“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.

The final round of oral arguments for the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2018-19 term set for April 9

By: Rox Laird on April 8th, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in five cases on April 9, and nine other cases will be submitted to the court without oral argument. Three cases will be argued beginning at 9 a.m., and two will be argued beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Go to the On Brief Cases in the Pipeline page to read briefs in these cases.

With the submission of the final 14 cases in April, the Court will have heard a total of 104 cases, including 12 attorney discipline cases. As of April 5, the justices had decided 54 cases. Assuming no last-minute cases are added between now and the end of the term, there will be 50 cases to be decided, or an average of about 4 decisions per day over the 12 decision days remaining on the calendar.

From our archive: An interview with Justice Daryl Hecht, who died April 3

By: Rox Laird on April 4th, 2019

Three years ago Rox Laird, a contributor to this blog, sat down with Iowa Supreme Justice Daryl Hecht for a rare on-the-record interview ahead of that year’s judicial retention election.

Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that could affect future wind power regulation

By: Rox Laird on April 1st, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Forest City April 2 in a case that raises for the first time a question about how Iowa law regulating approval of electric generating facilities applies to wind energy projects.

The argument, which is open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. in the Boman Fine Arts Center in Forest City.

The Court will hear arguments in two cases, both of which involve Palo Alto County residents’ challenge to a plan by Palo Alto Wind Energy and MidAmerican Energy to build a 170-turbine wind farm spread over 100 square miles. Bertha Mathis and Stephen Mathis appealed decisions by the Palo Alto County District Court dismissing the plaintiffs’ lawsuits, one against the Iowa Utilities Board and a second against the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors.

Judges must know offenders’ ability to pay before ordering restitution, Iowa Supreme Court rules

By: Rox Laird on March 26th, 2019

Sentencing courts must know how much a convicted offender is reasonably able to pay before ordering payment of restitution to the State, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in three separate cases March 22.

In all three cases, the sentencing courts ordered offenders to pay restitution without first determining their ability to pay, which violates Iowa’s restitution statute, the Court held in a 6-0 decision. Justice Christopher McDonald, who will be officially sworn in on April 5, did not participate in the decision.

In the lead opinion, State v. Charles Raymond Albright, written by Justice David Wiggins, the Court dismissed Albright’s appeal of his kidnapping conviction and sentence but upheld his claim regarding restitution payment ordered by the sentencing court.

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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.