February 2017

February 2017

Iowa Supreme Court Broadly Interprets Elder Abuse Statute

In a 4-3 decision on February 24, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled­­­ that a 69-year-old woman was a “vulnerable elder” under Iowa’s Elder Abuse statute solely because of her age.

The case arose because a “do-it-yourself” estate planning strategy went awry. The mother put the title of her mobile home (where she lived) in her adult son’s name. She told him that when she died it was to be his inheritance. She continued to live in the mobile home and pay taxes on it. At the same time, the mother transferred title of a duplex she owned to her two daughters.

At some point, one of the mother’s daughters moved into the mobile home with her. At this point, the son demanded $35,000 from his mother to transfer title of the mobile home back to her. When she refused, the son attempted to evict the mother.

In response, the mother filed a "petition for relief from elder abuse" against the son. The petition was filed under Iowa Code § 235F.2, which was enacted by the Iowa Legislature in 2014 to provide greater protection against financial and physical abuse to “vulnerable elders.” “Vulnerable elder” is defined in Iowa Code § 235F.1(17) as “a person sixty years of age or older who is unable to protect himself or herself from elder abuse as a result of age or a mental or physical condition.”

It is this definition that the Iowa Supreme Court agreed to interpret. Continue reading here.

Limiting Damages in Ag Nuisance Lawsuits: A Bill to Watch

HSB134 passed out of an Iowa House agricultural subcommittee on February 22. The bill would limit allowable damages in nuisance lawsuits filed against animal feeding operations that have used “existing prudent and generally utilized management practices reasonable” for their operations. The bill would also allow animal feeding operations that prevail in a nuisance lawsuit brought against them to recover reasonable attorney fees from the losing plaintiff.

The bill requires plaintiffs in a nuisance action to prove one of two things to exempt their lawsuit from the damages limits: (1) The animal feeding operation failed to comply with state or federal laws, rules, or regulations applying to animal feeding operations OR (2) The animal feeding operation failed to use existing prudent generally utilized management practices reasonable for the operation.  

If the plaintiff is unable to prove an exception, damages to a prevailing plaintiff would be limited to:

  1. Diminution in fair market value of the plaintiff’s share of property caused by the animal feeding operation.
  2. Compensatory damages for past, present, and future adverse health conditions, using “only objective and documented medical evidence that the nuisance or interference with the comfortable use and enjoyment of the person’s life or property was the proximate cause of the person’s adverse health condition.” AND
  3. “Special damages” stemming from “annoyance and the loss of comfortable use and enjoyment of real property,” not to exceed 1.5 times the amount of damages awarded in categories one and two above.

Continue reading here.

Parties in DMWW Lawsuit Disagree as to Meaning of Iowa Court Opinion

In a filing February 13, the parties to the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit—the Board of Water Works Trustees and the drainage districts—again showed they are miles apart in their interpretation of the law. This time, the difference is in how they interpret the answers by the Iowa Supreme Court to four certified questions posed to the Court by the federal district court hearing the case.

As we’ve detailed, the January 27, 2017, opinion from the Iowa Supreme Court closed the door to DMWW’s common law claims for money damages. The Court ruled that drainage districts, because of their limited powers and duties, can only be sued in mandamus to perform specific actions authorized by the Iowa Code. After receiving the Iowa Supreme Court opinion, Judge Strand, the federal judge assigned to hear this case in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, directed the parties to file a joint status report detailing their positions as to the status of the case. In other words, what impact does the Iowa Supreme Court’s opinion have on the case moving forward? Not surprisingly, the parties' joint status report reveals big differences as to the parties’ positions.

Continue reading here.


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