U.S. Supreme Court splits with the Iowa Supreme Court on anonymous tips of drunk driving

By: Administrator on April 22nd, 2014

By Ryan Leemkuil

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Navarette v. California that officers lawfully stopped a vehicle based on an anonymous tipster’s claim that the car had run her off the road. The Court, in a 5-4 decision by Justice Thomas, concluded that the anonymous tip gave officers reasonable suspicion of drunk driving. Back in January, we wrote that the outcome in Navarette could require the Iowa Supreme Court to revisit its decision in State v. Kooima.  That seems almost certain now.

In Kooima, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled by a 4-3 vote that officers may not stop a vehicle based solely on an anonymous tip that the driver is drunk. The Court, per Justice Wiggins, held that such a stop violates the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  The State of Iowa then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse that decision, and the Supreme Court has been holding the case pending the outcome in  Navarette.

Based on Justice Thomas’s decision today, it looks like the stop in Kooima may have been okay, at least as far as the Fourth Amendment is concerned.  Indeed, Justice Mansfield’s dissent parallels much of today’s decision in Navarette.  He would have upheld the stop because:

  • –The caller reported criminal activity based on “firsthand contemporaneous observations” (the caller saw the group drinking in a bar and get into the car);
  • –Officers corroborated several predictive statements in the call (they saw the vehicle arrive in town about ten minutes after the call from a bar eight miles away);
  • –“Calling 911 is no way to make a false report and get away with it” (calls are traceable and false reports are criminal); and
  • –The law requires reasonable suspicion, not certainty (maybe a group of guys leaving a bar at 11:21 p.m. didn’t drink much, but officers can stop the car to make sure).

In upholding the stop Navarette, the Supreme Court made similar observations:

  • –The caller “necessarily claimed eyewitness knowledge” (she reported being run off the road by a specific vehicle);
  • –Police confirmed the vehicle’s location shortly after the caller’s “contemporaneous report” (they spotted the vehicle 19 miles to the south 18 minutes after the call);
  • –A tipster would “think twice” before using 911 to make a false report (technology lets authorities trace the calls and false reports are punishable);
  • –Officers need not rule out all possible innocent explanations—say, an “unruly child”—before stopping a vehicle (waiting could have “disastrous consequences”).

After Navarette, Justice Mansfield’s dissent could soon become the majority opinion in Kooima. But there is a twist. The Iowa Supreme Court decided Kooima under the Federal Constitution. Navarette is the law on that. But if the four justices in the Kooima majority want the same result, and the defendant preserved the argument, they could decide the case the same way under the Iowa Constitution.


The Iowa Supreme Court on vasectomies and due process

By: Ryan Koopmans on April 18th, 2014

Must a mother who serves as a guardian for her intellectually disabled adult son get court approval before arranging his vasectomy?  Yes, ruled a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court this morning.

In February 2013, Maria Kennedy took her intellectually handicapped son, Stuart, to get a vasectomy.  Stuart was 21 at the time, but because of his disability, Maria was serving as his guardian.  The month before, Stuart had asked a court to terminate that guardianship because he thought Maria was too controlling.  Stuart had recently told his mom that he’d been having sex with his girlfriend.  That concerned her; hence the vasectomy.

The problem, for Stuart at least, was that the court didn’t get to his termination request until after the medical procedure had been done.  So, through his attorney, he amended the petition to claim that his mom had violated Iowa law by arranging for the vasectomy without court approval. Iowa law requires that guardians get court approval before subjecting their wards  to “major elective surgery” or a “nonemergency major medical procedure.”  Stuart argued that a vasectomy falls into at least one of those categories.

The probate court disagreed, ruling that a vasectomy isn’t major elective surgery or a major medical procedure because it takes just 20-minutes, doesn’t require anesthesia, can be done in the doctor’s office (as opposed to an operating room), and is reversible.

Staurt appealed.  Sterilization, he argued, is a pretty major thing, and doing it without any court oversight would violate his constitutional rights.  The ACLU and Disability Rights Iowa agreed, filing a an amicus brief that made similar arguments.  The groups also disputed the probate court’s finding that a vasectomy is  reversible, arguing instead that a “significant percent of the time” it’s permanent.  (So be certain before scheduling that March Madness appointment.)

The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously agreed with Stuart.  The justices didn’t decide who was right and who was wrong on the permanent vs. reversible debate, because they didn’t need to.  Even when considered in context, the terms “major elective surgery” and “major medical procedure” are ambiguous, Justice Mansfield wrote for the Court.  And because there are constitutional problems with sterilizing someone against their will, the Court interpreted those ambiguous terms to include a vasectomy:

[W]e have serious doubts about the constitutionality of a statute that allowed a guardian to arrange for a ward to undergo a vasectomy without any court involvement.  Accordingly, applying the principle of constitutional avoidance, we hold that a vasectomy is “a major elective surgery” and a “nonemergency major medical procedure” for which prior court approval is required.

In other words, parents must get a court’s okay before sterilizing their intellectually handicapped children.


Chiodo v. Bisignano: What happens now?

By: Ryan Koopmans on April 16th, 2014

The debate over the meaning and effect of yesterday’s Iowa Supreme Court’s decision on “infamous crimes” has begun.  This story by Associated Press reporter Ryan Foley gives a taste.

The  confusion is the result of the three-way split on the Court:

(1) Chief Justice Cady, joined by Justices Hecht and Zager ruled that a crime is not infamous unless it’s a felony that “would tend to undermine the process of democratic governance.”

(2) Justice Mansfield, joined by Justice Waterman, ruled that all felonies, but no misdemeanors, are infamous crimes.

(3) Justice Wiggins ruled that all crimes that carry a potential prison sentence are infamous–which means that all felonies and aggravated misdemeanors are infamous crimes.

The result of that split means three things.  First, because no opinion received a majority of the vote, none of the legal tests are “the law” in the sense that they bind lower courts and the State of Iowa.  Second, because five justices ruled that misdemeanors aren’t infamous crimes, that is now the law. Third, it’s up in the air whether all felonies are infamous crimes or whether that phrase is limited to felonies that “would tend to undermine the process of democratic governance.”   And unless one of the justices changes his mind or Justice Appel joins in on the next case, that issue might be up in the air for a while.

Here’s an unlikely but possible scenario that illustrates the point.  If tomorrow a plaintiff asks the Polk County district court to declare that his OWI 3rd conviction  isn’t an infamous crime (even though it’s a felony), the judge could rule in his favor.  Or the judge could rule against him. The Chiodo decision doesn’t dictate the result because the Court split 3-3 on whether all felonies are infamous crimes.

If the judge rules for the OWI convict and the State appeals to the Iowa Supreme Court, the case would likely end in a tie if Justice Appel is still recused. Assuming that Chief Justice Cady and Justices Hecht and Zager agree that an OWI 3rd doesn’t undermine the democratic process, then those three justices would vote to affirm.  But Justices Mansfield, Waterman, and Wiggins would vote to reverse, assuming they stick with their current positions.  Mansfield and Waterman would conclude that an OWI 3rd is an infamous crime because it’s a felony.  And Justice Wiggins would reach the same result because the crime is punishable by prison time.  Since the vote would be tied–3 to affirm, 3 to reverse–the district court decision would automatically be affirmed and the convict would be free to vote, assuming no other impediments. It doesn’t matter that Justices Mansfield, Waterman, and Wiggins come to the same conclusion for different reasons; it just matters that all three vote to reverse.

Because the Supreme Court would remain evenly split, the issue would still be open.  A Scott County judge could come to the opposite conclusion the  next day.  And when that case went up to the Supreme Court, the justices would, again, split 3-3, meaning that the district court judge’s decision  would be affirmed by operation of law and the Scott County resident wouldn’t be able to vote.  Yet the Polk County resident would.

That’s a lot of ifs. And, again, it’s unlikely to happen.  But it does demonstrate what the Iowa Supreme Court didn’t decide yesterday.  And it shows what could remain undecided until Justice Appel weighs in.

[Note: this post was edited for clarity]


Iowa Supreme Court splits over what kinds of criminals can vote

By: Ryan Koopmans on April 16th, 2014

We didn’t have to wait long for the Supreme Court to decide its most important case of the term.  Last Tuesday, the justices heard arguments over whether a second OWI offense is an “infamous crime” under the Iowa Constitution.  Yesterday–one week after the oral argument–the Iowa Supreme Court ruled, by a 5-1 vote, that it’s not.

That might not seem that important.  It is.

For starters, it means that Tony Bisignano can run for State Senate.  Article II, section 5 of the Iowa Constitution says that a person who’s been convicted of an “infamous crime” can’t be an “elector” (which means they can’t run for office), and one of Bisignano’s primary opponents (Ned Chiodo) argued that a second OWI (which Bisignano has been convicted of) is an infamous crime.  Five of the six sitting justices disagreed with that. (The seventh, Justice Appel, was recused.)

But the case is much bigger than one Senate race.  And that’s where it gets interesting.


Iowa Supreme Court reverses high school coach’s conviction for sexual exploitation

By: Ryan Koopmans on April 14th, 2014

It’s a crime in Iowa for a “school employee”–defined as “an administrator, teacher, or other licensed professional”–to have sexual contact with a student.  On Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a high school basketball coach who holds a coaching authorization, but not a teaching license, isn’t a “licensed professional” and is thus not a school employee for purposes of the sexual-exploitation statute.

While coaching high school girls basketball for Davis County School, Patrick Nicoletto developed a sexual relationship with one of his players that lasted several months.  When that came to light, Nicoletto was charged and convicted of sexual exploitation and sentenced to five years in prison.

Nicoletto appealed, arguing that he doesn’t fit within the technical definition of school employee because he’s not an administrator, a teacher, or a licensed professional; he’s just a part-time coach.  But Nicoletto does have a coaching authorization–a designation that requires a total of five credit hours of coursework in physiology, child development, injury care and prevention, and coaching theory–and so the State argued that this authorization makes him a “licensed professional.”

A majority of the Iowa Supreme Court agreed with Nicoletto.  Justice Appel writing (joined by Chief Justice Cady and Justices Wiggins, Hecht, and Zager), the majority of the Court concluded that “the ordinary meaning of the term ‘licensed professional’” does not include “a person who merely holds a coaching authorization.”  A professional, Justice Appel explained, is someone who’s gone through extensive schooling, not a mere weekend’s worth of classes.

The Court also concluded that a coaching authorization isn’t a license, because it doesn’t give the holder the power to do something that others can’t.  Those who have a license to practice law, can practice law; those who don’t, can’t.  Those who have a license to drive, can drive; those who don’t, can’t.  On the other hand, Iowa law doesn’t require that all coaches have a coach’s authorization; those who volunteer their time can coach all they want, so long as the school district is happy to have them.  Since the relevant code chapter defines license as the “exclusive authority to perform [the listed] functions,” and a coaching authorization doesn’t bestow exclusivity–at least if you include volunteers–the majority ruled Nicoletto wasn’t licensed.

Justice Appel seemed to concede that excluding coaches like Nicoletto might not be what the legislature intended, but channeling (and citing) Justice Scalia, Justice Appel emphasized that the Court cannot “speculate about probable legislative intent without regard to the wording of the statute”; instead, “any determination must be based upon what the legislature actually said rather than on what it might have said or should have said.”

Justice Waterman dissented and Justice Mansfield joined him. For them, the majority’s interpretation of “licensed professional” was too “hypertechnical”: “A ‘coaching authorization’ is simply a form of ‘license’” and “[c]ommon definitions of ‘professional’ plainly include trained coaches paid to do their job.”  By limiting the professional label to those “learned professions requiring advanced degrees,” Justice Waterman argued that the majority wasn’t applying the common usage of the term: “You can hire a professional painter to touch up your living room ceiling or do it yourself. The painter does not need a doctorate to be a professional” and “[t]here is no contextual indication the legislature intended a narrow definition for ‘licensed professional’” in the sexual exploitation statute.

The Court’s decision, Justice Waterman said, “will surprise school officials, parents, and coaches who had assumed the [sexual exploitation] law that made it illegal for a teacher to engage in sexual activity with students also applies to coaches.”  And with an idiom fitting for the case, Justice Waterman declared that the “ball is now in the legislature’s court to amend section 709.15 to close this new loophole.”


Iowa Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in High-Profile Ballot Access Dispute

By: Colin Smith on April 10th, 2014

Does pleading guilty to a second-offense OWI result in an individual being barred from running for office under the “infamous crime” clause of the Iowa Constitution?  That’s the question the Iowa Supreme Court was confronted with yesterday during oral arguments in Chiodo v. The Section 43.24 Panel.  The answer could determine the outcome of an upcoming Iowa State Senate race, but it could also have a far reaching impact on Iowa’s ballot access and voter eligibility rules in the 2014 election and beyond.


U.S. Supreme Court Allows Iowa’s Corporate Contribution Ban To Survive, For Now

By: Colin Smith on April 7th, 2014

Iowa Right to Life v. Tooker, an Iowa-based campaign finance case that has been heavily covered by On Brief (see here, here, here, and here) had its cert. petition challenging Iowa’s corporate political contribution ban denied by the U.S. Supreme Court this morning.  As you may recall, the Tooker case was a multifaceted legal challenge to various parts of Iowa’s state campaign finance statute.  Among the issues raised by the plaintiff were: (1) whether Iowa’s political disclosure laws were overly burdensome, (2) whether Iowa could constitutionally prohibit corporations from contributing to candidates while simultaneously allowing unions to do so, and (3) whether Iowa’s requirement that a corporation’s board of directors approve, ahead of time, any corporate political independent expenditure was constitutional.

After having prevailed in part before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals when a three-judge panel declared a portion of Iowa’s independent expenditure reporting rules unconstitutional (at least as applied to politically active nonprofits), the plaintiff in Tooker asked the United States Supreme Court to determine whether or not Iowa’s law permitting union contributions, but prohibiting corporate contributions, was constitutional.

There had been some interesting speculation that the High Court might decide to hear the plaintiff’s arguments regarding the constitutionality of Iowa corporate contribution law on the merits, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court just handed down another blockbuster election law case this month.  But, unfortunately for the plaintiffs, the Court turned down their petition.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the Tooker challenge to Iowa’s corporate contribution ban effectively means that Iowa’s law will remain in place for now, although the Court’s order today does not necessarily foreclose the possibility that another enterprising plaintiff might try another challenge in the future.

As for the Tooker case, it technically is not over yet.   The plaintiff’s claims against the constitutionality of Iowa’s corporate board of director approval law are still pending before the district court on remand from the Eighth Circuit. On Brief will have more coverage of the remainder of the Tooker case as it develops.


Iowa Supreme Court: An Estate’s Lawyer Is Not Automatically An Executor’s Personal Counsel

By: Colin Smith on March 28th, 2014

Does an attorney designated by an executor or administrator of an estate to assist in the distribution of property under a will owe an independent duty to represent the personal interests of the executor or administrator that hired the attorney?  No, according to the Iowa Supreme Court in an opinion released today in the case of Sabin v. Ackerman.


This Week at the Iowa Supreme Court

By: Ryan Koopmans on March 10th, 2014

It’s a busy two days for the Iowa Supreme Court.  Today, the justices will hear argument in eight cases, and tomorrow they’ll travel to Clarinda where they’ll take in two more cases and visit several Southwest Iowa schools.

A few cases to highlight:

(1) In Shumate v. Drake University, the Court will decide whether a public accommodation or public facility (in this case, Drake law school) can be sued in a civil action for violating a statute that makes it a misdemeanor to deny access to service dogs and service dogs in training.  The district court said no, the Court of Appeals said yes.  Our earlier coverage is here.

(2) In Freeman v. Grain Processing Corporation, the Court will decide whether the federal Clean Air Act preempts state common-law nuisance claims.  The case has generated several amicus briefs (law professors, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center, among others) and will be closely watched nationally, since two federal courts of appeals (the Third and Fourth Circuits) have split on the issue.  The district court ruled in favor of Grain Processors based on preemption.  Grain Processors and the National Association of Manufacturers also argue that the lawsuit is barred under the political-question doctrine.

(3) In Smith v. Iowa State University, the Court is being asked to decide whether claims for emotional distress are barred by the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act.  The Court will also decide whether the plaintiff, Dennis Smith, proved that ISU retaliated against him after he reported  discrepancies in the College of Engineering’s billing practices. Our earlier coverage is here.

(4) In Rhoades v. State, the Court is interpreting Iowa’s HIV-transmission statute, which makes it a crime for an HIV-positive person  to intentionally expose someone to their bodily fluid in a manner that can transmit the disease.  Nick Rhoades pled guilty after having sexual contact without disclosing his HIV status.  He’s now arguing, in post-conviction proceedings, that his attorney was constitutionally ineffective for failing to tell him that statute requires intent.  Rhoades  used protection, so he argues that there was no intent. The Court of Appeals denied Rhoades’s claim. The Court of Appeals’ decision is here; Rhoades’s briefs are here; and the State’s resistance to further review is here. Last month, I spoke to  Ben Kieffer about this case and others on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River. The segment is available here.

(5) In State v. Short, the Court will decide whether police must get a warrant to search a probationer’s house if he’s already signed a consent-to-search agreement as part of his probation.  The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, under the U.S. Constitution, that the waiver negates the need for a warrant, but the Iowa Supreme Court can come to the opposite outcome under the Iowa Constitution, which it has done several times the last ten years in search-and-seizure cases.

(6) Finally, in In re Guardianship and Conservatorship of Stuart Kennedy, the Court must decide whether a 21-year old mentally handicapped man was “denied due process when his mother, who is also his guardian and conservator, arranged for a vasectomy without a hearing.”  The ACLU filed an amicus brief, which is available online here.


The Iowa Supreme Court in Primetime

By: Ryan Koopmans on March 4th, 2014

Tonight, at 7:00 p.m., the Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in Godfrey v. Branstad. The case is interesting, and since the Iowa Supreme Court normally holds its arguments during the day, this  nighttime session gives Central Iowa the rare opportunity to see the justices in action.

There’s also a reception after the arguments that will be attended by the lawyers, the justices, and the law clerks.  So come; bring a date.  And if you have time to spare between now and 7:00, you can peruse the parties’ briefs.

Godfrey’s Opening Brief
Branstad’s Opening Brief
Godfrey’s Reply Brief
National Governors Association, as amicus curiae (“friend of the court”)

(Disclosure: Nyemaster Goode submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the National Governors Association)


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