Eighth Circuit case on food-stamp records to be argued at U.S. Supreme Court April 22

By: Rox Laird on April 19th, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Monday in a case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that likely will decide whether a Sioux Falls, S.D., newspaper should have access to food-stamp spending at specific retail stores.

Considerable interest has been generated by this case. More than a dozen organizations – representing the retail industry, public interest groups and First Amendment advocates – have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the case. (Go to the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket page to read the briefs and lower court rulings in the case.)

The U.S. Solicitor General, who represents the government in cases before the Supreme Court, filed a brief in support of the Food Marketing Institute and the retailers. The Solicitor General will also participate in Monday’s oral arguments.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture for records that show how much federal money was paid to reimburse individual food retailers for purchases made by participants in the department’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the new name for what was known as the food-stamp program.

When are police reports introduced in a civil trial public records? It depends, the Iowa Supreme Court says

By: Rox Laird on April 11th, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court has clarified two previous rulings that reached seemingly contradictory positions on whether police investigative reports must be made public under the Iowa Open Records Act.

The clarification came in a ruling handed down April 5 in Jerime Eron Mitchell and Bracken Ann Mitchell v. City of Cedar Rapids and Officer Lucas Jones. The Court upheld a Linn County District Court order making public police investigative reports produced through discovery in a civil lawsuit filed by the family of a black man shot and paralyzed by a white police officer in a traffic stop.

The ruling spells out how the Iowa Open Records Act and previous court decisions govern the production of police reports in such civil cases:

1. Police investigative reports do not lose their status as confidential records under the Iowa Open Records Act when an investigation is concluded; however, the records law does not  prevent civil litigants from accessing police reports through discovery. Thus, confidential police reports produced through discovery may have to be sealed by the trial court with a protective order.

2. The Open Records Act exempts from confidentiality police reports that give the immediate facts and circumstances of a crime, and trial courts should apply a balancing test prescribed by the records act to determine how far that exemption reaches into police files.

3. The Court reaffirmed its 1994 decision in Hawk Eye v. Jackson, which applied a three-part balancing test to determine whether police investigative reports should be released to the public.

4. And, the Court explained how the Hawk Eye decision differs from – and is yet consistent with – its 2012 ruling in American Civil Liberties Union v. Atlantic Community School District, where the Court said a balancing test was not necessary to conclude that the records in question in that case were confidential.

The final round of oral arguments for the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2018-19 term set for April 9

By: Rox Laird on April 8th, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in five cases on April 9, and nine other cases will be submitted to the court without oral argument. Three cases will be argued beginning at 9 a.m., and two will be argued beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Go to the On Brief Cases in the Pipeline page to read briefs in these cases.

With the submission of the final 14 cases in April, the Court will have heard a total of 104 cases, including 12 attorney discipline cases. As of April 5, the justices had decided 54 cases. Assuming no last-minute cases are added between now and the end of the term, there will be 50 cases to be decided, or an average of about 4 decisions per day over the 12 decision days remaining on the calendar.

From our archive: An interview with Justice Daryl Hecht, who died April 3

By: Rox Laird on April 4th, 2019

Three years ago Rox Laird, a contributor to this blog, sat down with Iowa Supreme Justice Daryl Hecht for a rare on-the-record interview ahead of that year’s judicial retention election.

Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that could affect future wind power regulation

By: Rox Laird on April 1st, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Forest City April 2 in a case that raises for the first time a question about how Iowa law regulating approval of electric generating facilities applies to wind energy projects.

The argument, which is open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. in the Boman Fine Arts Center in Forest City.

The Court will hear arguments in two cases, both of which involve Palo Alto County residents’ challenge to a plan by Palo Alto Wind Energy and MidAmerican Energy to build a 170-turbine wind farm spread over 100 square miles. Bertha Mathis and Stephen Mathis appealed decisions by the Palo Alto County District Court dismissing the plaintiffs’ lawsuits, one against the Iowa Utilities Board and a second against the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors.

Judges must know offenders’ ability to pay before ordering restitution, Iowa Supreme Court rules

By: Rox Laird on March 26th, 2019

Sentencing courts must know how much a convicted offender is reasonably able to pay before ordering payment of restitution to the State, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in three separate cases March 22.

In all three cases, the sentencing courts ordered offenders to pay restitution without first determining their ability to pay, which violates Iowa’s restitution statute, the Court held in a 6-0 decision. Justice Christopher McDonald, who will be officially sworn in on April 5, did not participate in the decision.

In the lead opinion, State v. Charles Raymond Albright, written by Justice David Wiggins, the Court dismissed Albright’s appeal of his kidnapping conviction and sentence but upheld his claim regarding restitution payment ordered by the sentencing court.

A second urine test needed for OWI conviction, Iowa Supreme Court rules

By: Rox Laird on March 13th, 2019

An initial urine test by itself, without follow-up confirmation, was insufficient evidence for convicting a driver of operating while under the influence of a controlled substance, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled March 8 (State of Iowa v. Jeffrey John Myers).

Myers appealed his conviction in Floyd County District Court for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance. Myers argued the trial judge should have suppressed the State’s evidence of “possible presence” of a controlled substance in his urine because the initial urine test was not sufficient without being confirmed by a follow-up test.

On further review of an Iowa Court of Appeals’ ruling upholding the lower court, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment and sentence and remanded the case to the District Court for dismissal of the charge.

Iowa Supreme Court says insurance liability must be shared in a tragic shooting death

By: Rox Laird on March 12th, 2019

A couple of teenage boys are out for some dirt-bike and ATV riding at rural retreat when one of the boys is fatally injured in a tragic shooting accident. The farmhouse on the retreat where the shooting occurred is insured by a homeowners’ policy and by a separate commercial general liability policy.

Is the issuer of the commercial policy on the hook for a share of a $900,000 settlement paid to the victim’s family?

Yes, says the Iowa Supreme Court, in Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Co. v. Auto-Owners Mutual Insurance Co., handed down March 8.

The Iowa Supreme Court grapples with alleged jury confusion with instructions in a comparative fault case, but declines to order a new trial

By: Rox Laird on March 6th, 2019

Jurors in a Pottawattamie County medical malpractice trial submitted a question to the court during jury deliberations about the meaning of instructions given to them by the trial judge for apportioning fault to a settled party, but the judge did not commit a prejudicial error by failing to clarify his instructions, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously March 1.

The appellant, a 33-year-old resident of a halfway house following her release from prison, sued the halfway house and an emergency room doctor for failing to immediately diagnose her symptoms of a stroke, resulting in her partial paralysis.

The woman settled with the halfway house prior to the malpractice trial, which was then narrowed to the question of the emergency room doctor’s liability. Based on Iowa’s comparative fault statute, the judge in the verdict form asked the jurors to decide if there was any fault by either the doctor or the halfway house and, if so, what percentage to allocate to either one.

Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in eight cases March 5 and 6

By: Rox Laird on March 1st, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court entered the home stretch of its 2018-19 term March 1, with four months remaining before the administrative term begins in July.

The Court has disposed of 38 of the 90 cases submitted thus far this term. The Court has scheduled five more days to hear arguments in March and April.

The Court will hear arguments in eight cases March 5 and 6, and two cases will be submitted without oral argument. Following are summaries of those cases.

Following are summaries of the March oral arguments. Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read the briefs filed with the Court in these cases.

State v. Baker

Scheduled for oral argument March 5, 9 a.m.

Justin Andre Baker seeks further review of a decision by the Iowa Court of Appeals affirming his conviction and sentences by the Black Hawk County District Court for possession of marijuana with intent to deliver. Baker argues the police seizure of his vehicle was not supported by articulable reasonable suspicion and challenges the legality of a search warrant based on evidence from that seizure. The Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s denial of Baker’s motion to suppress in an opinion written by Chief Judge Gayle Nelson Vogel and joined by Judge Patrick Carr. Judge Mary Tabor dissented, saying the lower court should have granted Baker’s suppression motion.

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On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.