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Van Stelton v. Van Stelton

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division

September 30, 2014

VIRGIL VAN STELTON, CAROL VAN STELTON, AND ALVIN VAN STELTON, Plaintiffs,
v.
JERRY VAN STELTON, DONNA VAN STELTON, EUGENE VAN STELTON, GARY CHRISTIANS, DOUG WEBER, SCOTT GRIES, NATE KRIKKE, ROBERT E. HANSEN, DANIEL DEKOTER, OSCEOLA COUNTY, IOWA, AND DEKOTER, THOLE AND DAWSON, P.C. Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

MARK W. BENNETT, District Judge.

Plaintiffs brought a panoply of claims against defendants, including claims for civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1961, et seq .; and pendent state law claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, slander and libel, and tortious interference with prospective business advantage. I granted portions of defendants' motions to dismiss for failing to adequately state viable claims under Federal or Iowa law. Defendants have now moved for summary judgment on plaintiffs' remaining claims. Plaintiffs resist defendants' motions, asserting that a reasonable jury could find in their favor on all of their remaining claims.

I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

I set out only those facts, disputed and undisputed, sufficient to put in context the parties' arguments concerning the defendants' motions for summary judgment and resistances to them. At least for the purposes of summary judgment, the facts recited here are undisputed.[1] I will discuss additional factual allegations, and the extent to which they are or are not disputed or material, if necessary, in my legal analysis.

1. The parties

Plaintiffs Virgil Van Stelton and his wife, plaintiff Carol Van Stelton, are residents of Iowa. They both live in Sibley, Iowa, which is located in Osceola County. Plaintiff Alvin Van Stelton is also a resident of Iowa. He lives in Ashton, Iowa, which is also located in Osceola County. Defendants Jerry Van Stelton, Donna Van Stelton, and Eugene Van Stelton are residents of Iowa, all living in Sibley. Virgil, Alvin, Jerry, and Eugene are brothers. Jacob Van Stelton and Margaret Van Stelton were their father and step-mother.

Defendants Gary Christians, Doug Weber, Scott Gries, Nate Krikke, Robert E. Hansen, and Daniel E. DeKoter are also residents of Iowa. Weber is the Osceola County Sheriff. Hansen is the Osceola County Attorney. DeKoter is an attorney in private practice in Sibley, Iowa. He has worked for the same law firm, now called DeKoter, Thole, and Dawson, P.L.C. ("the Law Firm"), for thirty-three years. He and Harold D. Dawson are partners in the Law Firm. Dawson also was one member of a seven-person panel that recommends salary rates for elected officials in Osceola County. DeKoter is legal counsel for the Osceola County Economic Development Commission. The Osceola County Economic Development Commission provides economic development funds to business interests in Osceola County through banks in Sibley.

2. The Law Firm's involvement in the Trust

In his practice, DeKoter represented Margaret Van Stelton, the stepmother of Virgil, Alvin, Jerry, and Eugene Van Stelton, regarding the management of her personal affairs. These affairs included a revocable trust ("the Trust") established by her and her late husband, Jacob Van Stelton.[2] Prior to March 29, 2007, the Trust property included farmland, annuities, and cash from rents paid to the trustees for the farmland. The cash rents were paid to Margaret as income. During her lifetime, Margaret remained competent to manage the Trust's assets in her role as the Trust grantor. While DeKoter represented Margaret with regard to management of the Trust, DeKoter did not have an attorney-client relationship with any of the Van Stelton brothers regarding their interest in the Trust.

On March 23, 2007, Sheriff Weber received a report that Virgil was harassing Margaret while she was living in the Viola home. Virgil was reported a second time for harassing Margaret on May 7, 2008, while she resided at County View Manor. DeKoter did not instigate, incite, or direct the complaining witnesses to make these reports to the Osceola County Sheriff's office.

On March 29, 2007, DeKoter had a meeting with Margaret, at her apartment in the Viola Home in Sibley, Iowa. The meeting concerned the removal of Alvin as a trustee of the Trust. When DeKoter arrived at Margaret's apartment, Alvin was there. When asked to leave so that DeKoter and Margaret could speak privately, Alvin initially left but then burst back into the room and told Margaret not to remove him as a trustee.

As one of three co-trustees of the Trust, Alvin's signature was required to transfer family lands from the Trust to the four Van Stelton brothers, in equal shares. This transfer was consistent with Margaret's wishes and the terms of the Trust. Alvin refused to sign the required deeds to complete the transfer. As a result, Alvin was removed as a co-trustee so that the transfer could be completed. After Alvin was removed as a trustee, all of the family lands held in the Trust were deeded to Virgil, Alvin, Jerry, and Eugene in equal shares, and all of the family lands that were held by Jacob in a life estate were also transferred to Virgil, Alvin, Jerry, and Eugene. Subsequently, all of the family land was titled in the four brothers' names as tenants in common.

In addition to ensuring that the family lands were transferred to the four Van Stelton brothers after Jacob's death, DeKoter drafted an amendment to the Trust, at Margaret's request. Under this amendment, the cash remaining in the Trust at the time of Margaret's death would not be given in equal shares to the four brothers but instead would be given to just Virgil and Alvin. Jerry and Eugene were excluded from this transfer. The amendment was to compensate Virgil and Alvin for their claim that the rents for the family land were underpaid by Jerry and Eugene. Margaret also made cash gifts to Virgil and Alvin.

After the family lands were transferred to the four Van Stelton brothers in March, 2007, Alvin and Virgil filed a claim against the Trust. On October 3, 2007, Alvin and Virgil's claim was disallowed and they were advised that their claim would be "forever barred unless suit is filed against the trustee to enforce the claim within thirty days of the date of this notice of disallowance." Letter at 2; Law Firm Defendants' Appendix at 347. After the claim was denied, litigation ensued over the proper partition of the property and the right to farm the land.

3. State court litigation

On October 30, 2007, Alvin Van Stelton and Virgil Van Stelton filed a petition at law in the Iowa District Court for Osceola County, case no. LACV017464 ("the 464 case). They named as defendants Van Stelton Farms, Ltd., Van Stelton Brothers, Jerry Van Stelton, individually and as trustee of the Jacob and Margaret Van Stelton Revocable Trust, Eugene Van Stelton, individually and as trustee of the Jacob and Margaret Van Stelton Revocable Trust, John Doe, and other unknown other defendants. Virgil and lvin filed the lawsuit to enforce their claim against the Trust. On October 30, 2007, Russell Kasch became the Trust's sole trustee.

On May 15, 2008, Eugene and Jerry filed a petition in equity for partition of real estate in Iowa District Court for Osceola County, case no. EQCV017654 ("the 654 case). On October 10, 2008, Virgil and Alvin filed their answer, affirmative defenses, counter claim, and third party petition in the 654 case. On January 14, 2010, Alvin, Virgil, Eugene, and Jerry attended a mediation in the two cases. Virgil and Alvin were represented by attorney John Werden. Jerry and Eugene were represented by attorney Ronald Shea. DeKoter did not represent Margaret, or any of the four Van Stelton brothers, in that litigation. DeKoter never had any communications with Sheriff Doug Weber or County Attorney Robert Hansen about any of the Van Stelton real estate matters.

On March 19, 2010, Virgil and Alvin dismissed with prejudice their claims against Eugene, Jerry, Van Stelton Brothers, and Van Stelton Farms, Ltd. in both cases. Under the terms of the settlement, Virgil retained his right to sue for false arrest and assault against DeKoter and Sheriff Weber.

After the Van Stelton brothers' litigation was concluded, Virgil and Alvin received a larger share of Margaret's money and land than they would have otherwise inherited under the Trust's terms. Neither Virgil nor Alvin had the right to collect rent on lands held by the Trust during Margaret's lifetime.

While the Trust litigation was ongoing, an annual report was filed on February 3, 2009. Virgil and Alvin received notice of the filing of the annual report, and objected to the report based on allegations raised in their pending lawsuit against the Trust. The Trust's annual report in 2009 was approved over Virgil and Alvin's objections.

On May 27, 2010, after the Trust litigation concluded, a final report of the Trust's receipts, expenses, and distributions was filed by Kasch. On that same day, notice of the filing of the Trust's final report, and a copy of the final report, was mailed to Virgil, Alvin, and their counsel at the time, John Werden. The trustee's final report was approved on July 6, 2010. On July 16, 2010, after receiving a supplemental report from the trustee indicating that the remaining assets of the Trust had been distributed as proposed in the final report, the Trust was declared closed.

4. County defendants' actions concerning Margaret

In March 2007, Margaret reported to the sheriff's office that Virgil had been harassing her. At some point when Margaret lived at the Viola Home, Jerry called Sheriff Weber and told him that Alvin was harassing Margaret. Sheriff Weber went to the Viola Home and spoke to Margaret. Margaret told Weber that Alvin was a "good boy", but that Virgil "causes trouble." On May 7, 2008, Laura Van Sloten, the administrator of County View Manor, called Sheriff Weber and told him that Virgil was upsetting Margaret and that Margaret did not want Virgil there. Sheriff Weber had Deputy Gries call Virgil's home. On May 7, 2008, Deputy Gries called Virgil's home and spoke to Carol. Gries told her to tell Virgil that the nursing home didn't want Virgil there. The following day, May 9, 2008, Virgil came to the Sheriff's office to discuss Gries's call. Virgil was told that he was not welcome at County View Manor and that he was not to have any contact with Margaret and that if he did, he would be arrested.[3]

5. State court litigation

On October 30, 2007, Alvin Van Stelton and Virgil Van Stelton filed a petition at law in the Iowa District Court for Osceola County, case no. LACV017464 ("the 464 case). They named as defendants Van Stelton Farms, Ltd., Van Stelton Brothers, Jerry Van Stelton, individually and as trustee of the Jacob and Margaret Van Stelton Revocable Trust, Eugene Van Stelton, individually and as trustee of the Jacob and Margaret Van Stelton Revocable Trust, John Doe, and other unknown defendants. On May 15, 2008, Eugene and Jerry filed a petition in equity for partition of real estate in Iowa District Court for Osceola County, case no. EQCV017654 ("the 654 case). On October 10, 2008, Virgil and Alvin filed their answer, affirmative defenses, counterclaim, and third party petition in the 654 case. On January 14, 2010, Alvin, Virgil, Eugene, and Jerry attended a mediation in the two cases. Virgil and Alvin were represented by attorney John Werden. Jerry and Eugene were represented by attorney Ronald Shea.

On March 19, 2010, Virgil and Alvin dismissed with prejudice their claims against Eugene, Jerry, Van Stelton Brothers, and Van Stelton Farms, Ltd. in both cases. Under the terms of the settlement, Virgil retained his right to sue for false arrest and assault against DeKoter and Sheriff Weber.

6. Virgil's arrest

Sheriff Weber and his deputies did not take direction from DeKoter on matters related to law enforcement. County Attorney Hansen did not take direction from DeKoter on matters related to law enforcement or criminal prosecution.

On May 11, 2009, Virgil was arrested by Osceola County Deputy Sheriffs Nate Krikke and Scott Gries on suspicion of assault and trespassing. Virgil's arrest arose out of an altercation between him and Jerry on May 11, 2009. Virgil went to Jerry's farm because he wanted to speak with Gary Christians about the ongoing dispute between Virgil and his brothers. The confrontation between Virgil and Jerry escalated to the point where Virgil took Jerry to the ground and put him in a chokehold. Christians was there, but was not involved in the altercation. After the altercation, Jerry contacted the Osceola County Sheriff's Department and Deputies Gries and Krikke were dispatched to investigate the incident, and advised that "the Van Stelton brothers are fighting." Krikke Dep. at 9; the County defendants' App. at 52. The deputies spoke to Virgil, Jerry, and Christians.[4] Virgil told the deputies that he took Jerry to the ground. Virgil also admitted that he was on Jerry's land. The deputies saw visible injuries to Jerry's neck.[5] Virgil admitted that he put Jerry in a chokehold and that Jerry suffered a physical injury as a result.[6] Jerry told Deputy Gries that he told Virgil to stay at the field driveway while he and Christians went out into the filed to shut off a tractor. The deputies' investigation indicated that Virgil had assaulted Jerry after going onto Jerry's farm. After speaking with Virgil, Jerry, and Christians, the deputies arrested Virgil. Deputy Gries told Virgil he was under arrest for assault and trespassing. In booking, the assault charge was listed as "domestic assault." Sometime later it was changed to simple assault. Regardless of whether Virgil's assault charge was classified as "simple" or "domestic, " under Osceola County policy, he was required to go before a magistrate prior to release.

On May 12, 2009, local news media released information about Virgil's arrest. KIWA, a Sheldon radio station, reported:

A sibley man is behind bars for an incident on Monday. The Osceola County Sheriff's office reports that on Monday, May 11, they arrested 63-year-old Virgil Van Stelton of Sibley for Domestic Assault and Trespassing, both Simple Misdemeanors. Van Stelton is being held in the Osceola County Jail on a $600 cash bond.

News Report at 1, County defendants' App. at 15. Neither Alvin nor Carol were mentioned in the news reports about the incident.

DeKoter did not encourage Jerry to incite the incident with Virgil. DeKoter did not provide any information to the sheriff's office about the incident. DeKoter was unaware of the incident between Virgil and Jerry until after it occurred.

On May 12, 2009, Deputy Gries filed two Complaint and Affidavit forms with the Iowa District Court, alleging that Virgil committed an assault and a trespass during the May 11, 2009, incident. On May 12, 2009, a state magistrate found probable cause to believe that Virgil had committed an assault and a trespass. On May 14, 2009, County Attorney Hansen later amended the assault charge to assault causing bodily injury. On May 18, 2009, a state magistrate found that there was probable cause to support the amended charge. On May 26, 2009, a trial information charging Virgil with assault causing bodily injury was reviewed and approved by an Iowa district court judge.

Virgil did not challenge the legality of his arrest during his state court criminal proceeding, and did not ask the court to set aside the trial information for lack of probable cause. Hansen ultimately dropped the charges against Virgil in the exercise of his prosecutorial discretion following the deposition of Jerry.

After Virgil's arrest, DeKoter contacted Hansen regarding the status of the criminal case. DeKoter did this as a courtesy to Jerry. DeKoter and Hansen exchanged information about the incident and charges and then did not speak again about matters concerning the Van Steltons until this lawsuit was filed. DeKoter does not remember ever contacting anyone at the Osceola County Sheriff's office about restricting or limiting Virgil's contact with Margaret. Neither Virgil nor Alvin lost any rights under the Trust because of Virgil's arrest. None of the County defendants have retaliated against Carol for anything she has said.

7. Virgil's tape recorder

A tape recorder that Virgil had during his confrontation with Jerry was seized by Deputies Gries and Krikke. Virgil asked the deputies if they had found his recorder. When Virgil was told that they had it, Virgil asked if it was turned on when they found it. Virgil told the deputies that there should be some pretty good evidence on it. When Deputy Gries asked Virgil if he wanted to give a statement, Virgil replied: "You have my tape recorder, don't you." Krikke Dep. at 94; County defendants' App. at 78. From this series of questions and Virgil's response when he was asked if he wanted to give a statement, the deputies thought that Virgil had consented to their listening to that portion of the tape recording that concerned the incident with Jerry. One or both of the deputies listened to that portion of the recording, without first securing a search warrant. Virgil never filed a motion to suppress the contents of the tape recording in his criminal case.

B. Procedural Background

On May 11, 2011, plaintiffs filed their initial pro se Complaint. The Complaint contained the following claims: (1) civil rights violation claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by all plaintiffs; (2) claims by Virgil Van Stelton for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and loss of consortium; (3) claims by Virgil Van Stelton and Alvin Van Stelton for intentional infliction of emotional distress, slander, and "interference with Right to Petition for Redress of Grievances."

On January 6, 2012, plaintiffs filed their Amended Complaint. The Amended Complaint added Carol Van Stelton's claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, loss of consortium, and slander. After plaintiffs retained counsel, plaintiffs sought and were granted leave to file a Second Amended Complaint on November 9, 2012. The Second Amended Complaint contained additional factual allegations and added the City of Sibley as a defendant. Generally, the Second Amended Complaint alleges that Hansen and Weber abused the power of their official positions by acting in concert with the other defendants, their friends, and clients. The Second Amended Complaint contains the following claims: (1) civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1961, et seq .; (3) pendent state law claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, slander and libel, tortious interference with prospective business advantage, and declaratory judgment and injunctive relief.

Defendant DeKoter, and defendants Weber, Scott Gries, Nate Krikke, Hansen, Osceola County (collectively, "the County defendants") each filed motions to dismiss portions of the Second Amended Complaint. In response, plaintiffs sought and were granted leave to file their Third Amended Complaint on January 3, 2013. The Third Amended Complaint contained more factual detail and added the Law Firm as named defendants (DeKoter and the Law Firm will collectively be referred to as "the Law Firm defendants" unless otherwise indicated). In general terms, the Third Amended Complaint again alleges that Hansen and Weber abused the power of their official positions by acting in concert with the other defendants to benefit them, their friends and clients. Plaintiffs added claims under Iowa's Ongoing Criminal Conduct statute ("OCC"), see IOWA CODE ch. 706A, to their RICO claims in Count 2.

Defendants were permitted to submit supplemental briefs addressing the allegations contained in the Third Amended Complaint and how, if at all, those allegations impacted defendants' original arguments.

On July 17, 2013, I granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motions to dismiss. I dismissed the City of Sibley as a defendant. As for the other defendants, I dismissed some claims while finding that others were sufficiently plead. The dismissed claims included: (1) the RICO and OCC claims; (2) a First Amendment right to petition claim; (3) Carol Van Stelton's defamation claims; (4) the ongoing criminal conduct claim under Iowa state law; and (5) the tortious interference with prospective business relations claim. Plaintiffs' remaining claims are: (1) violations of constitutional rights, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) false arrest; (3) malicious prosecution; (4) slander and libel, (5) breach of fiduciary duty, and (6) tortious interference with prospective business advantage.

The County defendants, the Law Firm defendants, and the Van Stelton defendants all seek summary judgment on the claims asserted against them for a variety of reasons, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Plaintiffs filed timely responses to defendants' motions for summary judgment in which they resist some, but not all, of defendants' motions for summary judgment.

II. LEGAL ANALSYIS

After reviewing the standards for summary judgment motions, I will address the specific issues raised by defendants' motions. Because of an overlap in the issues raised by defendants' motions, I will address the issues seriatim .

A. Summary Judgment Standards

Motions for summary judgment essentially "define disputed facts and issues and... dispose of unmeritorious claims [or defenses]." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 585 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986) ("One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses...."). Summary judgment is only appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c) (emphasis added); see Woods v. DaimlerChrysler Corp. , 409 F.3d 984, 990 (8th Cir. 2005) ("Summary judgment is appropriate if viewing the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.").

A fact is material when it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.'" Johnson v. Crooks , 326 F.3d 995, 1005 (8th Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Thus, "the substantive law will identify which facts are material." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine if it has a real basis in the record, Hartnagel v. Norman , 953 F.2d 394, 395 (8th Cir. 1992) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)), or when "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party' on the question, " Woods , 409 F.3d at 990 (quoting Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248); see Diesel Machinery, Inc. v. B.R. Lee Indus., Inc. , 418 F.3d 820, 832 (8th Cir. 2005) (stating genuineness depends on "whether a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party based on the evidence").

Procedurally, the moving party bears "the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record which show a lack of a genuine issue, " Hartnagel, 953 F.2d at 395 (citing Celotex , 477 U.S. at 323), and demonstrating that it is entitled to judgment according to law. See Celotex , 477 U.S. at 323 ("[T]he motion may, and should, be granted so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for the entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied."). Once the moving party has successfully carried its burden under Rule 56(c), the nonmoving party has an affirmative burden to go beyond the pleadings and by depositions, affidavits, or otherwise, designate "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); Mosley v. City of Northwoods, Mo. , 415 F.3d 908, 910 (8th Cir. 2005) ("The nonmoving party may not rest on mere allegations or denials, but must demonstrate on the record the existence of specific facts which create a genuine issue for trial.'" (quoting Krenik v. County of Le Sueur , 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995))).

As the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained,

"On a motion for summary judgment, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts.'" Ricci v. DeStefano , ___U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 2658, 2677, 174 L.Ed.2d 490 (2009) quoting Scott v. Harris , 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) (internal quotations omitted). "Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc. , 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000), quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The nonmovant "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, " and must come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.'" Ricci , 129 S.Ct. at 2677, quoting Matsushita , 475 U.S. at 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348.

Torgerson v. City of Rochester , 643 F.3d 1031, 1042-43 (8th Cir. 2011) ( en banc ).

Summary judgment is particularly appropriate when only questions of law are involved, rather than factual issues that may or may not be subject to genuine dispute. See, e.g., Cremona v. R.S. Bacon Veneer Co ., 433 F.3d 617, 620 (8th Cir. 2006). Consequently, I turn to consider the parties' arguments for and against summary judgment.

B. Section 1983 Claims

The County defendants, the Law Firm defendants, and the Van Stelton defendants all seek summary judgment on plaintiffs' § 1983 claims. After reviewing the requirements for such claims, I will ...


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