Articles Posted in Iowa Supreme Court

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the decision of the district court annulling a writ of certiorari challenging the decision of the City of Ames’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) denying Ames 2304, LLC’s permit for an interior model of a nonconforming use residential structure, holding that the ZBA erred in denying Ames 2304’s interior remodeling permit because the remodel would not increase the number of dwelling units in the structure. The proposed remodel in this case would increase the number of bedrooms while maintaining the same number of apartment dwelling units. The ZBA determined that the local zoning ordinance prohibited this increase in the number of bedrooms because it would increase the intensity of the nonconforming use. The Supreme Court held that the ZBA erred in denying the interior remodeling permit because the zoning ordinance defined an “increase in intensity” as an increase in the number of dwelling units, and the remodel would not increase the number of dwelling units in the structure. View "Ames 2304, LLC v. City of Ames, Zoning Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court granting summary judgment to the insurer in this coverage dispute, holding that an electrical-currents exclusion in the policy applied to the loss in this case. A squirrel climbed onto an outdoor electrical transformer at the City of West Liberty’s power plant, eventually triggering an electrical arc that caused substantial damage to the City’s property. The City sought coverage from Employer’s Mutual Casualty Company (EMC) under its all-risks insurance policy. EMC denied coverage based on the electrical-currents exclusion in the policy, which excluded “loss caused by arcing or by electrical currents other than lightning.” The City sought a declaratory judgment of coverage and damages, arguing that the squirrel was an efficient proximate cause of the loss, and therefore, two independent causes, one covered and one excluded, contributed to the loss. The district court disagreed and granted summary judgment to EMC. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the loss here was “caused by arcing” and therefore was excluded even though the squirrel triggered the arcing. View "City of West Liberty v. Employers Mutual Casualty Co." on Justia Law

by
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

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff’s unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and promissory estoppel claims, holding that the district court erred in granting Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the promissory estoppel claim. Plaintiff, a farmer, sued Defendants, his neighbor’s heirs, claiming that he and the decedent entered into an option contract to purchase farmland that Plaintiff leased from he decedent and upon which Plaintiff had made substantial improvements. After the farm was sold, Plaintiff brought this action claiming that Defendants breached an option contract to sell him the property. Alternatively, Plaintiff alleged various equitable theories of promissory estoppel, quantum meruit, and unjust enrichment. A jury found in favor of Plaintiff on his contract claim, but the district court granted Defendants’ motion for directed verdict and refused to order a new trial on Plaintiff’s alternative equitable theories. The court of appeals remanded the case for further proceedings on the equitable claims. On remand, the district court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the remaining equitable claims. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that Plaintiff’s promissory estoppel claim survived summary judgment. View "Kunde v. Estate of Arthur D. Bowman" on Justia Law

by
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

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court in favor of the Board of Adjustment in this action brought of developers seeking the right to build apartments on adjoining properties they owned in Iowa City and remanded with directions to enter judgment in favor of the developers. After the City denied the developers’ plans, the developers brought actions against the City and its Board of Adjustment. The district court ruled against the developers, thus rejecting the developers’ argument that a 1987 court order allowed them to proceed. The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s ruling in favor of the Board, holding (1) the Board should have permitted the developers to proceed in accordance with the 1987 decree, and the developers were entitled to enforce the decree as “successors and assigns”; (2) the statute of limitations did not bar enforcement of the decree; and (3) the Board’s argument that the decree had expired by its terms because “a use [had] been developed or established” on the properties failed. View "TSB Holdings, LLC v. City of Iowa City, Iowa" on Justia Law

by
Practicing massage therapy without a license is not a serious misdemeanor, and therefore, the district court properly dismissed the forfeiture action in this case and ordered the cash returned to the claimants. Responding to complaints by neighbors suspecting prostitution, police raided a spa advertising massage services and seized cash, cell phones, and other property. Thereafter, the State filed a civil in rem forfeiture action alleging that the cash was the proceeds of an unlicensed massage business or prostitution. The district court ruled (1) the State failed to meet its burden to prove prostitution, and (2) practicing massage therapy without a license was not a crime and therefore could not support forfeiture. The district court then dismissed the in rem forfeiture action and ordered the cash returned to the claimants. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) practicing massage therapy without a license is not a serious misdemeanor; and (2) the district court did not err in finding that the State failed to meet its burden of proving the seized funds were the proceeds of prostitution. View "In re Property Seized From Bo Li, Na Tian, And Wei Tian" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court enjoining Mark Ogden from continuing his nonconforming use of his property as a mobile home park, holding that the City of Des Moines failed to prove that Ogden had exceeded the property’s legal nonconforming use or that it was necessary to enjoin Ogden from continued operation of the mobile home park for the safety of life or property. In its decision, the district court concluded that the nonconforming use of the property exceeded its authorized nonconforming use and that it was necessary to cease operation of the nonconforming use for the safety of life or property. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the City did not prove that Ogden had lost the vested right he had in the operation of the mobile park as a legal nonconforming use. View "City of Des Moines v. Ogden" on Justia Law

by
The City of Albia was statutorily immune from a homeowner’s nuisance claim stemming from reoccurring flooding in the basement of her home due to rainwater discharge from a storm sewer located near the home. The Supreme Court held (1) Iowa Code 670.4(1)(h), which grants immunity to municipalities for tort claims based on claims of negligent design and construction of public improvements and facilities, or failure to upgrade public improvements and facilities, bars those nuisance claims based on conditions created by public improvements and facilities designed and constructed pursuant to generally recognized engineering or safety standards in existence at the time of construction and without evidence that the harmful condition creating the nuisance was inherent in the operation of the improvement or facility itself or evidence of negligent conduct other than the designated conduct immunized under statute; and (2) because the homeowner in this case did not offer any evidence that the City’s storm sewer system was inherently dangerous beyond the dangers associated with failing to upgrade the pipe to accommodate increased water flow, or that the claim was otherwise based on conduct not given immunity, summary judgment on the homeowner’s nuisance claim was properly granted. View "Kellogg v. City of Albia" on Justia Law

by
The district court abused its discretion by awarding attorney fees beyond those caused by violations of Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.413 or necessary to deter similar misconduct and by relying on a letter the sanctioned party’s president sent to the Supreme Court after it denied review in in the first appellate decision in this case. In this quiet-title action, the district court awarded attorney fees and expenses of $145,427 as a sanction for frivolous court filings in violation of Rule 1.413. The appellate court affirmed in part the rulings and remanded the case. On remand, the district court made more specific factual findings. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed the sanction award. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the amount awarded was excessive. The Supreme court vacated the decision of the court of appeals and modified the district court’s sanction award, holding that the appropriate sanction was $30,000. View "First American Bank v. Fobian Farms, Inc." on Justia Law