Changes in members create new alliances on the Iowa Supreme Court

By: Rox Laird on August 16th, 2019

A new majority emerged during the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2018-19 term that ended in June with the retirement of two justices and the appointment of their replacements, according to an On Brief review of the 108 decisions issued by the court during the 10-month term.

Prior to this term, Justices Brent Appel, David Wiggins and Daryl Hecht tended to vote together on one side of decisions where the Court was split, while Justices Edward Mansfield, Thomas Waterman and Bruce Zager tended to vote together on the other side. Chief Justice Mark Cady often cast the deciding vote for the seven-member Court.

That changed last term with the retirement of Justice Zager, who was replaced by Susan Christensen in September, and with the retirement of Justice Hecht in December, who was replaced by Christopher McDonald. Since their appointments, Christensen and McDonald have often joined Waterman and Mansfield to create a four-justice majority.

A review of the voting patterns of the seven justices this term bears out this trend. (Note: These figures are incomplete, because McDonald joined the court in March, after many cases had previously been decided. Hecht participated in one case before leaving the Court, and Zager participated in four.)


Iowa Supreme Court to hear arguments in three criminal cases on Aug. 8

By: Rox Laird on August 7th, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in three criminal appeals on Aug. 8. Following are brief summaries of the three cases. For more information, go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read the briefs and other documents related to these appeals.

State v. Macke

Set for oral argument Aug. 8, 9 a.m.

Erin Macke appeals a March 20 Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming her conviction and sentence in Polk County District Court on four counts of child endangerment, which were brought after she left her children home alone while she traveled to Germany. Macke agreed to a plea agreement with Polk County prosecutors where she would enter an “Alford plea,” in which she maintained her innocence while acknowledging the State has enough evidence to win a conviction. In exchange, the State agreed to seek a deferred judgment and probation.

At sentencing, however, instead of requesting a deferred judgment, as it had earlier agreed, the State asked for a suspended sentence and probation. Macke’s trial counsel did not object to the State’s change at the sentencing hearing, and Macke now asks the Supreme Court to reverse her sentence, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel.


Iowa Supreme Court adds nine new cases to its docket

By: Rox Laird on July 25th, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court granted further review of nine Iowa Court of Appeals rulings in an order released July 19. The Court denied further review in 65 cases, and it has 59 cases under review. Following are brief summaries of the nine Iowa Court of Appeals rulings that will be heard on further review by the Supreme Court.

State v. Mathes

Lori Dee Mathes appeals a March 20 Iowa Court of Appeals decision dismissing her appeal of a Monona County District Court order that she pay restitution for court-appointed attorney fees. Mathes argued the trial court should have first determined her ability to pay the fees, but the appeals court said she had no right to appeal an order that was not a final judgment or sentence.

33 Carpenters Construction v. Cincinnati Insurance

Appellant 33 Carpenters seeks review of a Feb. 6 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming a Scott County District Court summary judgment dismissal of the company’s suit against Cincinnati Insurance for a contract violation for its failure to fully pay a claim assigned to 33 Carpenters by a property owner insured by Cincinnati.


Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals: Mother can be criminally prosecuted for baby’s death from toxic drugs she consumed while pregnant

By: Rox Laird on July 12th, 2019

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reinstated manslaughter charges against a South Dakota woman who gave birth to a live baby that died within hours of toxicity from a combination of legal and illegal drugs the mother ingested while she was pregnant.

The July 5 panel decision was divided 2-1, with Judges Bobby Shepherd of Arkansas and David Stras of Minneapolis in the majority. Judge Steven Colloton of Des Moines filed a dissenting opinion. Seven Midwest states in the Eighth Circuit — including Iowa — are bound by the decision, which Colloton acknowledged in his dissent presents “profound moral and policy questions.”

The mother, Samantha Flute, said she needed to get high and had taken three times the recommended dose of an anti-anxiety prescription drug, snorted hydrocodone she believed to have been laced with cocaine, and ingested cough medicine.

The child, identified in this case as Baby Boy Flute, was born fully developed at 38 weeks of gestation, but died four hours later. An autopsy concluded the baby died from combined drug toxicity due to the substances the mother had ingested while the baby was still in utero.


Iowa Supreme Court adds a case on jurisdiction over criminal cases at Meskwaki Settlement

By: Uncategorized on July 9th, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court scheduled an additional oral argument on July 10 in an appeal that raises questions about whether jurisdiction over criminal cases on the Meskwaki Settlement in Tama County belongs to the Tribe, to the State of Iowa or to the federal government.

The State appeals a ruling by the Tama County District Court dismissing for lack of jurisdiction criminal charges against Jessica Rae Stanton for trespassing, possession of drug paraphernalia and violation of a no-contact order. The charges were filed by a Meskwaki Nation Police officer at the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel in Tama.

Acting sua sponte, or on the court’s own motion, Judicial Magistrate Richard Vander Mey dismissed the charges, saying neither tribal police nor the State had jurisdiction to bring the charges in State court for criminal violations on the Meskwaki Settlement. “Any charges for conduct upon the Meskwaki Settlement can be pursued in tribal court or federal court,” the judge wrote.


Why the Iowa Supreme Court declined to outlaw ‘pretextual’ traffic stops under the Iowa Constitution

By: Rox Laird on July 5th, 2019

On June 28 the Iowa Supreme Court handed down a decision in a case that presented an opportunity to strike down as unconstitutional so-called pretextual traffic stops by law enforcement officers motivated by racial bias.

In the end, the deeply divided Court passed on the opportunity, and gave insight into the differing approaches to interpreting Iowa’s Constitution.

Scottizie Dannyelle Brown appealed her drunk-driving conviction in Black Hawk County District Court, arguing that the police officer’s decision to pull her car over was based on bias against African-Americans, and that any traffic law she might have violated was a mere pretext, or excuse, to justify the stop.

In its 4-3 decision in State v. Brown, “expectation that she will be able to continue down the road without interruption unless that violation is the officer’s motivation for the stop.”

Thethe Court held that the stop was legally justified based on Brown’s driving violation, and even if the officer’s decision to pull Brown over was based on race that would not be a basis for throwing out evidence gathered during the stop under the Fourth Amendment.


Definition of ‘confidential’ government records broadened by U.S. Supreme Court in South Dakota decision

By: Rox Laird on June 27th, 2019

A Sioux Falls, S.D., newspaper’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on its federal Freedom of Information Act request for grocery stores’ food stamp records resulted in a reversal for the newspaper and for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. And businesses now will have a stronger confidentiality claims for information they provide to the U.S. government.

The Supreme Court on June 24 handed down a decision holding that the ordinary meaning of the term “confidential” in the FOI Act means information that the owner of the information does not freely share. Thus, because grocery stores do not voluntarily disclose their food-stamp sales data, the Court reasoned, records of food-stamp spending at grocery stores collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture may be withheld from public disclosure by the government.

“At least where commercial or financial information is both customarily and actually treated as private by its owner and provided to the government under an assurance of privacy, the information is ‘confidential’ ” under the FOI Act, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for a six-member majority.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a separate opinion partially concurring and partially dissenting.


Applications now open to replace Chief Judge Vogel

By: Rox Laird on June 25th, 2019

The State Judicial Nominating Commission is accepting applications through July 22 for a vacancy on the Iowa Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court has announced. The vacancy will be created when Chief Judge Gayle Nelson Vogel retires July 1.

Judge Vogel, of Spirit Lake, announced her retirement to Gov. Kim Reynolds June 12. She has served on the Court of Appeals in 1996 and was elected chief judge by the nine-member Court in January, replacing Judge David Danilson, who retired in January.


Iowa Supreme Court nears the end of its 2018-19 term with seven decisions remaining in the pipeline

By: Rox Laird on June 14th, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court released rulings in five cases today, which by On Brief’s count will leave seven cases to be decided before the 2018-19 term is scheduled to end June 28. In July, the Court begins a two month term devoted to court rules and administrative matters.

Assuming all cases remaining are decided by June 28, the Court will have issued rulings in 113 cases, including attorney discipline matters, which is about the normal number of cases disposed of by the seven-member court each term.

Following are previous On Brief summaries of three of the cases yet to be decided:


Iowa Supreme Court sets new standard in employment discrimination cases

By: Rox Laird on June 12th, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court on June 7 reversed a $4.5 million jury verdict in an employment discrimination suit, and sent the case back for retrial with a new standard to be used in jury instructions that could give the defendant a new defense.

Gregory Hawkins, a 39-year employee of the Grinnell Regional Medical Center, sued the hospital after he claimed he was fired based on his age and having had cancer surgery and treatment. The hospital responded that Hawkins was terminated due to poor work performance.

The jury returned a verdict for Hawkins, awarding $4.5 million in back pay and for emotional distress, and the judge, upon Hawkins’ later motion, added $856,954 in front pay and attorney fees.

In its unanimous decision in Hawkins v. Grinnell Regional Medical Center written by Justice David Wiggins, the Court held that the trial court erred in admitting hearsay evidence, which the justices said was introduced without foundation, was not subject to cross-examination, and was “inflammatory and prejudicial.” Finding the hearsay issue dispositive, the Court did not address the other issues the hospital raised on appeal, such as impermissible and prejudicial closing argument, and excessiveness of the verdict for emotional distress damages.


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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.



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