Upcoming Iowa Supreme Court Cases Certain to Affect Numerous Areas of Civil Litigation in 2021
The Supreme Court has eighteen cases that remain pending on its 2020-2021 docket. Of those 18 cases, only five are appeals from criminal matters. The remaining thirteen cases all involve civil matters, and the Court has not limited itself in terms of areas of focus. Looming above all cases is the appeal from the civil verdict in Godfrey v. State. This will be the third time this case has been before the Iowa Supreme Court. Godfrey obtained a $1.5 million dollar verdict against the State after a jury determined he had been forced out of his position on the Iowa’s Worker’s Compensation commission as a result of his sexual orientation. Numerous questions abound in this appeal, not least of which is the future of the constitutional tort violation first recognized by the Iowa Supreme Court in Godfrey’s prior appellate decisions.
While constitutional tort violations may not have vast public appeal, the Supreme Court is set to address other areas of the law that the public is likely to be strongly divided on. In Iowa Association of Business & Industry v. City of Waterloo, et al., the Court will decide whether or not the City of Waterloo is permitted to restrict an employer’s ability to question potential job applicants about their criminal history. Plaintiffs in that case, who lost at the District Court, allege Iowa Code 364.3 prohibits cities in Iowa from enacting or enforcing ordinances that regulate hiring practices in a manner that exceeds the regulation of hiring practices under federal or state law. The ordinance enacted by the City was seen as a way to combat racially unequal employment rates.
Another hot-button issue is involved in the case of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Reynolds. In that case, the State is appealing a District Court decision that held a newly enacted Iowa law seeking to prevent entities that provide abortion services from receiving grant money violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.
Beyond the large implications inherent in these three cases, there are also interesting cases on tap with respect to tort law. The Court will be hearing arguments in Lukken v. Fleischer to determine whether or not waivers signed by patrons to amusement parks contravene public policy. Lukken involves a ziplining accident. Prior to participating in the zipline, the plaintiff signed a waiver of liability. Plaintiff argues on appeal that because Iowa law requires defendant to carry $1 million dollar liability coverage, requiring a plaintiff to sign a waiver prior to participating violates public policy. Plaintiff further asks the Court to decide whether claims asserting a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others can be legally waived through the execution of a form waiver.
The Court also appears intent on clarifying the law surrounding privileges related to defamation. The Court has retained two defamation cases involving both statutory and qualified privilege with respect to defamation. In Andrew v. Hamilton County Public Hospital, the Court has retained an interlocutory appeal from the defendant hospital asking the Court to find that the hospital is statutorily immune from defamation lawsuits as a result of reports submitted to the Iowa Board of Medicine pursuant to Iowa Admin. Code 653-22. Relatedly, the Court will also be deciding a case involving First Amendment qualified privilege in Koster v. Harvest Bible Chapter. The Koster plaintiff alleges that the Church revealed personal details about his marriage to members of the congregation. The District Court sided with the religious organization’s argument that they were entitled to a qualified First Amendment privilege as the decision to reveal the details of Koster’s marriage was a church dispute that the Court was prohibited from resolving.
Other cases dealing with correct elements for jury instructions on Intentional Interference with Inheritance claims, the scope of authority for a rural water district, judicial dissolution of an LLC, and minority shareholder proxy rights are also set to be heard by the Court.
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This Wandro & Associates Update is intended to inform firm clients and friends about legal developments, including recent decisions of various courts and administrative bodies. Nothing in this Practice Update should be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion, and readers should not act upon the information contained in this Update without seeking the advice of legal counsel.