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State ex rel. Larson v. Masias

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 6, 2018

STATE OF IOWA EX REL. SAMANTHA LARSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
GREG MASIAS JR., Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Joel W. Barrows, Judge.

         The State of Iowa, on behalf of Samantha Larson, appeals the district court's dismissal of its application for order to show cause based on a finding that it failed to prove Greg Masias's willful violation of a no-contact order beyond a reasonable doubt.

          James L. Ottesen of Family Resources, Inc., Davenport, for appellant.

          Lauren M. Phelps, Davenport, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., McDonald, J., and Blane, S.J. [*]

          BLANE, SENIOR JUDGE.

         The State, on behalf of Samantha Larson, a protected party, filed an application for order to show cause against defendant Greg Masias Jr. based upon an alleged violation of a no-contact order and contemporaneous visitation order during a child-visitation exchange. Following a hearing on the record, the district court determined the State had failed to prove Masias's conduct constituted a willful violation of the no-contact order and denied the application. Based upon our review, we affirm the district court.

         I. Standard of Review.

         "Our cases impose a special standard of review of the facts in contempt cases. If it is claimed that a ruling is not supported by substantial evidence, 'we examine the evidence, not de novo, but to assure ourselves that proper proof supports the judgment.'" State v. Lipcamon, 483 N.W.2d 605, 606 (Iowa 1992) (quoting Palmer College of Chiropractic v. Dist Ct, 412 N.W.2d 617, 619 (Iowa 1987)). "The exact extent to which we may go in deciding questions of fact from the record is vaguely defined; it lies in a shadowland, a 'twilight zone', whose boundaries do not admit of definite charting." Id. (citation omitted). "The finding of contempt must be established by proof beyond a reasonable doubt." Id.

         "We are not bound by the trial court's conclusions of law and may inquire into whether it applied erroneous rules of law that materially affected its decision." Id. at 606-07.

         II. Procedural and Factual Background.

         Larson filed a chapter 236 petition for relief from domestic abuse against Masias. At the hearing on February 22, 2017, Larson and Masias agreed to the entry of a protective order by consent agreement. Since these parties have a child together, the court also entered a contemporaneous, supplemental visitation order, which provided for Masias to have visitation with the child-with exchanges to take place at the Eldridge Police Department-and communication between the parties to be by email and only regarding the child.

         On May 9, the State, on behalf of Larson, filed an application for rule to show cause against Masias for violation of the February 22 orders alleged to have occurred during the child exchange at the Eldridge Police Department on May 7. The application was supported by Larson's affidavit.[1]

         The district court held a hearing on the contempt action on September 27. Larson and Masias testified, as did Larson's fiancé. The testimony differed to some extent but was consistent on several points. Larson testified Masias complained she "snatched" the child from his arms; yelled at her as she walked away, stating, "Did you hear me?" and "It's [the snatching] going to stop"; and screamed at her from his vehicle as he was leaving, ...


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