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Delgado-Zuniga v. Dickey & Campbell Law Firm, P.L.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 13, 2017

JOSE CRUZ DELGADO-ZUNIGA, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
DICKEY & CAMPBELL LAW FIRM, P.L.C. and MICHAEL JON PIPER, Defendants-Appellees.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Douglas F. Staskal, Judge.

         Jose Cruz Delgado-Zuniga appeals from the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of attorney Michael Piper and his employer, Dickey & Campbell Law Firm, P.L.C.

          Gregory T. Racette and Chandler M. Surrency of Hopkins & Huebner, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Joensen, Matthew R. Phillips, and Catherine M. Lucas of Bradshaw, Fowler, Proctor & Fairgrave, P.C., Des Moines, for appellees.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Bower, JJ.

          DOYLE, Judge.

         Jose Cruz Delgado-Zuniga appeals from the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of attorney Michael Piper and his employer, Dickey & Campbell Law Firm, P.L.C., (collectively Defendants). He argues genuine issues of material fact exist such that summary judgment was improper. We affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         In March 2008, Jose Cruz Delgado-Zuniga (Delgado) filed a complaint of employment discrimination against his employer, Natural Milk Production, under Iowa Code chapter 216 (2007), with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC). Utilizing the ICRC's fillable form, Delgado indicated he was discriminated against because of his Mexican national origin, because of his gender, and for retaliation "[b]ecause [he] filed a prior civil rights complaint, opposed a discriminatory practice, or participated as a witness in an anti-discrimination proceeding." Delgado checked the boxes on the form claiming his employer took the following actions against him: "Denied Accommodation/Modification, " "Disciplined/Suspended, " "Laid-off/Failure to Recall, " "Harassment, " "Treated Differently, " "Undesirable Assignment/Transfer, " and "Unequal Pay." Delgado then gave a summary of his allegations, essentially asserting he worked in horrifying conditions, which led to him becoming ill and having to miss work, and when he complained to his employer about the conditions and his resulting illness, he was harassed and given poor work assignments, among other things, and he was ultimately fired. Delgado subsequently received a "right to sue" letter from the ICRC.

         In November 2008, Delgado entered into a fee agreement with attorney Michael Piper of the Dickey & Campbell Law Firm, P.L.C. The agreement stated Delgado was employing Piper

to represent him in connection with (1) [Delgado's] discrimination complaint . . .; (2) [Delgado's] workers' compensation claim for injuries arising out of and occurring in the course of [Delgado's employment]; (3) [Delgado's] claim for damages arising from [Delgado's] wrongful termination from [his employment]; and (4) investigation of immigration possibilities for [Delgado].

         In 2009, Delgado, through Piper, filed a federal complaint asserting claims of employment discrimination and retaliation against Delgado's employer. Then, in March 2010, Delgado, through Piper, filed a workers' compensation claim against his employer. Delgado stated on the claim form that he was injured on March 25, 2008, after his employer prohibited him "from using the bathroom during extended periods at work, " causing him to suffer gastrointestinal damage. At the end of 2010, Delgado and his employer entered into a settlement agreement concerning his federal lawsuit. The parties acknowledged in the agreement that it excluded Delgado's "active workers compensation claim."

         Thereafter, in the workers' compensation case, Delgado's employer filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting Delgado's injury was beyond the statute of limitations. Piper planned to file a resistance to the motion based upon the discovery rule, but Piper missed the deadline. The deputy workers' compensation commissioner subsequently granted Delgado's employer's summary judgment motion.

         In 2015, Delgado sued Defendants for professional malpractice based upon Piper's failure to timely respond to the motion for summary judgment before the Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner. Defendants subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing Delgado's workers' compensation claim was futile from the start because the commissioner lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the dispute, and therefore, Defendants could not be liable for the alleged malpractice. Defendants also argued Delgado's failure "to procure expert testimony regarding the standard of care for lawyers and on causation" ...


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