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Veatch v. City of Waverly

Supreme Court of Iowa

January 9, 2015

CITY OF WAVERLY and JASON LEONARD, individually and in his official capacity, Appellees

On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals. Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Bremer County, DeDra Schroeder, Judge. The City of Waverly seeks further review of a court of appeals decision reinstating a plaintiff's false imprisonment claim against the City and one of its police detectives.

John J. Hines and Laura L. Folkerts of Dutton, Braun, Staack & Hellman, P.L.C., Waterloo, for appellant.

Beth E. Hansen of Swisher & Cohrt, P.L.C., Waterloo, for appellees.


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HECHT, Justice.

Staff members at a nursing home became concerned that a visiting family member had mistreated an elderly resident of the home and contacted the police. The visitor was arrested and charged with simple misdemeanor assault, but a jury acquitted her. After she was acquitted of the criminal charge, the visitor brought this civil action asserting negligence, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution theories against the arresting officer and the city that employed him. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. After the Iowa Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment on the plaintiff's false imprisonment claim, the defendants sought, and we granted, further review. Because we conclude summary judgment was properly granted, we vacate the decision of the court of appeals and affirm the district court's ruling.

I. Factual Background.

A reasonable fact finder viewing the summary judgment record in the light most favorable to Veatch could find the following facts. On September 27, 2006, Maxine Veatch and her sister visited their mother, Agnes Bell, at Woodland Terrace, a skilled-care residential nursing home facility in Waverly, Iowa.[1] Later that day, Janet Whiteside, a nurse employed by the nursing home, reported to her supervisor that she had observed Veatch shoving Bell into her wheelchair, wheeling her out of the staff's view, and screaming at her. Whiteside's supervisor directed Whiteside to write a report describing her observations and submit it to the nursing home director, Brianna Brunner.

Brunner took action after reading Whiteside's report. She forwarded the report to Debra Schroeder, the President and CEO of the nursing home's corporate owner. Brunner also directed two nurses to examine Bell for physical evidence of an injury. The nurses performed the examination

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and noted fresh bruising on Bell's knee and forearms.

Brunner relayed the substance of Whiteside's report to officer Thomas Luebbers of the Waverly Police Department. Officer Luebbers prepared a report based on his conversation with Brunner. Luebbers's report included allegations reported by Whiteside: that Veatch had shoved Bell into a wheelchair, wheeled Bell into her room, shut the door, and screamed at Bell--along with other observations giving rise to concerns that elder abuse was occurring.[2] The report also noted that, according to Brunner, Veatch and her sister held power of attorney for Bell. Officer Luebbers communicated his understanding of the incident to detective Sergeant Jason Leonard, who took over the investigation.

Sergeant Leonard's investigation took him to Woodland Terrace, where he discussed the incident with Brunner, Schroeder, and Jenny Kane, a nurse who supervised Whiteside and had observed Bell's bruises. The meeting between Sergeant Leonard and the staff lasted one to two hours. Sergeant Leonard asked to speak with Bell about the incident, but the three nursing home employees dissuaded him from doing so, suggesting Bell was reluctant to speak with people she did not know and would fear retaliation from Veatch for any cooperation with law enforcement. However, Sergeant Leonard learned the nursing home's employees had asked Dr. Lee Fagre, a physician, to conduct a physical examination of Bell and determine whether Bell's bruises corroborated Whiteside's account of the incident. Sergeant Leonard decided he would continue his investigation without interviewing Bell if he could obtain a written report documenting Dr. Fagre's examination and a copy of Whiteside's original incident report.

During the meeting at Woodland Terrace, Sergeant Leonard and the nursing home staff also reviewed documentation of previous alleged incidents involving Veatch and Bell and considered whether a temporary protective order protecting Bell from Veatch should be sought. Lastly, the meeting attendees, including Sergeant Leonard, requested assistance from an Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) caseworker in investigating whether dependent adult abuse was occurring.

As Sergeant Leonard's investigation of Veatch's conduct continued, he received a telephone call from Kane relaying the results of Dr. Fagre's examination. Kane told Sergeant Leonard that Dr. Fagre had noted " thumbprint" bruises on Bell's forearms that appeared consistent with someone having forcibly held Bell's forearms to the wheelchair arms. Kane further reported Dr. Fagre had discovered a bruise on Bell's left buttock consistent with Whiteside's description of the incident and corroborating the allegation that Veatch had shoved Bell into her wheelchair.[3]

Sergeant Leonard asked Veatch to come to the police station for an interview. She complied. After briefly exchanging polite pleasantries, Sergeant Leonard explained he wanted to ask Veatch some questions about a report that she had assaulted Bell at the nursing home. Veatch responded that she would not continue the interview without legal counsel. Veatch also told

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Sergeant Leonard she believed the allegations against her by the nursing home's staff were retaliatory in nature and were a response to Veatch's complaints about the quality of care provided to her mother by the staff. Sergeant Leonard acknowledged the request for counsel, left the interview room, and returned a few minutes later with a complaint charging Veatch with simple misdemeanor assault in violation of Iowa Code sections 708.1 and 708.2(6) (2005). He arrested Veatch and placed a phone call to DHS reporting he had done so. Veatch entered a plea of not guilty, and the case went to trial. A jury acquitted Veatch.[4]

II. Procedural Background.

A. Federal Court Proceedings.

Veatch filed a civil action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa against five defendants: the nursing home, two nursing home employees, the City of Waverly (the City), and Sergeant Leonard. See Veatch v. Bartels Lutheran Home, No. 08-CV-2044-LRR, 2009 WL 3270823, at *1 (N.D. Iowa Oct. 9, 2009). In her complaint consisting of twelve counts, Veatch asserted a claim under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against ...

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