Iowa Supreme Court denies review of Harrison County open meetings ruling by Court of Appeals

By: Rox Laird on March 9th, 2017

In December the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled that the Harrison County Board of Supervisors violated the Iowa Open Meetings law.

Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court declined to review the lower court’s decision.

That leaves in place the lower court’s ruling that the Harrison County supervisors violated the law when they twice went into closed session to discuss the threat of litigation. It also leaves in place the Appeals Court’s order that the three supervisors each pay $200 in fines and split the plaintiff’s trial and appellate fees estimated at nearly $25,000.

The supervisors were acting in their capacity as trustees for an agricultural drainage district at the time of the closed meetings. The topic of discussion was a threat of litigation in the wake of a dispute over the condition of a levee maintained by the drainage district. Two Harrison County farmers brought the open meetings lawsuit.

The open meetings law provides an exception for closed sessions “[t]o discuss strategy with counsel in matters that are presently in litigation or where litigation is imminent where its disclosure would be likely to prejudice or disadvantage the position of the governmental body in that litigation.”

No legal counsel was present at either closed session, however.

The Court of Appeals also rejected the supervisors’ argument that there was no violation of the law because the meetings were closed on the advice of legal counsel. That’s because the law requires that such advice from counsel be “given in writing” or “memorialized in the minutes of the meeting at which a formal oral opinion was given.”

In this case, however, the supervisors did not receive a written opinion from counsel and “no counsel directly provided oral advice to the trustees at any time before or during the meeting.”

Iowa Supreme Court to Decide Whether Internal Whistleblowers are Protected from Termination under Public-Policy Doctrine

By: Administrator on January 3rd, 2013

By Ryan Koopmans and Ryan Leemkuil

If the Iowa legislature creates an express exception to the employment-at-will doctrine, may the courts  carve out an even greater exception under the public-policy doctrine?  Late last year, the Iowa Court of Appeals said yes in Dorshkind v. Oak Park Place of Dubuque II, L.L.C. Yesterday, the Iowa Supreme Court announced that it will review that decision.

While working for assisted-living facility Oak Park Place, Karen Dorshkind witnessed  two employees allegedly falsify state-mandated training documents.  Dorshkind reported the suspected wrongdoing to two coworkers and a former supervisor but didn’t take the matter any further.  After Oak Park Place’s investigation failed to substantiate the report, the company  terminated Dorshkind’s employment.

Dorshkin sued for wrongful termination, claiming that her firing violated public policy.  Under Iowa law, an assistant-living facility may not discriminate or retaliate against an employee who complains to the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals about the facility’s operations.  Iowa Code §§ 231C.7, .13.  Although Dorshkin didn’t file a complaint with the state agency, she argued that the courts should use the judicially-created public-policy doctrine to expand the statute to cover internal complaints.   The district court and the Iowa Court of Appeals agreed.

The Iowa Supreme Court will likely hear oral argument before April.

Iowa Supreme Court Grants Further Review in Five Cases

By: Administrator on March 28th, 2012

By Ryan Koopmans

Today the Iowa Supreme Court granted further review in five cases:

In re Marriage of Schenkelberg, No. 10-1919: The Court of Appeals ruled that the parties’ prenuptial agreement was enforceable, rejecting Ms. Schenkelberg’s argument that the agreement was voidable because her ex-husband had legal counsel and she did not.

In re Marriage of McDermott, No. 11-0445:  The Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s divorce decree because, among other things,  the district court failed to consider the tax implications of its property allocation.  The district court ordered Mr. McDermott to pay his ex-wife over $1 million.  To do that, however, Mr. McDermott must sell farmland, and that in turn will lead to significant tax obligations.  Those obligations, according to the Court of Appeals, should be allocated equally between the parties.

Lamasters v. State, No. 1-853/11-0016: A jury convicted Lynn Lemasters of first-degree murder in 2005.  He filed for postconviction relief, claiming that his counsel was ineffective for “(1) failing to raise issues of temporary insanity and/or diminished capacity, and (2) failing to sufficiently support the request for bifurcation of his trial.”  The Court of Appeals ruled that Lemasters failed to preserve either issue in the district court.

State v. Long, No. 1-898/11-0197: Peter Long was convicted of committing lascivious acts with a child and sentenced to life in prision.  During the sentencing phrase of the trial, the State moved to reopen the record so it could submit additional evidence of Long’s prior convictions.  The district court granted the motion, and the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for resentencing.

Boelman v. Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Co., No. 11-0570: Dale and Nancy Boelman submitted a claim to their insurer, Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance, based on the death of of roughly $24,000 of livestock that were owned by a third party but housed on the Boelman’s farm.  The Court of Appeals concluded that the policy was ambiguous and construed it against Grinnell Mutual.

Supreme Court Grants Further Review in Five Cases

By: Administrator on January 26th, 2012

By Ryan Koopmans

The Supreme Court announced today that on January 11 it granted further review in five cases:

State v. Jones, 09-0146: The Court of Appeals affirmed Arzel Jones’ convictions for kidnapping, sexual abuse, and assault in two separate cases.  Jones presented several issues on appeal, including whether there was sufficient evidence to prove that he used a fork as a dangerous weapon.  

State v. Clark, 10-0511: The defendant, Donald Clark, was convicted for sexual abuse.  Five days before trial the prosecution produced an email written by the victim, in which the victim disclosed that he had been seeing and hearing things.  The defendant asked for a continuance to conduct additional depositions regarding the email, but the trial court denied that motion, and a majority of a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed.  Judge Mullins dissented.

ACLU v. Records Custodian, 11-0095: The ACLU filed an open records request with the Atlantic Community School District seeking information about the discipline of two school employees who were allegedly involved in a locker-room strip search of five female students. The school refused to produce the documents, claiming they were “essentially in house, job performance documents” which are exempt from the open records laws.  The district court agreed, and so did a majority of a panel of the Court of Appeals.  Judge Potterfield dissented.

Flynn Builders, L.C. v. Lande, 10-1278: In the Court of Appeals, the defendants raised eleven issues related to the enforcement of the plaintiff’s mechanic’s lien.  The Supreme Court’s order does not indicate whether it will limit the questions presented on further review. 

Ennenga v. State, 10-1911: Roger Ennenga filed for post-conviction relief, claiming his counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion to dismiss.  The trial information was not filed in the clerk’s office within forty-five days, and Ennenga argues that this failure violated the speedy indictment act.  Distinguishing the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Schuessler, 561 N.W.2d 40 (Iowa 1997)—which did find a violation for failing to timely file the trial information within that time period—the Court of Appeals rejected Ennegna’s claim.  Ennenga was arraigned within forty-five days, and he received a copy of the trial information at that time.  Thus, the three-judge panel ruled that the “clerical or technical mistake” of failing to file the trial information on time would not have resulted in the dismissal of the charges.

Iowa Supreme Court Agrees to Consider Three Post-Conviction Relief Cases

By: Administrator on December 2nd, 2011

By Ryan Koopmans

The Iowa Supreme Court announced today that it has granted further review in three post-conviction relief cases. 

Two of them–Pierce v. State and Kolzow v. State— deal with the calculation of “earned time” by the Department of Corrections. 

The third, Perez v. State, presents the issue of whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Padilla v. Kentucky applies retroactively.  Padilla requires defense counsel, under certain circumstances, to  inform their clients of the immigration risks of pleading guilty.   The retroactivity issue has split the federal courts of appeals.  Based on the arguments presented by the parties in Perez, the Iowa Court of Appeals concluded that this new rule does not apply retroactively in this case. 

Supreme Court Grants Further Review in 7 Cases

By: Administrator on August 2nd, 2011

By Ryan Koopmans

On Monday, the Supreme Court granted petitions for further review in seven cases.  A brief summary of the issues, as well as links to the Court of Appeals opinions, briefs, and petitions for further review are below the jump.


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