UPDATES & ANALYSIS

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Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in eight appeals Wednesday and Thursday

by Rox Laird | January 19, 2021

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in eight appeals Wednesday and Thursday. Six other cases will be submitted to the Court this week without oral argument.

The arguments will be in the Supreme Court courtroom with the option of participating remotely. Livestreamed videos of the arguments can be seen on the Court’s YouTube channel.

Following are brief summaries of the January cases. Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read the parties’ briefs filed with the Court.

Doss v. State

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 20, 9 a.m.

Issue: Was trial counsel ineffective in failing to adequately inform appellant of parole rules that included a ban on using the internet and attending church?

Kenneth Doss seeks further review of a July 22, 2020, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming a decision of the Warren County District Court denying his application for postconviction relief following his guilty plea for lascivious acts with a child and his special sentence of lifetime parole. Doss argues the District Court erred in holding he received effective assistance of counsel. Doss argues that he was not adequately informed at the time of his plea of the rules and requirements of the special sentence — including a ban on using the internet, having a girlfriend, and going to church — and that he would not have entered a guilty plea had he been aware of those unconstitutional conditions. Amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs were filed with the Court in support of Doss by The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Iowa Association for Justice. Also, an amicus brief was filed by the Iowa Board of Parole supporting the position of the State.

PSFS 3 v. Seidman

Scheduled for oral argument Jan. 20, 9 a.m.

Issues: Do equipment financing agreements that do not specifically state a rate of interest comply with Iowa usury law? Did the Iowa District Court have jurisdiction based on a financing agreement’s forum-selection clause? And, do judgments against scores of defendants based on two “bellwether” trials violate due process?

The appellants in this case include nearly 300 doctors and dentists nationally who challenge a series of Polk County District Court summary judgment decisions finding that PSFS 3’s equipment financing agreements with the appellants were enforceable and valid, and that appellants were in default by failing to make payments on the financing agreements. Among the questions presented to the Supreme Court: Do the equipment financing agreements comply with Iowa’s usury laws? Does the Iowa District Court have jurisdiction to hear this case based on a forum-selection clause invoked by assigning the agreements to a newly formed corporate entity in Iowa? And, did the District Court violate the due process rights of the appellants by entering judgments against the nearly 300 doctors and dentists based on its findings in two “bellwether” trials? [Disclosure: Nyemaster Goode attorneys Benjamin Roach and Randall Armentrout represent the appellee in this case.]

Earley v. Board of Adjustment, Cerro Gordo County

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

Issue: Is there a “lesser standard” for granting zoning variances when the issue is area rather than use?

Mary Sue Earley and Bankers Trust Co., as trustees of the Mary Sue Earley Revocable Trust, seek further review of a July 22, 2020 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming a decision of the Cerro Gordo County District Court affirming a zoning variance granted by the Cerro Gordo County Zoning Board of Adjustment. The variance was granted to Earley’s next-door neighbor who built a patio cover within 12 inches of the dividing line between the two properties in violation of the zoning setback requirements. Earley argues the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the District Court because the neighboring property owner failed to meet the test long applied by the Iowa Supreme Court for zoning variances, and that the Court of Appeals erred in holding that there is a “lesser” standard for granting zoning area variances (such as height and setback restrictions) than for use variances.

State v. Donahue

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

Issues:  Should a defendant accused of sex abuse have been allowed to cross-examine the victim regarding a previous abuse allegation?

Charles Donahue seeks further review of a July 22, 2020 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming Donahue’s conviction by an Audubon County jury of third-degree sexual abuse of T.G., his granddaughter’s step-daughter. Donahue argues the trial judge erred in not allowing his counsel to cross-examine T.G. about a previous abuse accusation, introduced at trial by the State, to correct the impression he was a repeat offender. Donahue asks the Supreme Court to reverse the Court of Appeals’ holding that the trial court properly applied Iowa’s rape shield law to prevent cross-examination on the uncharged allegation of sexual abuse.

In the Matter of the Estate of Francis O. Glaser

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

Issue: Should property transferred by its owner to third parties prior to his death to defraud creditors be returned to decedent’s estate?

Sherri Kindsfather seeks further review of a July 22, 2020 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming a Jackson County District Court ruling that Francis O. Glaser conveyed three parcels of property to Kindsfather and half interest in a farm to Kindsfather’s mother prior to Glaser’s death to defraud his creditors, and affirming the District Court’s order setting aside three of those conveyances and returning the property to Glaser’s estate. Judy Bowling, fiduciary of the Glaser estate, and the Iowa Department of Revenue seek further review of the Court of Appeals decision that reversed the trial court on two issues related to the conveyance of the farm.

Fulps v. City of Urbandale

Scheduled to be argued Jan. 21, 9 a.m.

Issue: Is the City of Urbandale liable for a pedestrian’s injuries from a fall on a city sidewalk?

Laura and Charles Fulps appeal a decision of the Polk County District Court dismissing their lawsuit against the City of Urbandale for Laura’s injuries from a fall on a city sidewalk. The Fulps argue the city was negligent in failing to repair the uneven portion of the sidewalk. The trial court granted the city’s pre-answer motion to dismiss, accepting the city’s argument that Iowa’s public duty doctrine precludes liability for the city because it owes no legal duty to Laura Fulps specifically to maintain the sidewalks, only to the public in general. The plaintiffs argue first that the motion to dismiss came too early in the litigation, and second that the city, as owner of the sidewalk that is open to the public, owes a duty of care to those lawfully on the sidewalk.

In the Matter of the Guardianship and Conservatorship of Vernon D. Radda

Scheduled to be argued Jan. 21, 9 a.m.

Issue: May a determination about the testamentary capacity of a person subject to a conservatorship be made while the person is alive?

Barbara and Kevin Kiene, respectively the sister and brother-in-law of Vernon D. Radda, appeal a Washington County District Court ruling that a determination regarding the testamentary capacity of a person subject to a conservatorship may not be made after the person has executed wills and while the person is still alive. The Kienes urge the Supreme Court to hold that they have standing to seek a declaratory judgment determining whether Radda lacked the necessary testamentary capacity to execute two wills, and that such action may be brought while Radda is alive.

Luigi’s, Inc. v. United Fire and Casualty Co.

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

Issue: Should a jury verdict have been directed in an insurer’s favor in a dispute over the value of a loss established under terms of the insurance policy?

United Fire and Casualty Co. appeals following a Fayette County District Court jury verdict in Luigi’s favor in its breach-of-contract claim against its insurer in which Luigi’s challenged the assessment of the value of the Oelwein restaurant destroyed by fire. United Fire argues the trial judge should have granted its motion for a directed verdict because the assessment of the restaurant’s value was established by an appraisal process provided for in the insurance contract. In the alternative, the company argues the District Court erred in submitting jury instructions that resulted in material prejudice to United Fire.

Morris v. Pretty Woman, Inc.

Scheduled for argument Jan. 21, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Did an adult entertainment establishment owe a duty to care to a patron ejected from the premises who left premises on foot and was subsequently run over by vehicle?

Appellants Pretty Woman, Inc., J.P. Parking., Inc., and James Petry seek further review of an Aug. 5, 2020, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling reversing the Polk County District Court’s dismissal on summary judgment of a premises liability claim brought by the estate of Daulton Holly. Holly was asked by staff to leave The Beach Girls strip club because he was intoxicated, and he set out on foot in the remote area after dark. Holly was later struck and killed by a vehicle operated by a drunk driver. Beach Girls argues that the trial court correctly held that no duty to exercise reasonable care was owed to Holly after he left the premises.

Carter v. Carter

Scheduled to be argued Jan 21, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Should the civil trial of a defendant accused of murdering his mother have been delayed pending the outcome of the criminal investigation?

Jason Carter appeals from the verdict of a Marion County jury finding him civilly liable for the 2015 death of his mother, Shirley Carter, by homicide. Jason was sued by Bill G. Carter, Jason’s father, Billy Dean Carter, Jason’s brother, and estate of Shirley Carter. Jurors in the civil case were told by Jason Carter’s attorney that Jason’s father was the killer, and that the case came down to whether they believed Jason or Bill. Three days after the jury verdict, Jason Carter was charged with first-degree murder; he was acquitted of criminal charges by a jury in 2019. Among the rulings in the civil trial Carter challenges: The District Court erred by denying his motion to continue the trial while the homicide investigation was pending, and by denying his motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

Johnston v. Iowa Department of Transportation

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

Issue: Does a deferred judgment count toward a habitual offender calculation?

David Michael Johnston seeks further review of a May 13, 2020, Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming the Polk County District Court’s dismissal of his petition for judicial review of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s revocation of his driving privileges for five years based on Iowa’s habitual-offender statute. Among the issues Johnston raises on appeal is his argument that a deferred judgment he received on an eluding charge, which ultimately was expunged from his record, should not count toward the habitual offender calculation.

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