As Iowa Supreme Court heads into the home stretch, 45 appeals are still in the pipeline

By: Rox Laird on April 19th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court is expected to release decisions in two cases Friday, which will bring to 63 the number of cases disposed of in the first eight months of the 2017-18 term.

The Court heard its final round of oral arguments on April 10, and all cases have now been submitted. With the release of Friday’s decisions, 43 submitted cases will remain to be decided between now and the end of the term in 10 weeks.

At that point, the Court will have disposed of 106 cases, including nine attorney-discipline cases, which is about normal for the Court, which typically decides about 105 cases each year. (One case, Merlos v. Banegas Contracting, was voluntarily dismissed.)

Not surprisingly, some of the more challenging and controversial cases have been saved for last. Among those are four appeals on the constitutionality of juvenile sentencing, an issue that has divided the Court in recent years. One of the four – State v. Crooks, on the question of whether it is constitutional to prosecute a 13-year-old as a youthful offender – is one of the two cases expected to be handed down Friday.

Among the cases of note that remain in the pipeline:

Jahnke v. Deere & Co., on whether the Iowa Civil Rights Act applies extraterritorially to a U.S. citizen working on assignment overseas; Iowa v. Kelso-Christy, on whether a blindfolded sexual encounter arranged using a fake Facebook account was consensual or illegal sex abuse;  Honomichl v. Valley View Swine, on whether an Iowa statute that gives livestock operations limited immunity from nuisance liability violates the inalienable rights clause of the Iowa Constitution; Planned Parenthood v. Kimberly Reynolds, on the constitutionality of Iowa’s statutory abortion restrictions; and, Bandstra v. Covenant Reformed Church, on whether church elders failed to adequately supervise a male pastor accused of sexually exploiting female congregants, or whether the church is shielded by the religious-freedom clauses of the U.S. and Iowa constitutions.

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?


Evidence of a driver’s intoxication after leaving a bar should have gone to the jury, Iowa Supreme Court rules

By: Rox Laird on April 2nd, 2018

The fact that a person is intoxicated shortly after leaving a bar is sufficient evidence to submit to a jury in a lawsuit alleging liability under Iowa’s dramshop statute.

Thus said a divided Iowa Supreme Court on March 30 in Banwart v. 50th Street Sports. The decision, written by Justice David Wiggins and joined by Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Daryl Hecht and Brent Appel, reversed both the Polk County District Court, which dismissed the civil suit on summary judgment, and the Iowa Court of Appeals, which upheld the trial court.

Justice Edward Mansfield filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Thomas Waterman and Bruce Zager. The dissent criticized the majority for adopting “an overbroad blanket inference of negligence from intoxication” that “routinely sends to the jury all cases where the patron was intoxicated on leaving the establishment, regardless of their facts.”

Rhonda Banwart sued 50th Street Sports following an accident in which a patron of the West Des Moines bar smashed into the rear of her vehicle shortly after leaving the bar. The bar patron later pleaded guilty to operating while intoxicated after a breath test showed her blood-alcohol level exceeded the legal limit.

The question before the Court: Is the bar liable under the State dramshop statute, which provides a right of action against a liquor license-holder that serves intoxicating liquor to an intoxicated person and that “knew or should have known the person was intoxicated” or that served the person to a point where it “knew or should have known the person would become intoxicated.”

The plaintiff has the burden under the statute of proving the defendant’s knowledge of the patron’s intoxication, and the Court cited its 2004 decision in Smith v. Shagnasty’s that said the plaintiff in that case met the burden based on events that took place at the bar. But the Court left open the question of whether evidence gathered later of a person’s intoxicated condition could by itself give rise to a question of fact for a jury to consider.

In Banwart, the Court said it could.

The patron testified she exhibited no signs of intoxication at the bar and that she consumed no more alcohol after leaving the bar shortly before the crash. But the Court said she was clearly intoxicated when she left the bar based on the police officer’s observations at the accident scene and based on a Datamaster breath test taken nearly three hours after she said she had consumed the last of three beers at the bar.

That raises enough questions for the case to be put to a jury, the Court ruled.

Summary judgment, Wiggins wrote, “is improper when sufficient evidence points to [a person’s] intoxicated condition shortly after his or her visit to the dramshop, even if the record lacks evidence regarding the [person’s] demeanor at the time of the dramshop’s service of alcohol.”


Iowa Supreme Court opens door to ‘actual innocence’ claims following guilty pleas

By: Rox Laird on March 27th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a person who pleaded guilty to a crime has a right under the Iowa Constitution to later claim that he or she is, in fact, innocent based on newly discovered evidence.

The Court, in a 4-3 ruling handed down March 23, overturned prior Iowa decisions that limited actual-innocence claims following a guilty plea to only those that attack the constitutional or procedural validity of the guilty plea. With this ruling, a defendant may assert actual innocence based on evidence unrelated to the validity of the plea itself.

The decision in Schmidt v. State of Iowa written by Justice David Wiggins was joined by Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Daryl Hecht and Brent Appel.

The chief justice filed a separate opinion concurring with the judgment. “The process of justice must always be fair,” Cady wrote. “This case stands tall as the embodiment of this fundamental principle of law. It is a substantial step forward in our constitutional march to become better. Innocent people should always have a forum to prove their innocence. I fully concur in the opinion of the Court.”

Justices Thomas Waterman, Edward Mansfield and Bruce Zager dissented. “Today’s decision will have bad consequences,” Waterman wrote in his dissenting opinion, “including fewer plea bargains, renewed turmoil for victims and their families years after the crime, and a flood of [post-conviction relief] applications.”

Jacob Schmidt pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit sexual abuse, in part on the basis of the testimony of the victim, his younger half-brother. Seven years later, the half-brother recanted his testimony, saying Schmidt had not attempted to sexually abuse him. The Woodbury County District Court dismissed Schmidt’s post-conviction appeal, citing Iowa Supreme Court precedent.

The Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in Schmidt’s appeal has been in the making for more than a year. It was first argued in February 2017 but held over to be reargued this term. Meanwhile, the Court asked the parties to submit additional briefs focusing on several questions, including what standard should apply if a guilty plea does not always bar an actual-innocence claim.

The Iowa Supreme Court has historically stressed the finality of a criminal conviction based on a guilty plea that is made knowingly and intelligently and with assistance of counsel. In a 1990 decision, the Court said “notions of newly discovered evidence simply have no bearing on a knowing and voluntary admission of guilt.”

But the Court pointed to recent evidence that innocent people do, in fact, plead guilty to crimes they did not commit, citing a National Registry of Exonerations report that, in 2016, 74 convicted criminals who had pleaded guilty were subsequently exonerated.

“Pleading guilty does not automatically mean the defendant is actually guilty,” Wiggins wrote. “Sometimes, an innocent defendant is choosing the lesser of two evils: pleading guilty despite his or her actual innocence because the odds are stacked up against him or her, or going to trial with the risk of losing and the prospect of receiving a harsher sentence.”

With that in mind, the Court said it was time to open the door to allow those who plead guilty to appeal their convictions based on new evidence. “It is time that we refuse to perpetuate a system of justice that allows actually innocent people to remain in prison,” Wiggins wrote, “even those who profess guilt despite their actual innocence.”

To do that, the Court looked to the Iowa Constitution, which in Article 1 Section 9 says “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” and in Article 1 Section 17 prohibits cruel and unusual punishments.

“Holding a person who has committed no crime in prison strikes the very essence of the constitutional guarantee of substantive due process,” Wiggins wrote, and punishing a person who is actually innocent is cruel and unusual.

In order to succeed on a claim of actual innocence, the Court said the applicant must show by “clear and convincing evidence that, despite the evidence of guilt supporting the conviction, no reasonable fact finder could convict the applicant of the crimes for which the sentencing court found the applicant guilty in light of all the evidence, including the newly discovered evidence.”

In Schmidt’s case, the Iowa Supreme Court did not take a position on his claim of innocence based on the recanted witness testimony. Rather, it sent the case back to the District Court for further proceedings, as “both parties are entitled to their day in court to litigate their positions under the new standard we have adopted today.”

“Only after the parties develop a record in a summary proceeding can the court decide if a genuine issue of material fact exists,” Wiggins wrote. “If it does, then a trial may be necessary to resolve Schmidt’s claim.”

Iowa Supreme Court: Changes within trailer park did not affect its zoning status

By: Rox Laird on March 21st, 2018

Does the “detritus of life” change a Des Moines trailer park’s legal nonconforming zoning status it has enjoyed for 63 years?

Not in the eyes of the Iowa Supreme Court.

The Oak Hill Mobile Home Park on Des Moines’ south side has been a legal nonconforming use since 1955, and the Court, in a unanimous March 16 ruling by Justice Bruce Zager, said the City of Des Moines failed to prove that had changed to the point where the City was warranted in shutting it down.

A legal nonconforming use, Zager wrote, is the use of a property that existed before a zoning ordinance is enacted or changed and continues unless the nonconforming use is “legally abandoned, enlarged or extended.”

Oak Hill existed before the city rezoned the area in 1955, and the overall configuration of the park has not changed, nor has the number of trailers increased. But the city argued in 2014 that the use of the property had “intensified” over the years with the addition of porches, decks, outbuildings and other structures that put the park in violation of city zoning regulations.

The Polk County District Court ruled that the City could revoke Oak Hill’s occupancy permit because the mobile home park had “intensified” its use of the property. The park had become “filled with the detritus of life: vehicles, outdoor recreational equipment, garbage bins, makeshift gardens, fencing, and crudely constructed additions to the mobile homes,” the trial judge wrote, which pose a threat to safety and property.

The Supreme Court, however, said the City failed to demonstrate a safety threat. “Remarkably, the record is largely bereft of evidence demonstrating the existence of a significant safety issue,” Zager wrote. “Although the fire marshal testified about the fire hazards specific to all mobile homes in general, he acknowledged that Oak Hill has not been cited for any fire safety code violations.”

The Court also said the City failed to demonstrate that Oak Hill had so changed the character and intensity of the mobile home park that it should lose its legal nonconforming status.

Zager said property owners legally have some latitude to change the original nonconforming use, provided the changes are not substantial and do not have an adverse impact on the neighborhood. But the Court had not before addressed the question of “whether the intensification of a mobile home park due to the addition of structures or the expansion of homes within the park amounts to an illegal expansion of the authorized nonconforming use.”

In this case, the addition of structures to the mobile homes as well as the “detritus of life” the District Court noted, “have not substantially changed the nature and character of [the] use of the property as a mobile home park,” Zager wrote. “Rather, this steady increase in the additions to the mobile home structures and other objects found on the property represents a marginal change that falls within the degree of latitude that the law affords to property owners in their nonconforming use.”

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.”

Indecent-exposure conviction required physical presence, Iowa Supreme Court rules

By: Rox Laird on February 6th, 2018

The Iowa Legislature did not make clear that the crime of indecent exposure could be committed by sending a text message, the Iowa Supreme Court said in a Feb. 2 decision.

The Court overturned the indecent-exposure conviction of Jose Lopez in Buchanan County District Court for sending a text message containing an image of his genitals to a woman he had been romantically pursuing against her wishes.

The question before the Court:  Does Iowa’s indecent-exposure statute make it illegal to send an electronic image of one’s genitals to a person who does not welcome the message, or must the person doing the exposing be in the physical presence of the victim?

The Court, in the unanimous decision written by Justice Daryl Hecht, said a physical presence is required.

The decision turned on the meaning of “exposes,” and the Court concluded that the term, for purposes of interpreting the statute, does not mean an image sent by electronic means, such as a cell phone text.

Since the statute does not define the term “exposes,” the Court turned to the dictionary, which defines the word as “to lay open to view,” “lay bare,” “make known,” “set forth.”

“However, nothing in the dictionary definition or our prior caselaw explicitly addresses whether causing one’s genitals to be visible or open to view is limited to only in-person scenarios or if it can be done through electronic communication,” Hecht wrote.

The State argued that “one exposes one’s genitals by transmitting an image of them via text message because the image is made visible for a recipient,” while Lopez argued that transmitting an image of one’s genitals to another person does not equate to exposure.

The Court, finding both views plausible, concluded the statute is ambiguous and turned to the process of statutory interpretation.

In a 1983 decision, State v. Bauer, the Court said the Legislature’s purpose in drafting the indecent-exposure statute was to render indecent exposure “essentially a visual assault crime.”

Thus, Hecht wrote, “Because the offense of indecent exposure constitutes a crime of visual assault, we conclude the meaning of the word exposes in [the indecent-exposure statute] must be understood as having features of temporal and physical proximity.”

The Court, however said in a footnote that its decision is “narrow and limited to the electronic transmission of a still image of the sender’s genitals or pubes. Our conclusion in this case does not address a situation in which the sender’s genitals or pubes are viewed via a real-time electronic transmission, such as through Skype, FaceTime, or similar technology.”

Iowa Supreme Court reduces frivolous litigation penalty assessed against a party.

By: Rox Laird on January 29th, 2018

A trial court’s sanction for frivolous litigation in a protracted legal battle over a Johnson County land development was reduced by the Iowa Supreme Court. The sanction was levied against the party pressing the litigation, not his lawyer. And the bill for tying up the courts with the case for seven years will cost him $30,000.

Ordinarily a frivolous litigation sanction goes against the lawyer, but in some cases the party bringing the litigation can be made to bear the cost. This is one such case.

Carl Fobian, president of Fobian Farms Inc., pursued the lengthy and complex litigation after it was discovered that, because of a surveyor’s error, a restaurant was built 1 foot over property line onto land in which he had a mortgage interest.

The faulty survey ultimately was corrected and Fobian was compensated for the encroachment, but not before the case was twice reviewed by the Iowa Court of Appeals and twice remanded to the trial court.

Along the way there was a steady stream of claims, counter-claims, cross-claims, motions, resistances, pleadings and re-pleadings that stretched over seven years. An aggravating factor was that the trial court saw Fobian’s actions as a scheme to get title to the restaurant, and the scheme included a lawsuit characterized as “bullying” the surveyors into retracting an affidavit correcting the survey error.

The lengthy litigation so tried the patience of the trial judge that he assessed $145,000 in legal fees and expenses against Fobian personally.

The Iowa Supreme Court, in a 5-2 ruling handed down Jan. 26, reduced the amount of the sanction against Fobian. Writing for the Court, Justice Thomas Waterman said the Court of Appeals settled the question of whether the sanction against the party was appropriate, so the question before the justices was how much.

In the opinion for the majority joined by Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Edward Mansfield, Daryl Hecht and Bruce Zager, Waterman said the sanction needed to be high enough to deter the party from abusing the system but not the full $145,000, which included legitimate legal fees expended in the case. Thus, the Court settled on $30,000.

“The misconduct in this case was willful and not a mere isolated event,” Waterman wrote. Iowa court rules allow a trial judge “to sanction a represented party instead of or in addition to the lawyer who signed the pleading,” he said, adding that “a monetary sanction imposed on a represented party sends a message that can assist lawyers counseling other clients to refrain from filing improper or frivolous pleadings.”

Justice David Wiggins filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Brent Appel, in which he objected to the idea of sanctioning the party rather than his lawyer.

“Courts should hold attorneys, not their clients, accountable for filing frivolous lawsuits.” Wiggins wrote. “The only exception to this general rule is where clients have knowledge of their attorneys’ wrongdoing.”

Iowa Supreme Court makes a call for the State in ‘Field of Dreams’ film case

By: Rox Laird on January 22nd, 2018

The Iowa Economic Development Authority had the authority to claw back tax credits approved for a documentary film about Iowa’s mystical Field of Dreams baseball story, the Iowa Supreme Court said in a ruling handed down Jan. 19.

The Economic Development Authority revoked economic-development tax credits it had approved for Ghost Player, a film company making a documentary called “Field of Dreams Ghost Players,” after a State investigation concluded that financial support for the project had been fabricated to inflate the value of credits by $250,000.

Ghost Player sued, and the Polk County District Court ruled in its favor, saying the State was precluded from revoking the tax credits because the Economic Development Authority’s initial approval of the credits was a final agency decision.

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision by Justice Brent Appel, disagreed and overturned the lower court.

The issue is a matter of administrative procedure: Was the Economic Development Authority precluded, as a matter of law, from reversing its earlier approval and clawing back the tax credits? Ghost Player argued it was, because the original approval of tax credits was a final agency decision. The State argued that its action approving the credits was an administrative, not an adjudicative, process, and thus subject to reconsideration.

In siding with the State, the Supreme Court cited two of its own precedents – Bennett v. MC and George v. Zinser – which tied the legal doctrine of claim preclusion to judicial-style actions that have procedural rights for applicants and an adversarial process, as opposed to administrative actions that have neither.

Justice Appel said the Iowa Supreme Court has not used a bright-line rule in these cases, but the Iowa statute and the administrative rules regulating the film tax credits in this case clearly show the agency’s original action was an administrative, not adjudicative, proceeding.

“Adjudications are ordinarily a three-cornered proposition, with contesting parties jousting before a passive third-party tribunal,” Appel wrote. “Here, the parties were binary. There were no adversaries making arguments and proving their cases before a third party as is generally required for adjudication. The IDED staff were acting more like tax accountants than adjudicators.”

Thus, in this case, the umpire’s call goes to the State.

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.”

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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.