the kidney mass. The defendant-appellants urge the Supreme Court to affirm the decision of the District Court, arguing the Court of Appeals decision conflicts with Iowa law and precedent and effectively eliminates the statute of repose in medical negligence cases alleging a failure to diagnose or disclose.

 

Rand v. Security National Bank

Scheduled for oral argument March 24, 9 a.m.

Issue: Did the court-appointed executor of an estate misrepresent to the beneficiaries the amount of fees it is allowed by state law to charge for administration of the estate?

Todd Rand appeals the Woodbury County District Court’s summary judgment dismissal of his suit against Security National Bank for breach of fiduciary duty, negligent misrepresentation and fraud regarding the bank’s handling of his late father’s estate. Rand, one of five beneficiaries of the estate, claimed among other things that Security National, as the appointed executor of the estate, misrepresented the amount it was allowed to charge for administration of the estate when it said it is authorized under state law to collect 2% of the value of the estate above $4,000. In fact, that is the maximum amount allowed by law, and Rand argues had he known that he could have shopped around for a lower rate that did not reduce the gross value of the $20 million estate. Rand urges the Court to reverse the decision of the District Court and remand for his claims to be submitted to a jury.

An amicus curiae brief in support of defendant-appellee Security National Bank was filed with the Court by the Iowa Academy of Trust and Estate Counsel.

 

Struck v. Mercy Health Services, et al.

Will be submitted to the Court March 24 without oral argument.

Issue: Was a medical negligence suit properly dismissed for failure to file expert witness affidavits?

Mercy Health Services, et al., seek further review of a Nov. 3, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming in part and reversing in part a Woodbury County District Court ruling granting defendants’ motion to dismiss all of her claims in a personal-injury suit for failure to file expert witness certificate of merit affidavits as required by Iowa Code section 147.140 (2020). Struck sued Mercy Health Services and other medical professionals for negligence after she was injured in a fall while hospitalized. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s order granting the defendants’ motions to dismiss the claims of professional negligence of the health-care providers but reversed the dismissal of claims regarding ordinary negligence that do not require expert testimony. In seeking further review of the Court of Appeals decision, the defendants argue Struck’s petition did not plead ordinary negligence, and the District Court correctly held that she pled only professional negligence against all defendants, which triggered the expert witness requirement.

 

DeSousa v. Iowa Realty Co.

Scheduled for oral argument March 24, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Does a realtor who lists a property for sale owe a duty of care to a visitor injured while touring the home?

Iowa Realty Co. appeals a Dallas County District Court decision denying Iowa Realty’s motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of Amanda DeSousa’s claims against Iowa Realty, alleging Iowa Realty was negligent in failing to take precautions to reduce risk on a property it listed for sale. DeSousa slipped and fell on ice in the driveway of the home after arriving to tour the home with her own real estate agent. Iowa Realty argues the owners of the home had the authority and the ability to reduce the risk of harm on the property on which they had exclusive control, and that just because a realtor agrees to help homeowners sell their property does not transfer control of the property or a duty of care from the homeowner to the listing agent.

An amicus curiae brief in support of Iowa Realty was filed with the Court in this case by the National Association of Realtors and the Iowa Association of Realtors.

[Disclosure: Nyemaster Goode attorneys Frank Harty and Haley Hermanson represent Iowa Realty Co. in this appeal.]

 

State v. Miller

Scheduled for oral argument March 24, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Did a criminal defendant “knowingly and intelligently” waive his right to be represented by appointed counsel?

Walter Miller Jr. seeks further review of a Sept. 22, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming his drug-related convictions by a Scott County jury, and decisions by the District Court granting defense counsel’s motion to withdraw, and Miller’s request to waive his right to counsel and to represent himself. Miller’s defense counsel withdrew citing ethical conflicts, and Miller declined the appointment of a new lawyer because he feared that would delay the trial set to begin in one week. In his application for further review, Miller argues that the District Court erred in concluding it had no choice but to allow the defense counsel to withdraw, and that his waiver of his constitutional right to counsel was not intelligent and voluntary.

 

Borst Brothers Construction, et al. v. Finance of America Commercial

Will be submitted to the Court March 24 without oral argument.

Issue: Did the Linn County District Court correctly rule on claims and counter-claims arising from a real estate developer’s default on commercial loans?

Finance of America Commercial and Dostal Developers both seek further review of an Aug. 18, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming in part and reversing in part a Linn County District Court decision regarding Dostal Developers’ default on loans made by Finance of America Commercial for a real estate development project. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s holding that Finance of America properly foreclosed on promissory notes and mortgages on Dostal Developers’ housing development and that two subcontractors’ mechanic’s liens had priority over Finance of America’s mortgages on the real estate. The Court of Appeals also affirmed the trial court on the question of attorney fees, but it reversed the trial court’s decision absolving Randy Dostal of personal liability on the Finance of America loans.

 

 

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