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Godfrey v. State

Supreme Court of Iowa

June 6, 2014

CHRISTOPHER J. GODFREY, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA; TERRY BRANSTAD, Governor of the State of Iowa, Individually and in His Official Capacity; KIMBERLY REYNOLDS, Lieutenant Governor of the State of Iowa, Individually and in Her Official Capacity; JEFF BOEYINK, Chief of Staff to the Governor of the State of Iowa, Individually and in His Official Capacity; BRENNA FINDLEY, Legal Counsel to the Governor of the State of Iowa, Individually and in Her Official Capacity; TIMOTHY ALBRECHT, Communications Director to the Governor of the State of Iowa, Individually and in His Official Capacity; and TERESA WAHLERT, Director, Iowa Workforce Development, Individually and in Her Official Capacity, Appellees

Page 579

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Robert A. Hutchison, Judge. A claimant under the Iowa Tort Claims Act appeals a district court decision dismissing some of his claims.

REVERSED AND CASE REMANDED.

Roxanne Barton Conlin of Roxanne Conlin & Associates, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

George A. LaMarca, Andrew H. Doane, and Phillip J. De Koster of LaMarca & Landry, P.C., Des Moines, for appellees.

Ryan G. Koopmans of Nyemaster Goode P.C., Des Moines, for amicus curiae National Governors Association.

WIGGINS, Justice. All justices concur except Waterman and Mansfield, JJ., who dissent. WATERMAN, Justice (dissenting). MANSFIELD, Justice (dissenting).

OPINION

Page 580

WIGGINS, Justice.

A plaintiff brought an action against the State of Iowa and individual defendants. The plaintiff named the individual defendants in their official and individual capacities. The attorney general certified under Iowa Code section 669.5(2)( a ) (2011) that at certain times material to the plaintiff's allegations, the individual defendants were acting within the scope of their employment. Thus, certain immunities under Iowa Code section 669.14 applied to various counts of the petition. The district court held the attorney general's certification was applicable to all of the plaintiff's claims. Consequently, the district court dismissed those counts alleging the individual defendants acted outside the scope of their employment.

On appeal, we hold the attorney general's certification is not applicable to plaintiff's common law claims alleging the individual defendants acted outside the scope of their employment. Therefore, we remand the case back to the district court to allow the fact finder to decide whether the individual defendants' actions were within each individual's scope of employment.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Christopher J. Godfrey is the workers' compensation commissioner. In 2009, Governor Chet Culver appointed him to this position for a six-year term. Godfrey's term expires on April 30, 2015. Prior to July 2011, Godfrey's salary was $112,068.84.

On December 3, 2010, Governor-elect Terry Branstad demanded Godfrey's resignation. Godfrey refused. After Godfrey's refusal to resign, Godfrey alleges he had a meeting with the chief of staff to the governor, Jeffrey Boeyink, and the legal counsel to the governor, Brenna Findley, in which these individuals attempted to intimidate and harass him into resigning by threatening to reduce his salary. Godfrey again refused to resign. Subsequently, the Governor reduced Godfrey's salary to $73,250.

In response to these actions, Godfrey filed an amended petition alleging causes of action against the State of Iowa; Terry Branstad, Governor of the State of Iowa, individually and in his official capacity; Kimberly Reynolds, Lieutenant Governor, individually and in her official capacity; Jeffrey Boeyink, chief of staff to the governor, individually and in his official capacity; Brenna Findley, legal counsel to the governor, individually and in her official capacity; Timothy Albrecht, communications director to the governor, individually and in his official capacity; and Teresa Wahlert, director of Iowa Workforce Development, individually and in her official capacity. The counts relevant to this appeal are counts VI through XVI: procedural and substantive due process claims against all defendants under the Iowa Constitution for Godfrey's property interest in his employment; procedural and substantive due process claims against all defendants under the Iowa Constitution for Godfrey's liberty interest in his reputation; an equal protection claim against the State under the Iowa Constitution; interference-with-contract-relations claims against the individual defendants; interference-with-prospective-business-advantage claims against the individual defendants; defamation claims against defendant Reynolds, defendant Albrecht, defendant Branstad, and defendant Boeyink; and extortion claims against defendant Findley and defendant Boeyink. By bringing his suit against defendants individually and in their official

Page 581

capacities, Godfrey joined his claims against the individual defendants with his claims against the defendants in their official capacity. See Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.231 (allowing the joinder of multiple or alternative claims in a single petition against a single defendant under certain circumstances); id. r. 1.233 (allowing the joinder of multiple defendants in a single petition under certain circumstances).

The Iowa attorney general provided a certification pursuant to Iowa Code section 669.5(2)( a ) certifying the individual defendants were acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the allegations contained in the amended petition. The defendants then moved to substitute the State of Iowa in place of the individual defendants for counts VI through XVI pursuant to Iowa Code section 669.5(2)( a ). The relief asked for in the motion was to strike all references to the individual defendants in counts VI through XVI. The individual defendants did not ask the court to dismiss any counts of the petition.

Godfrey resisted the motion on two grounds. First, he argued the individual defendants were not acting within the scope of their employment, and therefore, were not subject to substitution based on the attorney general's certification under section 669.5(2)( a ). Second, he argued the substitution of the State for the named defendants in these counts did not automatically require dismissal of those counts.

The district court held a hearing on the motion to substitute. At the hearing, the district court asked Godfrey's trial counsel if Godfrey was resisting any of the counts discussed in the partial summary judgment motion. Counsel responded as follows:

MS. CONLIN: I don't think so, Your Honor.
We also agree that claims for prejudgment interest and punitive damages are not proper against the State, but we don't think we ever pled them against the State. And if we did, that was a mistake. So this depends on the Court's ruling as to the individual defendants.
In paragraph 4 --incidentally, Your Honor, paragraph 4 of our resistance we withdraw those claims, but I don't think we want to withdraw them as to the individual defendants.
. . . .
MS. CONLIN: . . . . And so it seems to us that we can maintain claims for prejudgment interest and for punitive damages against the individual defendants insofar as they are still parties to this proceeding.
And if I may say, Your Honor, in connection with our earlier motion, what the State says is that a state employee is for all times and all purposes cloaked with immunity for things like assault and battery. So if a state employee goes out at lunch, it's a business lunch, and gets into a quarrel and knocks somebody down, the State says they are immune. And I say they are not.
. . . .
MS. CONLIN: I think the State's position on this is just untenable, and a state employee is a state employee when he or she is acting in the scope of employment, but not otherwise.

Trial counsel's statements identify a distinction between the claims Godfrey made against the defendants in their official capacities, i.e., in their scope of employment where the court could properly substitute the State, and the claims Godfrey made against the defendants in their individual capacities.[1]

Page 582

Subsequent to the hearing, the parties agreed the district court should dismiss counts X through XV in their entirety if (1) the district court granted the defendants' motion to substitute the State of Iowa, (2) the district court found against Godfrey on his claim that substitution of the State for the named defendants did not lead to the automatic dismissal of those counts, and (3) the district court decided the certification did not allow Godfrey to pursue his actions against the individual defendants who were not acting within the scope of their employment.[2] The district court granted the motion to substitute on counts VI through XVI and dismissed counts X through XV as per the parties' agreement.

Godfrey applied for an interlocutory appeal, asking us to review the district court's ruling to allow substitution and its dismissal of counts X through XV in reliance on the attorney general's certification. We granted the application.

II. Issues.

The only issue on appeal is whether the attorney general's certification pursuant to Iowa Code section 669.5(2)( a ) is applicable to Godfrey's common law claims alleging the individual defendants acted outside the scope of their employment.

III. Standard of Review.

Godfrey argues the district court's finding was an improper statutory interpretation and this interpretation violated the Iowa Constitution. We review a district court's statutory interpretation for correction of errors at law. See City of Postville v. Upper Explorerland Reg'l Planning Comm'n, 834 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Iowa 2013).

IV. Immunity for State Employees Under the Iowa Tort Claims Act.

The doctrine of sovereign immunity originally prohibited tort suits against the State of Iowa. Hansen v. State, 298 N.W.2d 263, 265 (Iowa 1980). Sovereign immunity also applied to governmental subdivisions. See, e.g., Canade, Inc. v. Town of Blue Grass, 195 N.W.2d 734, 736 (Iowa 1972) (recognizing the rule of governmental immunity applied to a claim of negligence against a municipality). This immunity was jurisdictional; thus, the courts lacked jurisdiction over tort actions against the State or its agencies. Lloyd v. State, 251 N.W.2d 551, 555 (Iowa 1977). In 1965, the general assembly enacted the Iowa Tort Claims Act and thereby waived the State's sovereign immunity for certain tort claims against the State. See 1965 Iowa Acts ch. 79 (codified at Iowa Code ch. 25A ...


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