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Pundt v. The Gazette Co.

Court of Appeal of Iowa

November 6, 2013

RICHARD ARTHUR PUNDT, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THE GAZETTE COMPANY, GAZETTE COMMUNICATIONS, INC., and TRISH MEHAFFEY, Defendants-Appellants.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Ian K. Thornhill, Judge.

The defendants appeal from the district court's order denying summary judgment in their favor on the plaintiff's claims.

Sarah W. Anderson and John M. Bickel of Shuttleworth & Ingersoll, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

Larry J. Thorson of Ackley, Kopecky & Kingery, L.L.P., Cedar Rapids, and Leslie E. Stokke of Leslie E. Stokke Law Office, Cedar Rapids, for appellee.

Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor, J., and Sackett, S.J. [*]

VAITHESWARAN, P.J.

We must decide whether this court has jurisdiction of this interlocutory appeal.

I. Background Proceedings

Richard Pundt sued The Gazette Company, Gazette Communications, Inc., and Trish Mehaffey (collectively, the Gazette) for libel per se and libel per quod stemming from internet and newspaper articles published by the Gazette. The Gazette moved for summary judgment. The district court denied the motion, finding that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment.

The Gazette did not seek interlocutory review within thirty days of the ruling. See Iowa R. App. P. 6.104(b)(2) ("An application for interlocutory appeal must be filed within 30 days after entry of the challenged ruling or order . . . ."). Instead, the Gazette elected to file a motion for amended or enlarged findings and conclusions pursuant to Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2). The district court denied the motion.

At that point, the Gazette applied for leave to pursue an interlocutory appeal of the district court's summary judgment and rule 1.904(2) rulings. The application was filed within thirty days of the rule 1.904(2) ruling but more than thirty days after the date of the summary judgment ruling.

The Iowa Supreme Court initially granted the application but later, on its own motion, directed the parties to address "a possible jurisdictional issue, " namely, whether the Gazette's rule 1.904(2) motion following the district court's summary judgment ruling extended the time for seeking interlocutory review.[1]The court transferred the case to this court for disposition either on the jurisdictional issue or on the merits. We find the jurisdictional issue dispositive.[2]

II. Jurisdiction

As noted, the general rule is that "[a]n application for interlocutory appeal must be filed within 30 days after entry of the challenged ruling or order." Iowa R. App. P. 6.104(b)(2).[3] However, where a party timely files a rule 1.904(2) motion, the thirty-day period tolls until the court enters a ruling on that motion. Id.; Sierra Club Iowa Chapter v. Iowa Dep't of Transp., 832 N.W.2d 636, 640 (Iowa 2013) (reciting similar rule and "tolling exception" for time for filing a notice of appeal under Iowa Rule of Appellate Procedure 6.101(1)(b)).

The Gazette filed its application for interlocutory appeal sixty-six days after the district court denied its motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, the Gazette's application was untimely unless "the tolling exception applies." See Sierra Club, 832 N.W.2d at 640.

For summary judgment rulings, Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.981 answers the question of whether the tolling exception applies. The rule states in pertinent part:

1.981(3) Motion and proceedings thereon. . . . The [summary] judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. . . . If summary judgment is rendered on the entire case, rule 1.904(2) shall apply.

(Emphasis added.) This rule plainly and unambiguously provides that rule 1.904(2) motions are available in summary judgment proceedings only when "summary judgment is rendered on the entire case." See id.; Merriam–Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 1054 (11th ed. 2005) ("Render" means "to hand down (a legal judgment)"); Black's Law Dictionary 1298 (7th ed. 1999) (defining render as "(Of a judge) to deliver formally."). No legal judgment was rendered on the entire case or, indeed, on any part of the case because the district court found that genuine issues of material fact precluded the entry of such a judgment. Accordingly, the Gazette could not avail itself of the rule 1.904(2) tolling exception to extend the time for filing an application for interlocutory appeal. See Tenney v. Atlantic Assocs., 594 N.W.2d 11, 14 (Iowa 1999) (reiterating that rule 1.904(2) applies if summary judgment is rendered on the entire case); Kunau v. Miller, 328 N.W.2d 529, 530 (Iowa 1983) ("Rule amendments effective July 1, 1980, extended the applicability of rule 179(b) to summary judgment entered on an entire case and to district court decisions on judicial review of agency action in contested cases. See Iowa R. Civ. P. 237(c) and 333(c). Otherwise rule 179(b) would not apply in those situations." (citations omitted)).

Our opinion could end with the express language of rule 1.981(3). See e.g., Drahaus v. State, 584 N.W.2d 270, 274 (Iowa 1998) (applying general principles of statutory construction when considering rules promulgated by courts and stating "when the text of a statute [or rule] is plain and its meaning clear, we will not search for a meaning beyond the express terms of the statue or resort to rules of construction"). However, we feel compelled to address the Gazette's argument that the quoted language of the summary judgment rule is not dispositive given the language in the interlocutory appeal rule stating "if a motion is timely filed under Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.904(2), the application must be filed within 30 days after the filing of the ruling on such motion." See Iowa R. App. P. 6.104(b)(2). According to the Gazette, this language authorizes the tolling of the time to seek review of "any interlocutory 'ruling or order.'"

Were we to read Rule 6.104(b)(2) in a vacuum, we would agree that any timely rule 1.904(2) motion would extend the time for filing an application for interlocutory appeal. However, the Gazette's facially appealing argument faces two roadblocks.

First, "[u]nder our rules of statutory construction, if two provisions of a statute [or rule] conflict, the more specific statute prevails over the general statute." Griffin Pipe Prods. Co., Inc. v. Bd. of Review, 789 N.W.2d 769, 775-76 (Iowa 2010). The more specific rule is the summary judgment rule and, as discussed, it extends the time for filing a notice of appeal only where judgment is rendered on the entire case.

Second, rule 6.104(b)(2), like its counterpart relating to appeals of final judgments, is subject to a judicial gloss. As the Iowa Supreme Court recently reiterated, a rule 1.904(2) motion tolls the time for filing a direct appeal of a final judgment [or application for interlocutory appeal] only if the motion was filed for a proper reason. Sierra Club, 832 N.W.2d at 640 ("[T]he tolling exception only applies if the posttrial motion was filed for the proper reason"); Bellach v. IMT Ins. Co., 573 N.W.2d 903, 904-05 (Iowa 1998) ("A motion relying on [rule 1.904(2)], but filed for an improper purpose, will not toll the thirty-day period for appeal.").

The Gazette's rule 1.904(2) motion was insufficient to toll the time for appeal because all four arguments raised in the motion were previously raised in the Gazette's reply memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment. The motion was simply "a rehash of legal issues previously raised." Baur v. Baur Farms, Inc., 832 N.W.2d 663, 668-69 (Iowa 2013) (citing Explore Info. Servs. v. Court Info. Sys., 636 N.W.2d 50, 57 (Iowa 2001). Accordingly, the motion was filed for an improper purpose. See Bellach, 573 N.W.2d at 905 ("IMT's motion amounted to no more than a rehash of legal issues raised—and decided adversely to it—by way of summary judgment before trial" and by way of other rulings).[4]

For both these reasons, we conclude that the tolling exception set forth in rule 6.104(b)(2) does not save the Gazette's application for interlocutory appeal.

The Gazette had thirty days from the date of the district court's denial of its summary judgment motion to file an application for interlocutory appeal. Because the Gazette did not file its application for interlocutory appeal within that time frame and because its rule 1.904(2) motion did not extend the time for filing its application, the appeal is untimely and must be dismissed.

APPEAL DISMISSED.


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