Iowa Supreme Court set to hear arguments in four cases next week

By: Rox Laird on December 8th, 2017

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in four cases on Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 12 and 13, in appeals that ask the Court to settle a dispute over a baby born of a surrogate mother, an asbestos liability suit brought by the estate of a lung-cancer victim, and a question of whether the State can withdraw tax credits awarded to a film project four years after approving them. Three other cases will be submitted to the court without oral argument.

Following are summaries of three of the cases set for argument:

P.M. and C.M. v. T.B. and D.B.

Scheduled for oral argument 1:30 p.m. Dec. 13.

The appellees in this case, identified as P.M. and C.M., are a couple who entered into a contract with the appellant, T.B., to carry to term anonymously donated ova fertilized by P.M.’s sperm. T.B. gave birth to twins 13 weeks prematurely, and one twin died eight days later. T.B did not inform the Ms of the births and, after bonding with the surviving infant for two months, she changed her mind about giving up the child.

The Ms sued to enforce the “gestational surrogacy” contract and to terminate T.B.’s parental rights, arguing that P.M. is the biological father as confirmed by genetic test results that ruled out T.B. as a biological parent. The Linn County District Court ruled in their favor.

In her appeal, T.B. argues that she is legally the mother of the child – as a matter of biological and scientific fact – that the contract with the Ms is unenforceable absent an Iowa statute recognizing such gestational surrogacy contracts. She further argues that enforcing the contract would violate her constitutional rights of due process and equal protection and those of the child.

Shari Kinseth and Ricky Kinseth v. Weil-McLain

Scheduled for argument 9 a.m. Dec. 12.

Larry Kinseth died in 2009 of lung cancer related to asbestos exposure from a long career of installing insulated boilers. A Wright County jury awarded the estate a $6.5 verdict, including $2.5 million in punitive damages. In this appeal, Indiana-based boiler manufacturer Weil-McLain asks the Court to reverse the District Court’s judgment, bar punitive damages and remand for a new trial.

The defendant-appellants argue the trial court erred by not submitting a question to the jury regarding fault shared by three other companies, that punitive damages are precluded by Iowa law in this case and that the jury was tainted by inadmissible evidence, including an earlier citation by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration against Weil-McLain, and the plaintiff’s asbestos exposure that occurred after the statute of limitations expired.

The Kinseth estate argues that the lower court properly ruled that fault could not be shared with third parties absent evidence that the decedent could be compensated for exposure harm by other parties. It argues that all challenged evidence was admissible, and that punitive damages are supported in this case by the trial record and by Iowa law because McLain’s practices were not consistent with other manufacturers.

Iowa Department of Economic Development v. Ghost Player LLC and CH Investors LLC

Scheduled to be submitted to the Court without oral argument at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 12. 

Ghost Players sued the State of Iowa after the Iowa Department of Economic Development revoked tax credits awarded four years earlier for a movie, “Field of Dreams Ghost Players,” on grounds that the movie producers inflated the value of state tax credits by submitting phony evidence of in-kind contributions that were not, in fact, made to the project.

Ghost Players argues that the Polk County District Court got it right when it ruled that the agency lacked authority to revoke the tax credits. Ghost Players argues that the State cannot unilaterally vacate a final agency action four years after the fact on the basis of information that was available from the beginning.

The Department of Economic Development, in urging the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court, argues that it did not vacate a final agency action but issued a new one based on new evidence that the tax-credits applicant fabricated information about the scope of the film’s financial support.


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 Continues Road Tour

By: Administrator on February 8th, 2012

By Ryan Koopmans

The Iowa Supreme Court announced today that it will hear oral argument on March 7 at Iowa Western College in Council Bluffs.  The Court will hear two cases: Mall Real Estate v. City of Hamburg and American Civil Liberties Union v. Atlantic School District.  (Our earlier coverage of the Atlantic School District case is here.)

The Supreme Court’s press release follows the jump.


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