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Smith v. Janssen

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 22, 2017

HEATHER R. SMITH, Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
v.
JEFFREY MICHAEL JANSSEN, Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Joel D. Novak, Judge.

         Heather Smith and Jeff Janssen separately appeal the district court's findings concerning their respective acts of domestic assault. AFFIRMED ON BOTH APPEALS.

          Michael P. Holzworth, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Lynne Wallin Hines of Lynne W. Hines Law Office, Des Moines, for appellee.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.

          DOYLE, Judge.

         This case concerns two domestic abuse protective orders entered in the wake of an altercation that occurred in October 2015 when Heather Smith and Jeff Janssen were exchanging custody of their two children following visitation. During the exchange, Heather entered Jeff's vehicle in an attempt to remove the older child from his seat and Jeff tried to stop her. The altercation separately led each party to seek a domestic abuse protective order against the other. After consolidating the actions and holding a hearing that spanned a day and a half, the district court found each party had committed a domestic abuse assault against the other and issued both requested protective orders in December 2015.

         Heather and Jeff separately appealed. They challenge the district court's findings concerning their respective acts of domestic assault. The supreme court consolidated their appeals and the matter was transferred to this court in February 2017.

         I. Scope of Review.

         The parties assert this action was tried in equity and our review is de novo. The trial court ruled on objections during the trial. Ordinarily, civil-domestic-abuse proceedings are tried in equity, and our appellate review of equitable proceedings is de novo. See, e.g., Wilker v. Wilker, 630 N.W.2d 590, 594 (Iowa 2001); Knight v. Knight, 525 N.W.2d 841, 843 (Iowa 1994). We generally "consider and review a case in the same manner as the district court tried the case." Molo Oil Co. v. City of Dubuque, 692 N.W.2d 686, 690 (Iowa 2005). When the "case was tried in the district court as a law action" and it "ruled on objections as they were made, " our appellate review is for correction of errors at law. Bacon ex rel. Bacon v. Bacon, 567 N.W.2d 414, 417 (Iowa 1997). Though an important consideration, the district court's ruling on evidentiary objections alone does not determine whether the case was tried in law or equity. See Passehl Estate v. Passehl, 712 N.W.2d 408, 414 (Iowa 2006). Where "the objections were minor and did not have a significant effect on the proceedings" and the "district court ultimately used its equitable powers to order specific performance and to issue an injunction, " it may be concluded the case "was fully tried in equity." Id.

         In Sille v. Shaffer, 297 N.W.2d 379, 380-81 (Iowa 1980), the supreme court concluded that the case would be reviewed de novo despite the fact that the district court ruled on objections during trial. The court stated:

Upon a de novo review it would be impossible, where we disagree with a trial court's evidentiary ruling, to consider necessary evidence which would be absent from the record.
We have no such problem in this case. We have carefully read the transcript and find few instances in which evidence was excluded from the record. In none of these situations do we ...

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