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.

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.

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.

“Mail” now means “email” under the Administrative Procedure Act, Iowa Supreme Court rules

By: Rox Laird on May 28th, 2019

When the Iowa Legislature enacted the Administrative Procedure Act in 1975, the statute required petitioners to notify the other parties by mail. That meant sending a paper copy of the petition through the mail within 10 days, or delivery in person under a 1981 amendment.

Today lawyers, like most all other professionals, send letters and documents via email. And the Iowa Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision handed down May 24, said that satisfies the requirements of the law (Ortiz v. Roling Construction and Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance).

One day after Isaac Oritz filed a petition in Polk County District Court appealing a decision by the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, his attorney emailed a time-stamped copy of the petition to counsel for Roling Construction, Ortiz’s employer.

Iowa Supreme Court: Cuts in public-sector collective bargaining rights meet constitutional muster

By: Rox Laird on May 21st, 2019

Amendments to Iowa Code Chapter 20 that substantially reduced the collective bargaining rights of most state and local government employees did not violate union members’ equal protection or free association rights under the Iowa Constitution, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled May 19.

Public employee unions had urged the Court to strike down as unconstitutional collective bargaining amendments passed in 2017 by the Iowa Legislature, which they saw as gutting their rights to collectively bargain on a wide range of issues, including wages, benefits and working conditions.

In four separate rulings, the Court rejected the unions’ constitutional argument, saying the changes were properly within the policymaking powers of the Iowa General Assembly.

“Our role is to decide whether constitutional lines were crossed, not to sit as a superlegislature rethinking policy choices of the elected branches,” the Court said. “We conclude the 2017 amendments withstand the constitutional challenges.” The justices added that the plaintiffs concede that there is no constitutional right to public-sector collective bargaining.

Iowa Supreme Court affirms Carroll Airport’s decision affecting a towering grain elevator in its flight path

By: Rox Laird on May 15th, 2019

The Carroll Airport Commission ordered a farmer to remove a 12-story grain elevator erected near its runway because it presents a flight hazard. The Federal Aviation Administration, however, issued a contrary opinion saying the elevator could remain.

The Iowa Supreme Court, in a decision handed down May 10 (Carroll Airport Commission v. Danner), ruled that local authority prevails over federal, and the grain elevator will have to be removed or shortened.

Carroll County farmers Loren and Pan Danner erected a 127-foot-tall “grain leg” to lift and distribute grain to five storage bins. The elevator rises 60 feet higher than the airport’s protected airspace.

Iowa Supreme Court upholds Utilities Board rule that eases regulation of wind farms

By: Rox Laird on May 13th, 2019

Is a wind farm with 170 windmills spread over 80 square miles a single power plant or a collection of separate power plants?

According to the Iowa Utilities Board, it is the latter, and the Iowa Supreme Court deferred to that statutory interpretation in a decision handed down May 3.

The Court, in a unanimous decision written by Justice Edward Mansfield, said in Mathis v. Iowa Utilities Board that 170 windmills on a Palo Alto County wind farm should be considered not a single power-generating “facility” for legal purposes but a smaller collection of windmills tied together by a single “gathering line.”

The distinction is important because defining the entire collection of windmills as a single power-generating facility would put the wind farm in the class of large power electric-generating facilities that require the Utilities Board to issue a certificate of public convenience, use, and necessity, which would have required an extensive study of the project’s impact on the environment and affected residents.

Two judges appointed to Iowa Court of Appeals by Governor Reynolds

By: Rox Laird on May 2nd, 2019

Gov. Kim Reynolds appointed Marshalltown attorney Sharon Soorholtz Greer and Polk County District Judge David May to the Iowa Court of Appeals May 29.

They replace former Chief Judge David Danilson, who retired in January, and Judge Christopher McDonald, who was appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court in February.

May, 47, of Polk City, currently serves as a District Court judge in the Fifth Judicial District. He attended Northeast Missouri State University (since renamed Truman State University) and graduated from the University of Missouri. He earned his law degree from Drake Law School in 1998. Prior to his appointment to the District Court in 2016, May was a shareholder in the Bradshaw Fowler law firm in Des Moines.

When are police reports introduced in a civil trial public records? It depends, the Iowa Supreme Court says

By: Rox Laird on April 11th, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court has clarified two previous rulings that reached seemingly contradictory positions on whether police investigative reports must be made public under the Iowa Open Records Act.

The clarification came in a ruling handed down April 5 in Jerime Eron Mitchell and Bracken Ann Mitchell v. City of Cedar Rapids and Officer Lucas Jones. The Court upheld a Linn County District Court order making public police investigative reports produced through discovery in a civil lawsuit filed by the family of a black man shot and paralyzed by a white police officer in a traffic stop.

The ruling spells out how the Iowa Open Records Act and previous court decisions govern the production of police reports in such civil cases:

1. Police investigative reports do not lose their status as confidential records under the Iowa Open Records Act when an investigation is concluded; however, the records law does not  prevent civil litigants from accessing police reports through discovery. Thus, confidential police reports produced through discovery may have to be sealed by the trial court with a protective order.

2. The Open Records Act exempts from confidentiality police reports that give the immediate facts and circumstances of a crime, and trial courts should apply a balancing test prescribed by the records act to determine how far that exemption reaches into police files.

3. The Court reaffirmed its 1994 decision in Hawk Eye v. Jackson, which applied a three-part balancing test to determine whether police investigative reports should be released to the public.

4. And, the Court explained how the Hawk Eye decision differs from – and is yet consistent with – its 2012 ruling in American Civil Liberties Union v. Atlantic Community School District, where the Court said a balancing test was not necessary to conclude that the records in question in that case were confidential.

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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.