Iowa Supreme Court preview: Justices will hear arguments this week on abortion, immunity for public officials, and municipal zoning

By: Rox Laird on February 12th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in seven cases this week. Following are summaries of three cases set for argument Tuesday and Wednesday. [See our earlier preview of in Honomichl v. Valley View Swine, which will be argued Monday during an evening session of the Court.]

City of Des Moines v. Ogden

Set for argument 9 a.m. Feb. 13.

Mark Ogden appeals from a Polk County District Court ruling, upheld by the Iowa Court of Appeals, that enjoined him from operating a mobile-home park in violation of the city’s zoning ordinance. (The Supreme Court hears this case on further review from the Court of Appeals.)

The District Court agreed with the city that the park no longer is entitled to its legal, nonconforming status because zoning and health-and-safety violations have intensified since it was first granted more than 60 years ago. Additions to trailers within the park, such as decks and out-buildings, pose a danger to health and safety of residents by increasing fire risk and blocking access by firefighting apparatus.

Ogden argues that his Oak Hill Mobile Home Park on the south side of Des Moines is substantially configured as it has been since 1939, and there is no evidence in the record of intensification or safety issues. Ogden contends the city’s underlying goal is gentrification by removing what some might see as an eyesore. Eight park residents echo that argument in an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief filed by lawyers for Iowa Legal Aid, saying the city’s efforts to shutter the mobile-home park will work a hardship on low-income, largely Hispanic residents.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Kimberly K. Reynolds ex rel. State of Iowa

Set for argument 9 a.m. Feb. 14.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland appeals a decision from Polk County District Court denying an injunction against enforcement of a statute enacted in April 2017 that requires that a woman seeking an abortion be given the opportunity to see an ultrasound and hear the fetal heartbeat at least 72 hours before the procedure.

Planned Parenthood argues that many Iowa women would have to travel great distances, some making two trips, due to the limited number of Iowa abortion providers, which it says especially endangers abused women and victims of sexual assault. The appellant argues the statute fails the “undue burden” test set by the U.S. Supreme Court and violates the equal-protection clause of the Iowa Constitution by placing “burdensome restrictions” on women seeking abortions not imposed on other medical procedures.

The State argues that the act does not violate the Iowa Constitution nor pose an undue burden on women, and there is no evidence on the record that women would be prevented from obtaining abortions under the statute. The State argues that abortion is not a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution – that is, a right that is explicitly or implicitly enumerated in the constitution or “deeply rooted in our history and tradition.”

Six outside groups filed amicus curiae briefs in this case.

Briefs in support of Planned Parenthood were filed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; a group of biomedical ethicists; the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence; four constitutional law scholars and teachers; and, the National Abortion Federation.

A brief in support of the State was filed by the Iowa Catholic Conference. [Disclosure: The Catholic Conference brief was written in part by Nyemaster Goode attorney Frank Harty.]

Gregory Baldwin v. City of Estherville

Set for argument 1:30 p.m. Feb. 14.

The Iowa Supreme Court is asked in this case to answer a certified question from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa on whether government officials have qualified immunity from liability in suits brought under the Iowa Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

Gregory Baldwin sued the City of Estherville, also naming two city police officers personally, for illegal search and seizure under the Iowa and U.S. constitutions. The case was removed from Emmet County District Court to federal court, which ruled the officers had qualified immunity for violating Baldwin’s rights under the U.S. Constitution.

But the federal court stayed a decision on immunity under the Iowa Constitution pending an answer from the Iowa Supreme Court to this question: “Can a defendant raise a defense of qualified immunity to an individual’s claim for damages for violation of Article I, Section 1 and Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution?”

The city urges the Iowa Supreme Court to adopt a qualified-immunity defense for violations in such cases, which will protect the government’s ability to “provide traditional services while ensuring that talented candidates are not deterred from service by the threat of litigation.”

Baldwin argues that a qualified-immunity defense is incompatible with a violation of the Iowa Constitution’s Bill of Rights, which is “the ultimate and principal expression of public policy in Iowa,” whereas qualified immunity is “wholly underpinned by lesser public policy considerations.”

Three amicus curiae briefs were filed in this case. Two were submitted in support of the city and the officers, one by Attorney General Tom Miller on behalf of the State and the other by the Iowa Communities Assurance Pool, a self-insurance program for Iowa public bodies. A brief supporting Baldwin was filed by the Iowa Association for Justice, an organization of Iowa trial lawyers.

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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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