Articles Posted in Iowa Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting an employer's workers' compensation insurance carrier's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' common law tort claim and ruling that Iowa Code 517.5 was constitutional, holding that the statute is not violative of equal protection, inalienable rights, or due process under article I, sections 1, 6, and 9 of the Iowa Constitution. Plaintiffs, employees and former employees of an Iowa manufacturing company, brought this action alleging that the insurance carrier failed to conduct or negligently conducted an insurance inspection at their employer's manufacturing facility, causing serious health problems for Plaintiffs. The insurance carried moved to dismiss the petition under section 517.5, which provides that "no inspection of any place of employment made by insurance company inspectors...shall be the basis for the imposition of civil liability upon the inspector or upon the insurance company..." The district court dismissed the actions after determining that the provision was constitutional. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there is no claim for negligent inspection against a workers' compensation carrier. View "Clark v. Insurance Co. State of Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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In this tort action, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court compelling Defendants to produce police investigative reports without a protective order preventing disclosure to the public, holding that the district court properly balanced the competing interests in confidentiality and transparency through its time limit, a carve-out for police internal review records, and directives to handle remaining confidentiality issues by redaction or further proceedings. An African-American motorist was rendered a quadriplegic from being shot at by a Caucasian police officer who had stopped the motorist. The police department released the dash cam video of the incident to the public, and the video went viral on social media. Plaintiffs, the injured motorist and his wife, filed suit against the police officer and City. When Plaintiffs sought discovery of the police investigative reports Defendants refused to produce the documents without a protective order prohibiting disclosure to the media or other nonparties. The district court denied the motion for protective order but limited the order compelling production to reports prepared within ninety-six hours of the incident. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the police investigative reports were not exempt from public disclosure under Hawk Eye v. Jackson, 521 N.W.2d 750 (Iowa 1994). View "Mitchell v. City of Cedar Rapids" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court entering judgment against a commercial general liability (CGL) insurer on a homeowners’ insurer’s lawsuit seeking reimbursement for the amount it paid to settle a death claim, holding that the district court correctly interpreted the CGL insurance contract, and substantial evidence supported the court’s factual findings on potential liability and the reasonableness of the settlement. A dentist and his wife formed a limited liability company (LLC) that held title to investment properties, including a farmhouse. An accidental shooting at the farmhouse resulted in a death, and a death claim followed. The dentist had purchased homeowners liability insurance and CGL insurance from separate insurers. The CGL insurer denied coverage. The homeowners’ insurer settled the death claim for $900,000. Thereafter, the homeowners’ insurer filed this action seeking subrogation from the CGL insurer. The district court entered judgment against the CGL insurer for $450,000. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the LLC, as owner of the farmhouse, had potential liability under a premises liability theory for a dangerous condition and that the CGL insurer, as coinsurer of the farmhouse property, was obligated to indemnify the homeowners’ insurer for half of the $900,000 settlement. View "Metropolitan Property & Casualty Insurance Co. v. Auto-Owners Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the ruling of the district court denying Plaintiff’s motion for a new trial after the jury returned a unanimous verdict finding that Defendant was not negligent, holding that Plaintiff was not prejudiced by the district court’s failure to respond in the affirmative to a certain jury question. Plaintiff suffered a disabling stroke while confined in a halfway house. Plaintiff sued both the halfway house and an attending emergency room physician at a nearby hospital. Plaintiff settled with the halfway house before trial, and the case proceeded to trial against the physician. During deliberations, the jury asked, “If we attribute 25% fault to [the physician] and 75% to [the halfway house] would [the plaintiff] only get 25% since [the halfway house] has been released?” The district court answered by directing the jury back to the original instructions, which did not explain the effect of any fault allocation. The jury returned a verdict finding Defendant not negligent. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the district court should have answered “yes” to the jury’s question. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court probably should have given an affirmative answer but that there was no prejudice. View "Mumm v. Jennie Edmundson Memorial Hospital" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court ordering Defendant to pay restitution to the City of Davenport for damage to patrol vehicles after Defendant pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and eluding an officer, holding that a government entity may, under the right circumstances, be a victim under the Iowa criminal restitution statute, Iowa Code chapter 910, under this Court’s precedents. On appeal, Defendant conceded that the Davenport police vehicles incurred damage when police officers attempted to stop him during a high-speed chase but argued that damage to police cars from a chase of a fleeing suspect is not recoverable under Iowa’s restitution statute. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) under the causation standard in the Restatement (Third) of Torts, the damage to the police vehicles would be within the scope of liability in a negligence action against Defendant; (2) the firefighter’s rule has no application in this case; and (3) the express legislative adoption of limited restitution for emergency response costs in drunk driving cases under Iowa Code 910.1(4) does prevent a restitution to the City of Davenport in this case. View "State v. Shears" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed a $1900 fine-based restitution award ordered by the district court after Defendant pleaded guilty to theft of a student backpack as punitive and unsupported by substantial evidence, holding that the scope-of-liability analysis in sections 29 and 33 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Liability for Physical and Emotional Harm applies in criminal restitution determinations. The operator of a training course for commercial truck driver imposed a $1900 fine on its student for the loss of a study guide. Defendant stole a backpack from the student’s parked car that contained the study guide. The student did not pay the fine. The district court concluded that $1900 far exceeded the actual cost to print the guide but ordered Defendant to pay that amount in restitution to the victim. The Supreme Court reversed after adopting the scope-of-liability analysis in the Restatement (Third) of Torts for criminal restitution cases, holding that the district court erred by awarding the amount of $1900 without substantial evidentiary support. View "State v. Roache" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether property owners’ state-law damage claims against the railroad bridge owners alleging that the design and operation of the railroad bridges resulted in flood damage to other properties were preempted by the Federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), 49 U.S.C. 10501(b). Plaintiffs, property owners in Cedar Rapids, sued the owners of certain railroad bridges across the Cedar River alleging that their efforts to protect the bridges from washing out exacerbated the effects of the 2008 flooding for other property owners. The district court granted Defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, concluding that the ICCTA expressly preempted Plaintiffs’ state law claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the ICCTA did indeed preempt Plaintiffs’ action. View "Griffioen v. Cedar Rapids" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings, holding that because the district court did not make specific findings of fact relative to any plaintiff when concluding that Iowa Code 657.11(2), as applied to Plaintiffs, violated Iowa Const. art. I, 1, the issue could not be resolved on this record. Plaintiffs, the owners and/or residents of real estate located near the confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), brought this action claiming that Defendants were negligent in their operation of the CAFOs and that the CAFOs constituted a nuisance, entitling Plaintiffs to damages. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the nuisance claims, asserting that section 657.11(2) barred the claims because Plaintiffs could not meet the requirements under the statute to recover the requested special damages against the CAFOs. The district court denied the motion, finding that section 657.11(2) was unconstitutional as applied to Plaintiffs because it denied Plaintiffs access to a remedy for their alleged injuries. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded with directions that the district court engage in a fact-based analysis by applying the three-prong test set forth Gacke v. Pork Xtra, LLC, 684 N.W.2d 168 (Iowa 2004). View "Honomichl v. Valley View Swine, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff’s claims challenging his termination. Plaintiff, a former chief administrative law judge of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Bureau in Iowa Workforce Development (IWD), alleged retaliation under the whistleblower protection provisions of Iowa Code 70A.28 and that Defendants continued to retaliate against him when he sought other positions in state government. Plaintiff further alleged wrongful termination in violation of public policy based upon the same conduct. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants, concluding that Plaintiff could not bring his claims because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies available to merit employees. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) Plaintiff’s ability to bring a direct claim under section 71A.28 is not precluded by the availability of an administrative remedy under Iowa Code 8A.415; and (2) the district court correctly granted summary judgment on Plaintiff’s wrongful termination claim. View "Walsh v. Wahlert" on Justia Law

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Retaliatory discharge claims are not categorically reserved for at-will employees. A state administrative law judge (ALJ) brought suit alleging wrongful termination in violation of public policy after she was terminated for giving unfavorable testimony about the director of her division to the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee. The ALJ’s employment was covered by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The State filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the common law claim of wrongful discharge is reserved for at-will employees. The district court agreed and dismissed the case. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the ALJ’s status as a CBA-covered employee did not preclude her wrongful-discharge claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the common law tort of retaliatory discharge against public policy is generally available to contract employees. View "Ackerman v. State" on Justia Law