Iowa Supreme Court preview: Final cases of the term set for oral argument April 10

By: Rox Laird on April 9th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court will hold its final round of oral arguments April 10 before the justices devote the remainder of the term cranking out opinions in previously submitted cases.

The justices will hear arguments in four cases, including one attorney-discipline case. Two cases will be submitted to the court without oral argument. Following are previews of three of the cases to be argued.

In the Matter of Property Seized From Jean Carlos Herrera and Fernando Rodriguez

Set for argument at 9 a.m. April 10

Jean Carlos Herrera and Fernando Rodriguez appeal the dismissal by the Pottawattamie County District Court of their claims regarding the State’s seizure of an automobile belonging to Rodriguez and contents of the automobile belonging to Herrera, including $44,900 in cash. The Supreme Court granted further review of a ruling by the Iowa Court of Appeals affirming the District Court in part and reversing in part.

The two claimants raise distinct issues in this consolidated appeal. Rodriguez argues he should be able to recover attorney fees since his vehicle was returned to him by the State. Herrera argues separately that he is in the position of waiving one constitutional right to assert another.

Herrera asserts that the search and seizure were illegal under the Fourth Amendment. But he cannot raise that issue without first establishing standing. To do that, he must testify to his ownership interest in the seized property, which he cannot do without running the risk that his testimony could be used against him in violation of his rights under the Fifth Amendment.

“This forces [Herrera] to make an unconstitutional choice between his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, and is untenable under both the Iowa and federal constitution,” his attorney, Dean Stowers, said in a brief submitted to the Court.

Herrera argues that the trial court should first address the legality of the search and seizure. If they weren’t valid, there is no need to force him to forfeit his Fifth Amendment rights by testifying about his ownership interest in the seized items.

Michelle R. Skadburg v. Gary Gately and Whitfield & Eddy

Set for argument at 9 a.m. April 10

Skadburg appeals a ruling from the Cerro Gordo County District Court dismissing her legal malpractice suit against Gary Gately and Whitfield & Eddy. The trial court ruled the suit was barred because it was filed after the five-year statute of limitations had expired. The Supreme Court granted the application for further review from the Iowa Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court.

The three-judge Court of Appeals panel split 2-1 in ruling there is a “genuine issue of material fact as to when Skadburg had knowledge of her cause of action” against Gately. Absent that knowledge, the statute of limitations would not have expired before she filed suit.

City of Des Moines, et al. v. Iowa Department of Transportation

Set for argument at 1:30 p.m. April 10

Des Moines, along with Muscatine and Cedar Rapids, appeal a decision by the Polk County District Court that the Iowa Department of Transportation has the power to regulate the manner in which cities enforce traffic laws – in this instance by ordering the cities to remove certain automated speed-enforcement cameras set up on primary highways within their boundaries.

The cities urge the court to reverse the trial court and declare that they have the power under the home-rule amendment to the Iowa Constitution to enforce traffic laws using automated cameras.

The DOT argues its automated-camera regulations on primary highways are justified in the interest of safety and uniformity, and that home-rule authority “must yield to legitimate DOT safety regulations of traffic cameras on primary highways.”

This is one of four cases before the Court this term regarding automated traffic-enforcement cameras. A second case, Reuven Weizberg, et al., appellees v. City of Des Moines, appellant, and Gatso USA, Inc., appellee, will be submitted to the Court on April 10 without oral argument. That class-action suit is a due-process challenge to the city’s method of prosecuting speeding violations using automated traffic cameras.

Two cases were submitted to the Court in September – City of Cedar Rapids v. Leaf, and Behm, et al. v. City of Cedar Rapids and Gatso USA. Among the issues raised in these two appeals: Did the city unconstitutionally delegate core police functions to a private contractor to install and operate the speed cameras?

 


“Supermajority” Bill Could Change the Outcome of State Constitutional Questions before the Iowa Supreme Court

By: Rox Laird on March 20th, 2018

A bill passed by the Iowa Senate (S.F. 2282) would block the Iowa Supreme Court from declaring a State statute unconstitutional if the decision is not supported by at least five justices of the seven-member Court.

Although the bill failed to make it out of committee in the House by Friday’s deadline, legislative leaders could still bring it to the floor for consideration this session.

A proponent of the bill, Sen. Julian Garrett, an Indianola Republican, says it is wrong that under the current majority requirement a state law approved by majorities of the House and Senate and signed by the governor can be overturned by four justices of the Iowa Supreme Court.

“This is a bill that tries to make a small step to address that issue,” he said during the Senate debate. “You have to persuade five judges instead of four that a law is unconstitutional.”

The “supermajority” requirement, however, raises constitutional questions regarding the boundary between the legislative and judicial branches of government, according to two constitutional scholars.

“It seems like a constitutional non-starter to me,” University of Iowa law professor Todd Pettys told On Brief last week. The U.S. Supreme Court would not honor a bill from Congress that required a supermajority, Pettys said, and the same separation-of-powers principles apply to state and federal courts.

Mark Kende, director of the Constitutional Law Center and at Drake Law School and who holds the James Madison Chair in Constitutional Law, agreed:  “I believe this is a dangerous step to undermine the role of the judiciary interpreting the Constitution,” Kende said.

Article III Section 1 of the Iowa Constitution addresses the separation of powers:

“The powers of the government of Iowa shall be divided into three separate departments — the legislative, the executive, and the judicial: and no person charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any function appertaining to either of the others, except in cases hereinafter expressly directed or permitted.”

But Garrett said in an interview with On Brief he does not see the proposed legislation violating separation of powers.

“Our Iowa Constitution specifically says the Supreme Court can correct errors of law ‘under such restrictions as the General Assembly may, by law, prescribe’,” Garrett said, referring to Article V Section 4. Garrett said that provision enables the Legislature to require the votes of five justices of the Supreme Court to overturn a state statute. “The Constitution says we can pass the rules and regulations of the Court, so I don’t see why we can’t.”

Article V Section 10 authorizes the Legislature to increase or reduce the overall number of justices, suggesting that lawmakers also may dictate the number of justices required to strike down state statutes. But Pettys argues there is a qualitative difference between legislators establishing the size and jurisdiction of an appellate court and dictating the court’s internal rules for how it makes decisions.

Pettys likened the latter to legislators going into the chambers with the justices – where no one else is allowed – and saying, “We want you to have one more justice” in the majority or you can’t speak on this subject. “That’s just a pure naked power grab by the Legislature. It totally drains the judicial branch of government of its most important job, which is to decide what is structurally permissible” in writing state laws.

Constitutional amendment or legislation?

Two states – Nebraska and North Dakota – currently require supermajorities to strike down state statutes, but both were done by constitutional amendment during the progressive era a century ago, not by statute.

 “We could do it either way,” Garrett said, but he pointed out that amending the Iowa Constitutional is a lengthy process.

“The courts are not bashful about changing the Constitution, rather than allowing the people to do it through a constitutional amendment,” he said.

“I’m just trying to put a little bit of a damper on their propensity to change the meaning of the Constitution. You’ve heard this ‘living, breathing Constitution concept.’ It gives the Court the power to do whatever it wants. It’s a very clever theory that enables them to make the changes they want in the Constitution.”

What if a supermajority were already required in Iowa?

Though it does not happen often, the Iowa Supreme Court has held state statutes unconstitutional with a one-vote majority. What would have been the outcome of some recent decisions had a supermajority requirement been on the books?

For one, riverboat casinos might be taxed at a significantly lower rate than racetracks. The Iowa Supreme Court in Racing Association v. Fitzgerald (2002) struck down the statutory tax scheme that set different rates for different casinos. The Court, by a vote of 4-3, ruled unequal tax treatments violated the U.S. and Iowa Constitutions. (On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed regarding the federal Constitution but the Iowa Supreme Court subsequently stuck by its position based on its reading of the Iowa Constitution, this time with five justices in the majority.)

Juvenile offenders could face longer prison sentences in Iowa. Perhaps the most persistent 4-3 split on the current Iowa Supreme Court involves juvenile criminal sentences the Iowa Court has handed down in the wake of U.S. Supreme Court decisions based on evidence that juvenile mental and emotional development is not the same as adults.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in 2014 State v. Lyle (2014) that, in the case of juveniles, one-size-fits-all mandatory minimum prison sentences prescribed by the Legislature violate the Iowa Constitution’s equivalent of the Eighth Amendment. The Court in Lyle said a juvenile could be sentenced to a minimum prison term before being eligible for parole, but there must be a finding by a trial court that weighs a number of mitigating factors, including the offender’s age, family and home life, the nature of the crime and his or her potential for reform.

Additionally, undocumented immigrants living in Iowa could be prosecuted by the State for using forged documents to obtain employment. The Court, in State v. Martinez (2017), ruled 4-3 that such prosecutions by the State violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution because the State statute is pre-empted by federal immigration law.

“Court packing” in Iowa?

The size of the Iowa Supreme Court has changed a number of times over the past 180 years, beginning with three judges in the Territorial era and growing to nine before it was shrunk to seven by a 1998 statute at the same time the Iowa Court of Appeals was enlarged.

Thus, State legislators could increase the size of the Supreme Court in an effort to dilute the votes of justices whose opinions they dislike. That is what President Franklin Roosevelt sought to do in the famous, though short-lived, “court packing” scheme in 1937, which was roundly criticized by both parties.

“And to be clear,” Drake’s Kende noted in commenting to On Brief about the Iowa supermajority proposal, “I would have opposed FDR’s court packing scheme as well so my position is not partisan.”


Iowa Supreme Court preview: Is Iowa’s law protecting hog confinements from lawsuits unconstitutional?

By: Rox Laird on February 9th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments Feb. 12 in a case that could dramatically affect all legal disputes between rural residents and livestock confinement operators. The session is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the Judicial Branch Building in Des Moines to accommodate members of the public.

The justices will hear oral arguments in one case – Honomichl v. Valley View Swine – on whether an Iowa statute that gives livestock operations limited immunity from nuisance liability violates the inalienable rights clause in Article I, Section 1 of the Iowa Constitution.

A ruling striking down the statute could open the door to more lawsuits against confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs) across the state. The pork industry already faces numerous suits, according to the defendant-appellants, who say there have been as many as 15 individual nuisance suits pending at one time in nine Iowa counties involving hundreds of plaintiffs.

The lawsuit that led to this appeal was initially filed by 70 individual plaintiffs, subsequently divided into three groups by the trial court with designated “bellwether” plaintiffs representing each group. The plaintiff-appellees testified in depositions that odors from the nearly 10,000 hogs confined nearby prevent outdoor activities, such as cookouts or hanging out laundry, and cause headaches and nose and throat irritations.

The parties’ arguments are bolstered by two amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs filed with the Iowa Supreme Court, one in support of the defendant-appellants by the Iowa Pork Producers Association and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, and one in support of the plaintiff-appellees by the Iowa Association for Justice, a trial lawyers group.

At the heart of the case is Iowa Code section 657.11, which says an animal-feeding operation “shall not be found to be a public or private nuisance” so long as it complies with State and federal laws and regulations. An exception is made for a confinement facility that both “unreasonably and for substantial periods of time” interferes with a person’s “comfortable use and enjoyment of the person’s life or property” and that fails to use “existing prudent generally accepted management practices reasonable for the operation.”

The defendants, who built hog-confinement buildings on two sites in Wapello County in 2013, appeal a ruling on pre-trial motions by Wapello County District Judge Annette Scieszinski that the immunity statute is unconstitutional as applied to the plaintiffs, who have lived in their homes since before the hog-confinement buildings were erected.

The Wapello County trial court’s ruling is based on a 2004 Iowa Supreme Court ruling, Gacke v. Pork Xtra, which found the immunity statute unconstitutional under the takings clause of the Iowa Constitution because it amounted to taking private property for the benefit of confinement operators without just compensation.

The Court in Gacke limited the holding as it applied to the plaintiffs in that suit based on their proximity to the hog facility, how long they had lived there, how much they had invested in their property and whether they received any direct benefits from the confinement facility.

The hog-confinement operators argue that the Wapello County District Court wrongly ruled that the statute likewise violated the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs in this case because the trial court did not base its ruling on a factual analysis specific to the Wapello County plaintiffs.

“The ruling purports to follow in the footsteps of the Gacke Court in holding the statute unconstitutional ‘as applied’ to plaintiffs,” they argue in a brief submitted to the Iowa Supreme Court. “However, unlike Gacke, the ruling is devoid of facts and analysis necessary to establish an ‘as applied’ challenge sufficient to overcome the presumption of validity afforded to section 657.11 and all statutes enacted by the General Assembly.”

The confinement operators urge the Court to affirm the constitutionality of section 657.11, which they argue strikes a proper balance between the rights of neighbors and farmers and is an appropriate use of the Legislature’s powers to protect a vital Iowa industry from being assaulted by lawsuits.

The neighboring residents, in a brief submitted to the Court, say the trial court reached the correct conclusion and they urge the Iowa Supreme Court to uphold it. But they urge the Court to go further and declare the statute unconstitutional on its face “because it unduly oppresses an individual’s right to use and enjoy property by denying her right to recover for an injury to the same.”

The Pork Producers and Iowa Farm Bureau, in their amicus brief, urge the Court to clarify Gacke to take into account more stringent regulations of animal-confinement operations that have been enacted since that decision was handed down 14 years ago.

“Because of the drastic changes in statutory and regulatory requirements for livestock facilities since the Gacke case,” the brief argues, “it is no longer workable or effective to compare plaintiffs in today’s nuisance cases to the Gackes in determining constitutionality of the statute because the Gacke facts would be impossible to repeat under the current statutory and regulatory requirements.”


Search ends at personal belongings in a targeted-warrant case, the Iowa Supreme Court rules

By: Rox Laird on January 11th, 2018

Danielle Brown was one of five people in the bedroom of a house when a Des Moines police SWAT team swarmed in to execute a warrant naming a male occupant of the house to be searched for drugs and weapons. Brown was not named in the warrant but police searched her purse and found a small amount of marijuana inside.

She was subsequently convicted of possession of marijuana.

The Iowa Supreme Court Jan. 5 reversed a ruling of the Polk County District Court admitting evidence from the search of Brown’s purse, however, saying it violated the Iowa Constitution’s equivalent of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In an opinion written by Justice Brent Appel joined by Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices David Wiggins and Daryl Hecht, the Court ruled that a person not named in a search warrant has an expectation of privacy for personal effects – such as a purse – that they effectively have in their possession.

Justice Thomas Waterman disagreed with the majority in a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Edward Mansfield and Bruce Zager that argued for a clear rule giving police officers flexibility in executing search warrants in such situations.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police with a valid search warrant may search entire premises, including containers. But they may not search a person who is not named in the warrant who happens to be present during the search. Federal and states courts are divided, however, on the question of whether a visitor’s personal effects, such as a purse, may be searched.

Courts have used several tests to assess the legality of searches of visitors’ personal belongings, including whether the person has actual possession, say by wearing a coat or holding a briefcase or clutching a purse.

The Iowa Supreme Court majority rejected such a strict approach in this situation, however.

“A holding of this court that a visitor loses all reasonable expectations of privacy when visiting a premises by hanging a coat on a rack or placing a purse on a chair or on the floor, simply does not comport with reality,” Appel wrote. “A visitor who placed her purse on a sofa would be shocked to learn that her host, let alone government agents, was free to rummage around the purse looking for interesting or entertaining items while the visitor was in the other room.”

When Des Moines police were conducting the search, Brown was kneeling with her arms handcuffed behind her back, and her purse was on the floor nearby.

The majority said the legal theory of “constructive possession” should be applied in this case, which means that even though Brown was not holding the purse in her hands she was in “constructive, if not actual possession of the purse.” Thus, it was off limits to the police.

Writing for the three justices in dissent, however, Waterman said there were good reasons why Brown should have been covered by the search warrant.

When Des Moines police entered the bedroom at 5:45 a.m. Brown was smoking methamphetamine, Waterman pointed out, and she was “participating in an illegal activity directly related to the sale of methamphetamine, which was the reason for searching the house.”

Other courts, he said, rely on visitors’ perceived connection to the activity targeted by a warrant to uphold a search of the visitors’ personal effects.

He said the Iowa Supreme Court has traditionally preferred bright-line rules when police officers have to make quick decisions in balancing public safety and individual rights. “Such clarity and ease of application is especially important during chaotic police raids on a drug den,” he said.

In short, Waterman wrote: “In my view, the search of Brown’s purse was constitutional.”


Oral argument recap: Justices hear the case for and against prosecuting a child as an adult

By: Rox Laird on November 16th, 2017

Justices of the Iowa Supreme Court grappled in an oral argument Tuesday with the question of prosecuting a 13-year-old as an adult under Iowa’s youthful offender statute.

Noah Crooks, who was convicted of killing his mother when he was 13, was waived by a Mitchell County District judge to be tried in adult court as a youthful offender. Crooks was held at the State Training School until he was 18, at which point he returned to District Court where he was sentenced to up to 50 years in prison. (Read our preview of State v. Noah Crooks here.)

Crooks’ appellate counsel, Assistant State Appellate Defender Martha Lucey, argued that the youthful offender statute does not allow for prosecution of an offender as young as 13. And if it does, it would violate the Iowa Constitution’s equivalent of the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Justice Brent Appel questioned Lucey’s reading of the statute. “You interpret that to mean there is a 14-year-old floor, but the statute doesn’t say that.”

Lucey: “It doesn’t set a ceiling, either. We know it is 18 because you don’t have to waive at age 18. Does it mean birth to 18? Would we allow a small child to be punished as an adult?”

Justice Thomas Waterman wondered how youthful offenders are treated differently than juveniles who are sent directly to be tried in adult court.

Lucey explained that youthful offenders are treated as juvenile offenders until they reach age 18, at which point they return to adult court for sentencing, which could range from discharge or a deferred sentence to prison.

Justice Bruce Zager: “It seems to me that is a logical and reasonable way to handle it. A child gets the benefit of the juvenile system, and then is looked at again at age 18.”

Justice Edward Mansfield echoed Zager’s opinion: “This case is consistent with our juvenile jurisprudence. What is wrong with that?”

Lucey: The question is how much a child of 13 benefits from the delay. In this case, she said, Crooks “did really well” while at the Training School.

Zager said that was not a unanimous opinion, however, noting that Crooks’ father testified that Noah hadn’t come to grips with murdering his mother. “That would give me some pause,” Zager said. “That’s what the District Court indicated at sentencing.”

Arguing the case for the State, Assistant Attorney General Bridget Chambers disagreed with the appellant’s premise: Waiver of a youthful offender into adult court is not punishment, she said, and if it were, it surely is not cruel and unusual.

Appel again questioned the under-age-15 Iowa Code language: Is there no floor? Can a child of any age be prosecuted in adult court?

Chambers: “I struggle to see how it is ambiguous,” she said. The floor is provided by other things, including mens rea (that is, the “guilty mind”), and the prosecutor’s discretion not to prosecute below a certain age.

Waterman asked if the sentencing factors required for juveniles under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama were applied in the Crooks sentencing.

Chambers: The Miller factors were not applied because no minimum sentence was contemplated.

Waterman: “It was still a very individualized hearing, right?”

Chambers: “It was very individualized.”

Appel observed that the sentencing judge thought prison would be beneficial and that Crooks would benefit from services provided in prison. And, there is the potential for early release if he showed maturity. On the other hand, Appel noted that research on juvenile sentencing suggests that it could be cruel and unusual punishment if an offender is sentenced to prison as a juvenile and does not get services.

In her rebuttal argument, Lucey weighed the option of sending youthful offenders to prison or to some alternative where they may receive help transitioning to society: “Are we looking at rehabilitation or retribution?”


Iowa Supreme Court urged to ban criminal prosecution of 13-year-olds in adult court

By: Rox Laird on November 10th, 2017

The Iowa Supreme Court is being asked to take another step toward protecting juvenile offenders from prison sentences designed for adults in an appeal set for argument Tuesday.

In State v. Noah Crooks, the appellant argues that the State cannot legally or constitutionally prosecute a 13-year-old accused murderer in adult court.

The Iowa Supreme Court has handed down a series of rulings on juvenile sentencing following decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court based on evidence that juvenile offenders’ characters are not fully formed and are thus less culpable than adult offenders.

The Iowa Court’s rulings include a 2014 decision (State v. Lyle) that, in the case of juveniles, one-size-fits-all mandatory minimum prison sentences prescribed by the Legislature violate the Iowa Constitution’s equivalent of the Eighth Amendment.

Crooks urges the Court to take that ruling one more step and rule that children under the age of 14 cannot be prosecuted in adult court.

Noah Crooks was found guilty by a Mitchell County jury of second-degree murder in the shooting death of his mother. He was 13 at the time of the crime, and he was waived by a juvenile court judge into adult court to be tried as a “youthful offender.” After he turned 18, following his commitment to the State Training School, Crooks was sentenced to up to 50 years in prison.

In a legal brief submitted to the Court, Crooks’ counsel recites the Iowa Supreme Court’s rulings on juvenile sentencing that have embraced the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning and built upon it.

“Crooks requests this Court take the next logical step and define at what age a child may be subject to adult prosecution and punishment,” his appellate attorney argues. “The waiver of and sentencing of a thirteen year old child violates Article I, section 17 of the Iowa Constitution. This Court should adopt a categorical bar on imposing punishment upon a child under the age of fourteen in adult court.”

The State, in a brief filed by Attorney General Tom Miller, responds that waiving a juvenile to adult court is not, by itself, punishment under the Constitution; it is just a “change in forum” where guilt is then established. Then the juvenile receives a deferred judgment until age 18, and during that time the state has the opportunity to rehabilitate the offender for possible release.

“Adult punishment would be imposed only when the child turns eighteen and only if the juvenile system has been unable to rehabilitate the child,” the State argues. “Therefore, the waiver decision does not impose ‘punishment’ for the purpose of Article I, section 17 [of the Iowa Constitution].”

The oral argument in State v. Crooks is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday.


Iowa Supreme Court: Plaintiffs may sue State for damages under the Iowa Constitution

By: Rox Laird on July 7th, 2017

Iowa’s former Workers’ Compensation Commissioner has a right to sue the State for monetary damages under the Iowa Constitution, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The decision is the latest chapter in Christopher Godfrey’s five-year legal battle against former Gov. Terry Branstad and five other State officials over Branstad’s efforts to oust Godfrey from his job. Both men have moved to new positions – Godfrey to Washington, D.C., in a similar position in the U.S. Department of Labor, and Branstad to China as U.S. ambassador – but the suit is still being fought out in Polk County District Court and in a parallel suit in federal court.

When he returned to office in 2011, Branstad sought Godfrey’s removal based on complaints from business leaders that Godfrey had not been even-handed in handling cases involving workers’ compensation claims for job-related illnesses and injuries.

Godfrey refused to resign voluntarily, so Branstad cut the commissioner’s pay from $112,069 to $73,250, the minimum allowed by law.

Godfrey was appointed by former Gov. Tom Vilsack and re-appointed by former Gov. Chet Culver – both Democrats. He argues that Republican Governor Branstad’s campaign to force Godfrey to resign was political retribution. Godfrey, who is gay, also contends his treatment was based on his sexual orientation.

Godfrey brought his claims in Polk County District Court under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, naming the State, the governor and five other State officials individually – although the individual defendants have since been dismissed. But he also cited due process and equal protection protections of the Iowa Constitution, claiming his reputation was damaged and his property interest in his salary was violated because of partisan politics and/or his sexual orientation.

The District Court dismissed those claims, saying there is no right under the Iowa Constitution to bring a direct action against the State for monetary damages unless the Iowa General Assembly has specifically created one.

The Supreme Court disagreed in a 4-3 ruling that for the first time recognized a right to sue the State for civil damages for a violation of civil liberties under the Iowa Constitution. The seven justices were split three ways on how the decision applies specifically to Godfrey, however. The court noted that in this decision it expressed “no view whatsoever on the underlying merits of the case” in reversing the trial court and sending it back for further proceedings on two of four claims raised in Godfrey’s appeal.

The lead opinion recognizing a constitutional right of action was written by Justice Brent Appel joined by Justices Daryl Hecht and David Wiggins. In a separate concurrence, Chief Justice Mark Cady joined that opinion on Godfrey’s property interest and reputation claims but said the Civil Rights Act preempts the sexual orientation claim, thus providing the fourth vote on that issue. The Chief Justice also said punitive damages are not available to plaintiffs in such suits against the State.

Justices Edward Mansfield, Thomas Waterman and Bruce Zager dissented, arguing the majority set a dangerous precedent.

In his opinion for the majority, Justice Appel noted that the framers of the Iowa Constitution in 1857 signaled the importance of protecting individual liberties from encroachment by the State government by putting the Bill of Rights at the very beginning of the document.

“If these individual rights in the very first article of the Iowa Constitution are to be meaningful, they must be effectively enforced,” Appel wrote, and the judiciary has a duty to protect them. “It would be ironic indeed if the enforcement of individual rights and liberties in the Iowa Constitution, designed to ensure that basic rights and liberties were immune from majoritarian impulses, were dependent on legislative action for enforcement.

Appel wrote that the court has often enforced the civil rights protections under the Iowa Constitution over the years. In 2009, for example, the court in Varnum v. Brien held that a law prohibiting same-sex marriage violated equal protection. And Appel cited several other cases dating back to 1904 where the court enforced rights and privileges under the Iowa Constitution.

Appel also rejected the argument that the Iowa Civil Rights Act preempts a claim under the Iowa Constitution based on the “long-settled principle” that a constitution trumps legislative enactments. A constitution may only be amended by the people, not by the legislature.

“If we held that a statute might preempt an otherwise valid constitutional action, this would in effect grant ordinary legislation the power to cabin constitutional rights,” he wrote. “The Iowa Constitution would no longer be the supreme law of the State.”

Justice Mansfield argued in dissent that Friday’s ruling was a radical departure from the court’s tradition of requiring that damage claims require either legislative authority or a basis in common law of torts or contracts.

“In 1965, our general assembly passed the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA),” Mansfield wrote. “Today, we learn that the general assembly need not have bothered. Apparently, people who believed they had a civil rights claim against Iowa State or local officials always had a money-damages cause of action, with both actual and punitive damages available. It just took from 1857 until 2017 for someone to figure it out.”

Mansfield said majority’s holding will have limited impact on Godfrey’s case but otherwise will have far-reaching implications.

“While the impact of today’s decision in [Godfrey’s] case may be limited,” he wrote, “there should be no doubt about its far-reaching effects elsewhere.” For example, he wrote, “I anticipate many claims from current and former inmates seeking damages for wrongful incarceration.”

Although a majority of the court drew the line at punitive damages assessed against the State in such cases, Mansfield said the door could eventually be opened to punitive damages based on the logic of the lead opinion.

“The lead opinion amounts to a judicial declaration of defiance,” he wrote. “The lead opinion signals that it will not be constrained by anything the legislature does and can devise any and all damage remedies it deems suitable and proper for alleged constitutional violations. This principle seems to lack any boundary.”

[Disclosure: Former Nyemaster Goode attorney and On Brief contributor Ryan Koopmans filed an amicus brief in this appeal on behalf of the Iowa League of Cities, the Iowa State Association of Counties, the Iowa Communities Assurance Pool and the Iowa Association of School Boards.]


Iowa Supreme Court splits over what kinds of criminals can vote

By: Administrator on April 16th, 2014

By Ryan Koopmans

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.


Anonymous Tips and Juvenile Sentencing: A Criminal End to the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2012-2013 Term

By: Administrator on March 11th, 2013

By Ryan Koompans

Before wrapping up its 2012-2013 oral argument calendar in April, the Iowa Supreme Court will hear two constitutional cases with potential national consequences.

Tomorrow, the seven-member court will travel to Sioux City to hear argument in State v. Kooima.  At issue: whether, under the Fourth Amendment, a police officer may stop a vehicle based solely on an anonymous tip that the driver is drunk.  That issue has split state and federal courts, meaning that the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision (whichever way it goes) may be ripe for U.S. Supreme Court review.

Then, on April 9, the Court will hear argument in State v. Ragland. At issue there: whether a mandatory sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 60 years for a juvenile murderer amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.  Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that states may not automatically sentence juvenile murders to life without the possibility of parole.  Following that ruling, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad commuted the sentences of 38 juvenile murderers from life without parole, to life with the possibility of parole after 60 years.  Several of those offenders, including Jeffrey Ragland, think that’s still too long under Miller. Depending on what the Iowa Supreme Court says, this case could also end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.


Eighth Circuit: School May Punish Students For Out-Of-School Internet Speech

By: Administrator on October 19th, 2012

[The following summary was written by Nyemaster Goode attorney Colin Smith]

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently overturned a lower district court’s ruling that stated that a Missouri High School’s suspension and re-assignment of two students who created a derogatory blog about the school and fellow students violated the students’ First Amendment rights. In S.J.W. v. Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, the Court held that while students are entitled to First Amendment protections for speech generated on and off campus, student speech “targeted at” a school that has the potential to “materially and substantially disrupt” school orderliness is not protected.


On Brief

About Us

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.



Links