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Lennette v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 21, 2018

ANDREW LENNETTE, Individually and on behalf of C.L., O.L., and S.L., Minors, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, MELODY SIVER, AMY HOWELL, and VALERIE LOVAGLIA, Defendants-Appellants.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Christopher L. Bruns, Judge.

         Defendants in a civil lawsuit appeal a district court ruling partially denying their pre-answer motion to dismiss.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Jeffrey S. Thompson, Solicitor General, and Julia S. Kim, Assistant Attorney General, for appellants.

          Martin Diaz, Swisher, for appellee.

          Heard by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         Defendants[1] in a civil lawsuit appeal a district court ruling partially denying their pre-answer motion to dismiss.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         In September 2017, Andrew Lennette, on behalf of himself and his three children, filed a petition at law against defendants asserting, among other things, "a claim for violation" of his and his children's "Iowa Constitutional Rights as recognized by the Iowa Supreme Court in Godfrey v. State." See generally 898 N.W.2d 844 (Iowa 2017). Lennette alleged the rights violated "include liberty, property, privacy, procedural and substantive due process rights in the parent-child relationship and in avoiding physical and emotional harm." The defendants promptly filed a pre-answer motion to dismiss in which they argued, among other things, the constitutional claims should be dismissed for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted because qualified immunity shielded them from liability as to Lennette's constitutional claims under Godfrey.

         Prior to its ruling on the motion to dismiss, Lennette alerted the district court in a supplemental resistance that a federal district court certified a question of law to the Iowa Supreme Court as to whether a defendant could raise a defense of qualified immunity to a constitutional claim for damages under certain provisions of the Iowa Constitution. Lennette argued the district court should not apply qualified immunity to Godfrey-type claims until the supreme court decided the issue. In its ruling on the motion to dismiss, the district court concluded:

[T]he issue of qualified immunity for Iowa constitutional claims remains an open question and that to guess the answer to that question without a dispositive holding from the Iowa Supreme Court risks unnecessary expenses and proceedings for all involved. Further, even if the Iowa Supreme Court declines to consider the certified question described here, the doubt must be resolved in [Lennette's] favor, because the current motion is a motion to dismiss. The Court cannot say with any certainty whether qualified immunity exists in this scenario and thus cannot grant the motion on the basis of qualified immunity.

         Following the court's ruling, the defendants filed an application for interlocutory appeal on the issue of qualified immunity. The application was initially denied in a single-justice order. The application was granted following defendants' motion for a three-justice review. The supreme court stayed the proceedings in the district court and transferred the matter to this court for resolution.

         II. Standard of Review

         Appellate review of a district court ruling denying a motion to dismiss is for correction of errors at law. Ackerman v. State, 913 N.W.2d 610, 614 (Iowa 2018); Madden v. City of Iowa City, 848 N.W.2d 40, 44 (Iowa 2014). "A motion to dismiss should only be granted if the allegations in the petition, taken as true, could not entitle the plaintiff to any relief." King v. State, 818 N.W.2d 1, 9 (Iowa 2012) (quoting Sanchez v. State, 692 N.W.2d 812, 816 (Iowa 2005)). Denying a motion to dismiss is appropriate unless the petition "on its face shows no right of recovery under any state of facts." Ritz v. Wappello Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, 595 N.W.2d 786, 789 (Iowa 1999) (quoting Schaffer v. Frank Moyer Constr., Inc., 563 N.W.2d 605, 607 (Iowa 1997)). We do not consider facts ...


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