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Ney v. Ney

Supreme Court of Iowa

March 10, 2017


          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dickinson County, David A. Lester, Judge.

         Plaintiff appeals district court's dismissal on grounds of subject matter jurisdiction. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

          Christopher R. Kemp of Kemp & Sease, Des Moines, and John M. Sandy of Sandy Law Firm, P.C., Spirit Lake, for appellant.

          Joseph L. Fitzgibbons and Matthew T.E. Early of Fitzgibbons Law Firm, L.L.C., Estherville, for appellee.

          HECHT, JUSTICE.

         Two brothers stipulated to the entry of an order enjoining them from having contact with each other. When one of them subsequently sought a contempt order against the other for violation of the injunction, the district court dismissed the action on the ground it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to enter or enforce a consent order barring contact between parties. On our review, we conclude the district court had jurisdiction to issue the injunction. We therefore reverse the dismissal and remand the case for further proceedings.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Patrick Alan Ney and John Glenn Ney are brothers with an acrimonious relationship. In April 2012, Patrick filed a "Petition for Injunctive Relief" seeking a temporary injunction against John. The petition alleged that John had a history of assaulting Patrick, trespassing on his property, and harassing him and his family. Patrick alleged he had requested law enforcement's help multiple times to no avail. The petition further alleged John had recently broken into Patrick's house while drunk but fled before law enforcement arrived.[1] In support of his claim for a temporary injunction, Patrick alleged the ongoing harassment by John caused irreparable damage that law enforcement officers had not been able to prevent. The prayer for relief requested John be prohibited from entering Patrick's property or threatening, assaulting, stalking, molesting, attacking, harassing, or communicating with Patrick and his family.

          On June 25, 2012, the parties entered into a "Stipulation and Agreement" asking the court to incorporate the terms of their agreement in an order for injunctive relief. The parties agreed they would, a. Not threaten, assault, stalk, molest, attack, harass, or otherwise abuse one another;

b. Stay away from each other's residences and not be in each other[']s presence except in a courtroom during court hearings;
c. Not communicate with each other in person or through any means including third persons [except] . . . . through legal counsel;
d. Not communicate with any member of each other[']s family[, ] . . . [including] spouses, children, grandchildren, and in-laws.

         The district court approved the terms of the agreement and issued an order (2012 order) on the same day incorporating the terms of the stipulated agreement and directing that "[t]he parties shall have no further communication with one another."

         On March 30, 2016, Patrick filed an "Application for Contempt of Court" alleging John had intentionally, willfully, and repeatedly violated the court's 2012 order. In an attached affidavit, Patrick urged the court to find John in contempt of the order because on four separate occasions, John engaged in "abusive contact" against Patrick and his family, including one instance in which John "threatened to pull his firearm out."

         The district court found it had personal and subject matter jurisdiction and issued an order to show cause on March 31, 2016. John filed a motion to dismiss the proceeding, asserting the 2012 order was void and unenforceable because the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to grant the injunction.

          In July 2016, after conducting an unrecorded telephonic hearing and reviewing the briefs, the district court granted John's motion to dismiss. The court concluded the injunction Patrick sought to enforce was void because the issuing court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to issue injunctive relief. In reaching its decision, the district court reasoned that Iowa Code section 664A.2(2) (2011) prescribes the only circumstances in which a district court has jurisdiction to issue a protective order in a civil proceeding.[2] Concluding the 2012 order purported to issue a protective order in a civil proceeding, the court reasoned that the order was void because the conduct it restrained was not among the grounds for which ...

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