The Iowa Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in eight cases Dec. 11 and 12

By: Rox Laird on December 7th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in eight cases Dec. 11 and 12. Four other cases will be submitted to the Court without oral argument.

Among the cases set for argument are two appeals brought by state and local government employee unions arguing that amendments made by the Iowa General Assembly in 2017 to Iowa’s public-employee bargaining law violate the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.

Following are summaries of the December cases. Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read the briefs filed with the Court in these cases.

Freer v. DAC, Inc.

Scheduled for oral argument Dec. 11, 9 a.m.

Appellants, individually and on behalf of the decedent, Nicole Sansom, appeal a ruling by the Jackson County District Court denying their motion for a new trial.

Sansom, a 29-year-old woman with developmental disabilities, was in defendant’s care when she inhaled peanut butter, stopped breathing and later died. Her estate sued, and while the jury was deliberating, the defendant offered, and the plaintiffs accepted, a settlement offer ranging from $100,000 to $1 million. The jury subsequently returned a verdict finding that DAC was not at fault for Sansom’s death.

The trial court denied plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial, however, saying the case was moot because the parties’ settlement agreement would negate any jury verdict of less than $100,000 or more than $1 million. The defendant cross-appealed, asking the Court to reverse the District Court’s rulings regarding the admissibility of certain evidence and expert witness testimony.

Barker v. Department of Public Safety

Scheduled for oral argument Dec. 11, 9 a.m.

Ross Barker appeals a decision by the Scott County District Court upholding the Department of Public Safety’s decision that a criminal statute requires that he must register for life as a sex offender. Barker argues that, following his 2008 guilty plea to assault with intent to commit sexual abuse, the sentencing judge said on the record that he would be on the sex-offender registry for just 10 years.

West Liberty v. Employers Mutual Casualty Company

Scheduled for oral argument Dec. 11, 1:30 p.m.

The City of West Liberty seeks further review of a decision by the Iowa Court of Appeals affirming a ruling by the Muscatine County District Court in favor of Employers Mutual Casualty Co. The insurer denied the city’s claim for damage to its power substation caused by a squirrel that, as the trial judge wrote, “found itself in a rather shocking situation when it came into contact simultaneously with a cable clamp energized at 7200 volts and the grounded steel frame which supported the cable attached to the clamp.” The city argues the District Court wrongly concluded that Employers Mutual’s policy excluded a damage claim caused by an electrical arc because “the squirrel’s presence was merely a legal cause of the chain of events that ensued afterwards.”

Colwell v. Department of Human Services

Scheduled for oral argument Dec. 11, 1:30 pm.

The Department of Human Services appeals a decision of the Polk County District Court reversing the department’s decision denying dentist Robert Colwell a hearing to consider his appeal of the decision by a DHS managed-care provider denying claims for dental services Colwell provided to Medicaid patients.

Morris v. Steffes Group, Inc.

Will be submitted Dec. 11 without oral argument.

Todd Morris seeks further review of a decision of the Iowa Court of Appeals affirming a decision of the Marion County District Court holding that auction services provided by the Steffes Group are not covered by the state statute regulating door-to-door sales. Morris, who was dissatisfied with the sale of a tractor at auction by Steffes, sued on grounds that he was not notified of his right to cancel the sale as required by the door-to-door sales statute.

AFSCME Council 61 v. Public Employment Relations Board

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

AFSCME Iowa Council 61 appeals a decision of the Polk County District Court upholding the constitutionality of recent amendments to Iowa’s public employee bargaining law. The union, which represents state and local public employees, argues that House File 291 passed in 2017 violates Article I, Section 6 of the Iowa Constitution, which says “All laws of a general nature shall have a uniform operation; the General Assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens.”

The appellants argue that the amendments violate Iowa’s equal protection provision by creating two classes of public employees: One class, Public Safety Employees, retained a full range of collective-bargaining privileges; the other class, consisting of all other employees, is limited to bargaining on “base wage.”

ISEA and Davenport Education Association v. Public Employment Relations Board

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

The Iowa State Education Association and the Davenport Education Association, a statewide and a local teachers union, challenge the constitutionality of recent amendments to Iowa’s public employee bargaining law making similar arguments raised by the AFSCME Council 61 in its appeal that will be argued on Dec. 12 as well. In addition to arguing that that the 2017 amendments to Iowa’s public employee bargaining law violated Iowa’s equal protection provision by creating two classes of public employees, the appellants challenge the constitutionality of a provision that bars payroll deductions for union dues for one class of public employees but not for other classes of public employees.

An amicus curiae brief in support of the State and Public Employment Relations board was filed on behalf of a Waverly-Shell Rock teacher, who chose not to join the district’s teachers’ union because he opposes political positions supported by the union. The friend-of-the-court brief was prepared by lawyers with Grefe & Sidney in Des Moines and the Virginia-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

State v. Smith

Scheduled for oral argument Dec. 12, 1:30 p.m.

Keegan Craig Smith appeals his conviction and sentence for first-offense drunk driving, arguing the Warren County District Court’s incorrectly denied his motion to suppress evidence from a breath test because he properly invoked his right to have the test results independently tested.

Williams v. State

Scheduled for oral argument Dec. 12, 1:30 p.m.

The State seeks further review of a Court of Appeals decision remanding to the Scott County District Court Troy Williams’ motion for post-conviction relief following his conviction for conspiracy to commit theft. The appeals court held that Williams was denied meaningful representation because his post-conviction counsel committed “structural error” by failing to present any of Williams’ claims.

State v. Hanneman

Will be submitted Dec. 12 without oral argument.

Rodney Hanneman seeks further review of a Court of Appeals ruling affirming his conviction for theft in the second degree. Hanneman asserts the Scott County District Court erred in denying his motion for acquittal because the evidence was insufficient to establish he actually took a motorcycle.

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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.
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