Articles Posted in Iowa Supreme Court

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At issue was whether property owners’ state-law damage claims against the railroad bridge owners alleging that the design and operation of the railroad bridges resulted in flood damage to other properties were preempted by the Federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), 49 U.S.C. 10501(b). Plaintiffs, property owners in Cedar Rapids, sued the owners of certain railroad bridges across the Cedar River alleging that their efforts to protect the bridges from washing out exacerbated the effects of the 2008 flooding for other property owners. The district court granted Defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, concluding that the ICCTA expressly preempted Plaintiffs’ state law claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the ICCTA did indeed preempt Plaintiffs’ action. View "Griffioen v. Cedar Rapids" on Justia Law

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The equitable tolling doctrines of the discovery rule and equitable estoppel are available with respect to the 300-day filing limitation in the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA). Plaintiff, an applicant for the position of Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner at Iowa Workforce Development (IWD), brought a failure-to-hire claim against the IWD. The district court dismissed the claim, concluding that Plaintiff could not escape the 300-day filing requirement in the ICRA through application of the discovery rule or equitable estoppel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the discovery rule and equitable estoppel apply to the 300-day filing limitation in the ICRA; but (2) Plaintiff was not entitled to toll the filing limitation through application of either the discovery rule or equitable estoppel. View "Mormann v. Iowa Workforce Development" on Justia Law

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Under certain circumstances, Plaintiff’s counsel may depose defense counsel and obtain counsel’s prelawsuit work product. Plaintiff filed an administrative complaint charging Defendant, his former employer, with race discrimination. Defendant hired an attorney to investigate the claims and defend the company. Defendant filed an administrative position statement wherein it relied upon the investigation of the attorney it had hired to defend it to support its Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense. In the ensuing civil action, Defendant retained the same attorney and again raised the Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense. Plaintiff sought to depose Defendant’s attorney and requested the attorney to provide notes from the previous investigation. Defendant moved for a protective order, claiming attorney-client privilege and work-product protection. The district court denied the protective order. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, when an employer raises a Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense and relies upon an internal investigation to support that defense, the employer waives attorney-client privilege and nonopinion work-product protection over testimony and documents relating to the investigation. View "Fenceroy v. Gelita USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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The district court abused its discretion by awarding attorney fees beyond those caused by violations of Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.413 or necessary to deter similar misconduct and by relying on a letter the sanctioned party’s president sent to the Supreme Court after it denied review in in the first appellate decision in this case. In this quiet-title action, the district court awarded attorney fees and expenses of $145,427 as a sanction for frivolous court filings in violation of Rule 1.413. The appellate court affirmed in part the rulings and remanded the case. On remand, the district court made more specific factual findings. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed the sanction award. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the amount awarded was excessive. The Supreme court vacated the decision of the court of appeals and modified the district court’s sanction award, holding that the appropriate sanction was $30,000. View "First American Bank v. Fobian Farms, Inc." on Justia Law

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The district court abused its discretion by awarding attorney fees beyond those caused by violations of Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.413 or necessary to deter similar misconduct and by relying on a letter the sanctioned party’s president sent to the Supreme Court after it denied review in in the first appellate decision in this case. In this quiet-title action, the district court awarded attorney fees and expenses of $145,427 as a sanction for frivolous court filings in violation of Rule 1.413. The appellate court affirmed in part the rulings and remanded the case. On remand, the district court made more specific factual findings. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed the sanction award. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the amount awarded was excessive. The Supreme court vacated the decision of the court of appeals and modified the district court’s sanction award, holding that the appropriate sanction was $30,000. View "First American Bank v. Fobian Farms, Inc." on Justia Law

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West Central Cooperative was an agricultural cooperative owned by farmers. Westco Agronomy Co., L.L.C. was a wholly-owned subsidiary of West Central formed in 2005 for the purpose of streamlining delivery of agronomy products, including seed, fertilizer, and chemicals. In 2002, Westco hired Chad Hartzler to work in the agronomy division selling seed and eventually chemicals. He was later promoted to sales director but retained oversight of some of Westco’s largest accounts, including the Wollesens. A dispute arose over the relationships of these parties, resulting in a three-week jury trial and a substantial damages verdict in favor of the customer and against the cooperative. The Iowa Supreme Court limited its consideration of the case to three matters raised in the cooperative’s application for further review: (1) the district court properly denied the cooperative’s motion for new trial based on inconsistent verdicts; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the cooperative’s pretrial motion to have equitable issues tried first; and (3), with respect to the constitutionality of Iowa Code section 706A.2(5) (2011), the statute unconstitutionally shifts the burden to the defendant. Specifically, any person who provides property or services that end up being used to facilitate “specified unlawful activity” must prove his or her own lack of negligence to avoid liability. However, the Supreme Court found the burden-shifting provision contained in section 706A.2(5)(b)(4) could be severed from the rest of the statute. Accordingly, while the Court otherwise affirmed the district court, it reversed the district court’s dismissal of this claim. View "Westco Agronomy Company, LLC v. Wollesen" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs’ attorney filed two board claim forms with a state appeals board on behalf of Plaintiffs, signing their names and his own. The attorney did not attach any document showing he had power of attorney. The board rejected Plaintiffs’ claims. Plaintiffs then filed their claim in district court. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims on the ground that their attorney signed the forms on their behalf. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a claimant presents a claim when the board receives a writing that discloses the amount of damages claimed and generally describes the legal theories asserted against the State; and (2) the district court had jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs’ claims. View "Segura v. State" on Justia Law

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In this ongoing civil litigation, the Supreme Court decided two prior appeals, referred to as Mueller I and Mueller II. After procedendo issued in Mueller II, Plaintiffs were successful in persuading the district court to proceed with an antitrust claim they had previously stipulated was not included in their fourth amended petition. Defendant filed a petition for a writ of certiorari. The Supreme Court sustained the writ of certiorari, holding that the district court’s summary judgment in Mueller II, and the Court’s subsequent decision affirming that judgment without any remand, ended this civil action such that a rule-of-reason claim against Defendant can only be pursued in a separate lawsuit. View "Wellmark, Inc. v. Iowa District Court for Polk County" on Justia Law

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Father filed a petition seeking a permanent injunction precluding communication and contact between his minor children and their former softball coach. The district court granted a permanent injunction against the former coach that prevented him from contacting or communicating with the children but allowed him to attend certain extracurricular activities and to be present in the home of the children’s mother. The district court also ordered that the ruling granting permanent injunctive relief be sealed and not be disseminated. Father filed a motion requesting that the district court allow for the redissemination of the ruling and expand the terms of the permanent injunction. The district court denied the motion but allowed redissemination of the terms of the permanent injunction. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision with regard to the terms of the injunction and remanded for further proceedings, holding (1) because no hearing was conducted pursuant to the Iowa Open Records Act in support of the district court conclusion that the permanent injunction be sealed, the case must be remanded for a hearing regarding redissemination of the ruling granting permanent injunctive relief consistent with the requirements of the Act; and (2) the terms of the permanent injunction should not be expanded. View "In re Petition of Kent Langholz" on Justia Law

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Petitioner received a one-year driver’s license revocation and suspension for failure to submit to chemical testing. The Department of Transportation (DOT) affirmed the ALJ’s decision. Petitioner sought judicial review of the DOT’s ruling. On the thirtieth day after the DOT issued its final decision, the law firm representing Petitioner electronically submitted a petition for judicial review that was received by the Iowa Judicial Branch electronic data management system (EDMS). The next morning, the clerk’s office returned the petition because Petitioner’s address was missing from the electronic cover sheet and the filing had not been described as a “civil-administrative appeal” on that same cover sheet. The law firm resubmitted the petition after correcting the errors. Upon the motion of the DOT, however, the district court dismissed the petition as untimely because it was one day late. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, for purposes of meeting a deadline, a filing may relate back to the original date it was received by the EDMS when the filing party demonstrates certain conditions are met. Remanded. View "Jacobs v. Iowa Department of Transportation" on Justia Law