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Homan v. Branstad

Supreme Court of Iowa

May 29, 2015

DANNY HOMAN, STEVEN J. SODDERS, JACK HATCH, PAT MURPHY, and MARK SMITH, Appellees,
v.
TERRY BRANSTAD, Governor, State of Iowa, and CHARLES M. PALMER, Director, Iowa Department of Human Services, Appellants

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Scott D. Rosenberg, Judge. The Governor and the director of the department of human services appeal from the district court's grant of a temporary injunction prohibiting them from closing the Iowa Juvenile Home.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Jeffrey S. Thompson, Solicitor General, Meghan L. Gavin and Timothy L. Vavricek (until withdrawal), Assistant Attorneys General, for appellants.

Mark T. Hedberg, Nathaniel R. Boulton, and Sarah M. Wolfe of Hedberg & Boulton, P.C., Des Moines, for appellees.

OPINION

Page 322

MANSFIELD, Justice.

During the 2013 legislative session, the Iowa General Assembly appropriated funds for the operation of the Iowa Juvenile Home (IJH) in Toledo for the 2014 fiscal year (July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014). Approximately five months into that fiscal year, the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) decided to close the home and find alternative, judicially approved placements for the twenty-one girls who resided there.

Two state senators, two state representatives, and the president of the labor organization representing employees at the IJH filed suit against the Governor and the director of DHS. In addition to other relief, the plaintiffs sought a determination that the defendants' refusal to spend appropriated funds to continue operating the IJH was unconstitutional. Agreeing with the plaintiffs, the district court entered a temporary injunction preventing closure of the IJH.

The Governor and the DHS director sought interlocutory review of this injunction. We granted their request and stayed the injunction pending appeal. Meanwhile, the general assembly declined to fund ongoing operations of the IJH for the 2015 fiscal year (July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015).

The Governor and the DHS director raise several arguments as to why the

Page 323

injunction was wrongly entered. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, contend the injunction was properly granted. We decline to reach either side's arguments. Instead, we determine the case is moot because the legislature is no longer appropriating funds for the operation of the IJH. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand with instructions to dismiss the case as moot.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On June 20, 2013, subject to exceptions not relevant here, the Governor approved an act of the general assembly appropriating funds for health and human services for the 2014 fiscal year running from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014. See 2013 Iowa Acts ch. 138. Section 17 of the act included, in part, an appropriation to DHS for the continued operation of the IJH:

Sec. 17. JUVENILE INSTITUTIONS. There is appropriated from the general fund of the state to the department of human services for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2013, and ending June 30, 2014, the following amounts, or so much thereof as is necessary, to be used for the purposes designated:
1. For operation of the Iowa juvenile home at Toledo and for salaries, support, maintenance, and miscellaneous purposes, and for not more than the following full-time equivalent positions:
. . . . $8,859,355
. . . . FTEs 114.00

Id. ch. 138, § 17.

On August 20, 2013, responding to reports of improper use of seclusion and restraint at the IJH, the Governor issued Executive Order 82, which created the Iowa Juvenile Home Protection Task Force. See Exec. Order No. 82 (2013), available at https://governor.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Executive-Order-82.pdf. The executive order noted, among other things, that " protecting the health, safety and welfare of Iowa's children is of the utmost importance," and " all Iowa children deserve the best care and education we can provide." Id. The executive order directed DHS to conduct " trauma-informed care training" for IJH staff within thirty days. Id. In addition, the executive order charged the task force with the following responsibilities:

a. Make recommendations about how to improve services for [IJH] residents;
b. Review incident data to ensure a high-level of care is delivered at the Iowa Juvenile Home;
c. Recommend a strategy for the permanent elimination of seclusion rooms outside the cottage setting;
d. Recommend a strategy outlining the transition of the Iowa Juvenile Home's education plan from being managed from the Department of Human Services to Area Education Agency 267; and
e. Reach other goals and objectives as requested by the Office of the Governor.

Id. The task force was directed to " report its findings and make them available to the public no later than October 15, 2013." Id.

Despite this tight time schedule, the IJH task force issued its report to the Governor on October 9.[1] Iowa Juvenile Home Protection Task Force, Report of the Iowa Juvenile Home Protection Task

Page 324

Force (Oct. 9, 2013), available at https://dhs.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/Report%20of%20the%20Iowa%20Juvenile%20Home%20Protection%20Task%20Force.pdf. The task force stated it had undertaken its investigation " with one over-riding goal: to make recommendations guided solely by the best interests of Iowa's youth." Id. (cover letter). The task force made several findings. Among other things, it criticized the housing of two separate populations of girls at the IJH--namely, girls who had been adjudicated delinquent and girls who had been adjudicated children in need of assistance (CINA). Id. at 2. Also, the task force found the IJH's physical plant " is, in many respects, outdated and unsuitable for the use to which the IJH is put." Id. Additionally, it noted that the IJH's control rooms " have an extreme 'prison-like' appearance and contribute to the creation of the 'corrections culture' that was prevalent at the [IJH] in the past." Id. The report also observed that private placements could enable the CINA youth to benefit from federal funding and would allow both the CINA youth and the delinquent youth to receive additional services upon reaching eighteen years of age. Id. at 4.

The task force then made a series of recommendations based on " the best interests of the youth." Id. at 4-7. Among other things, the task force advised that CINA girls no longer be admitted to the IJH. Id. at 6. Further, it recommended that if delinquent girls are to be placed at the IJH, " the cottages currently on the campus should be replaced with living units that are designed per current standards . . . and with seclusion rooms in the living units themselves." Id. at 5.

Thus, the task force did not specifically recommend the closure of the IJH, but did recommend that the IJH stop admitting CINA girls and that the existing residences for delinquent girls be replaced if the IJH continued to serve delinquent girls.

Two months later, on December 9, the director of DHS announced his decision to find alternative placements for IJH residents and to shutter the IJH. The director stated his decision was " based on recommendations from the Iowa Juvenile Home Protection Task Force." The director's announcement pointed out that the IJH currently served a total of twenty-one girls, including eleven delinquent girls, nine girls who had been adjudicated CINA, and one girl who was being evaluated.

The director further observed that while " [n]ew methods of de-escalating behavior [had] resulted in a 93 percent reduction in the use of seclusion measures" at the IJH, it would be preferable to work with other facilities and community-based providers " who can offer a variety of services and supports which would not be available on the Toledo campus if it were serving only a very small number of delinquent girls." (internal quotation marks omitted). The director offered his view that the girls currently in the IJH " will be served most successfully through court-approved alternative placements." (internal quotation marks omitted). The director added that employee layoffs at the IJH would occur effective January 16, 2014.

On January 2, AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan, Senator Steven J. Sodders, Senator Jack Hatch, Representative Pat Murphy, and Representative Mark Smith filed this action in Polk County District Court against the Governor and the DHS director. AFSCME Iowa Council 61 is the state branch of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and represents public employees in Iowa, including the staff at the IJH. Sodders, Hatch, Murphy, and

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Smith were members of the Iowa General Assembly when the ...


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