from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Jeanie K.
Dunlap appeals the dismissal of his civil suit against his
former employer's workers' compensation insurance
carrier following the district court's grant of summary
judgment in the insurers' favor.
J. Crowley and Edward J. Prill of Crowley & Prill,
Burlington, for appellant.
P. Duffy, Coreen K. Sweeney, and Stephanie L. Marett of
Nyemaster Goode, P.C., Des Moines, for appellees.
by Potterfield, P.J., Doyle, J., and Danilson, S.J. [*]
compensation claimant Thomas Dunlap brought a civil action
asserting claims of bad faith and intentional infliction of
emotional distress against his former employer's
workers' compensation insurance carriers relating to the
handling of his workers' compensation claims. Following
motions for summary judgment, the district court found Dunlap
could not establish elements of his claims and granted
summary judgment in favor of the insurers. Dunlap appeals,
challenging the district court's ruling in numerous
respects. Upon our review, we affirm in part, reverse in
part, and remand for further proceedings.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
2007, Thomas Dunlap sustained a work injury while employed by
Action Warehouse. See Dunlap v. Action
Warehouse, 824 N.W.2d 545, 548 (Iowa Ct. App. 2012). He
filed a claim for workers' compensation and was
ultimately awarded benefits in 2009 following a hearing.
See id. The deputy workers' compensation
found the greater weight of the evidence showed Dunlap's
low back, left leg, and left arm symptoms were caused by
Dunlap's July 2007 work injury, Dunlap had clearly not
reached maximum medical improvement, and Dunlap was in a
running healing period. The deputy further found Dunlap's
employment was terminated because he was unable to work due
to his back condition caused by the work injury and was
therefore entitled to temporary partial disability and
healing period benefits. The deputy declined Dunlap's
request for penalty benefits, finding [two doctors'
expert] opinions made [his employer's] liability fairly
Id. at 553-54. The deputy's opinion was affirmed
by the workers' compensation commissioner on appeal.
See id. at 554. Following a judicial review by the
district court, this court affirmed the agency's decision
in all respects, including that penalty benefits were not
appropriate because the issue of liability was fairly
debatable. See id. at 554-60 (reversing the district
court's reversal of the agency's determination that
the issue of liability was fairly debatable, resulting in our
total affirmance of the agency's decision).
September 2009, while that agency action and litigation was
pending, Dunlap filed a civil action against Action Warehouse
and its workers' compensation insurance carriers Commerce
and Industry Insurance Company, AIG Domestic Claims, Inc.,
and AIG, Inc. This is the matter presently at issue on
appeal. Relevant here, Dunlap asserted claims of bad faith
and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the
defendants related to his 2007 work injury and workers'
compensation claim. The civil case was stayed a number of
times over the years as Dunlap's 2007 workers'
compensation claim progressed through the previously
described administrative process.
in 2013, Dunlap filed a review-reopening petition before the
workers' compensation commissioner seeking to review and
reopen the 2009 agency decision "to convert the running
healing period" and receive permanent total disability
benefits. Since the 2009 agency hearing, "Dunlap's
medical and physical condition ha[d] deteriorated," and
he had "required ongoing and extensive medical care for
his low back." "Dunlap developed mental health
problems" and experienced "sleep difficulties and
disturbances related to his low back symptoms." "As
a result of his low back injury and resulting symptoms,
[Dunlap] began using a cane to assist with walking,"
using his right hand to hold the cane. Over time, Dunlap
developed bilateral carpal, cubital, and ulnar tunnel
syndrome (referred to as "arm injuries" or
"2012 injuries" in this opinion). Three doctors
opined Dunlap's arm injuries were causally related to his
prior 2007 work injury.
the defendants denied liability for the arm injuries, relying
upon the opinions of Dunlap's neurologist, Dr. Irving
Wolfe, who evaluated Dunlap in November 2011. Dr. Wolfe
"noted symptoms in both the right and left arms"
and referred Dunlap to a hand specialist, who in turn
recommended surgeries for Dunlap's arm injuries. The hand
specialist is one of the three doctors that opined
Dunlap's arm injuries were causally connected to his 2007
"defense counsel conferenced with Dr. Wolfe," Dr.
Wolfe in April 2012 opined in a report there was "no
causality regarding [Dunlap's arm conditions and]
symptoms in regard to" Dunlap's 2007 work injury. A
month later, Dr. Wolfe "clarified his medical opinions
in a report requested by [Dunlap's] counsel,"
opining, "It is possible (e.g., less than 51%) that
[Dunlap's arm injuries] while not directly caused by the
. . . 2007, work-related injury are a result of the natural
consequences of [Dunlap's] back injury requiring him to
ambulate with the use of a cane." Dr. Wolfe stated
further testing could rule out other possible causes such
that his opinion of a causal connection could rise from
possible to probable. Nevertheless, the defendants continued
to deny liability based upon Dr. Wolfe's opinions.
a hearing in November 2014, the deputy concluded Dunlap
established his arm injuries were directly related to his
2007 work injury "or arose as a sequela of that work
injury," and the defendants were "responsible for
each of these compression neuropathy conditions." The
deputy granted Dunlap's request for alternate medical
care, ordered the defendants to "continue to pay
[Dunlap] healing period benefits," and ordered the
defendants to pay certain costs such as filing fees,
transcript fees, doctors' reporting fees, and
reimbursement for fees related to Dunlap's independent
medical evaluation. However, the deputy found the issue of
permanent disability was not ripe for determination at that
point because Dunlap had not reached maximum medical
rehearing application, Dunlap asserted several challenges to
the deputy's decision. The deputy subsequently determined
the permanent disability issue was ripe and concluded Dunlap
is permanently and totally disabled as a result of his low
back and mental health injuries. The deputy awarded Dunlap
compensation for his permanent total disability and ordered
the defendants to pay Dunlap's mileage claim related to
his travel for his evaluation, among other
2015, the district court in the civil case granted
Dunlap's first motion to amend his petition, including
adding a claim of bad faith related to his 2012 injuries and
permanent-disability-benefits award. The civil matter
subsequently culminated in a motion for summary judgment
filed by the defendants at the end of 2016. While the summary
judgment matter was pending, Dunlap on March 22, 2017, filed
a second motion to amend his previously amended petition
seeking to add a claim of abuse of process against the
hearing on the defendants' summary judgment motion was
held March 31, 2017. Before ruling on Dunlap's second
motion to amend, the district court entered its ruling
partially granting and partially denying the defendants'
summary judgment motion. The court found the claims asserted
by Dunlap in his first amended petition against the
defendants could be broken down into three components as
follows: (1) bad faith for the defendants' handling of
his 2007 and 2012 injuries, (2) bad faith for the
defendants' handling of his mileage claim, and (3)
intentional infliction of emotional distress. After
considering all the relevant evidence in the record, the
district court determined no issues of material fact existed
concerning the defendants' handling of Dunlap's 2007
workers' compensation claim to establish the defendants
acted in bad faith, and the defendants were accordingly
entitled to summary judgment on those related issues as a
matter of law. The court found the defendants' actions in
handling or mishandling of Dunlap's initial workers'
compensation claim was fully litigated before the agency and
again on appeal of the agency's decision. Citing our 2012
opinion upholding the agency's award of benefits to
Dunlap, as well as the agency's denial of penalty
benefits, the district court found it had been previously
determined the defendants had "a reasonable basis for
[their] position that no benefits were owing to Dunlap."
See Dunlap, 824 N.W.2d at 558. The court reasoned
Dunlap was therefore precluded from re-litigating the issue
in his civil case. The court further concluded that even if
issue preclusion did not apply, it would still find, for the
reasons found by the agency and affirmed on appeal, that the
defendants had a reasonable basis for their position that
Dunlap was not owed benefits related to his 2007 work injury.
The court found supporting opinion evidence in the record
that Dunlap did not establish causation made the issue fairly
debatable. Consequently, the court found Dunlap could not
show the defendants acted in bad faith in initially denying
his initial workers' compensation claim, and the
defendants were entitled to summary judgment with respect to
that aspect of Dunlap's bad-faith claim.
the district court did find a genuine dispute of material
fact existed as to the defendants' handling of
Dunlap's later claims concerning injuries in his arms.
Though the defendants cited an expert's opinion for its
position that Dunlap's arm injuries were not caused by
his 2007 work injury, the district court found their reliance
on that opinion was not reasonable under the circumstances.
The court concluded that, on this claim, the defendants
"took a position that reasonable minds could not hold in
light of the quantity and quality of conflicting expert
opinions provided on the issue."
bad faith claim relating to the defendants' failure to
pay mileage, the court found it lacked jurisdiction to decide
the issue because Dunlap failed to exhaust his administrative
remedies to resolve the claim. The court concluded an
"alternate medical care petition provide[d] [Dunlap]
with his exclusive remedy, and there is no dispute that he
failed to exhaust it." Consequently, the court held it
lacked jurisdiction over this claim. Nevertheless, the court
further reasoned that if it had jurisdiction to address the
issue, it would conclude the defendants had a reasonable
basis for their delay in payment of Dunlap's mileage,
since the delay was
reasonably attributable to the initial provision by [Dunlap]
of incomplete information to the [defendants] and subsequent
verification of the missing information by the [defendants]
once the missing information was provided. The communication
disconnect and delay ran both directions and amounted to
nothing more, and nothing less. It did not rise to bad faith
by the [defendants].
the court noted Dunlap must establish, as an element of a
claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, that
the defendants "engaged in extreme and outrageous
conduct," defined as "conduct so extreme as to go
beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as
atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized
community." The court reasoned that while the defendants
"tracking and oversight of [Dunlap's] claims file
was shoddy, . . . their management of his claims file was not
so extreme as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and
to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a
civilized community." "Under this record,
reasonable minds-while perhaps not impressed by the
[defendants'] handling of [Dunlap's] claims-could not
differ regarding their lack of liability for intentional
infliction of emotional distress upon [Dunlap]." The
court determined summary judgment was proper on the issue.
Accordingly, the district court concluded all but one of
Dunlap's claims must be dismissed. Both Dunlap and the
defendants filed motions requesting the district court
reconsider its summary judgment ruling.
the parties' motions to reconsider were pending, the
district court entered its ruling on other motions pending in
the case. The court denied the paragraph of Dunlap's
second motion to amend his petition to add an
abuse-of-process claim against the defendants. The court
noted "Iowa law does not extend abuse-of-process claims
to cases arising from alleged abuses committed by defendants
in administrative proceedings," and the court declined
Dunlap's request to expand the scope to include actions
before administrative agencies.
August 2017, after reconsidering the issues raised in the
parties' motions to reconsider the court's summary
judgment ruling, the district court determined the defendants
were entitled to summary judgment on the one issue it did not
dismiss in its earlier ruling. Upon further consideration,
the court noted the defendants relied upon an expert's
opinion given in two separate letters opining Dunlap's
arm injuries were not caused by his earlier back injury. The
court concluded Dunlap did not meet
his burden in responding to this evidence by producing his
own evidence supporting his argument that it would be
unreasonable for the [defendants] to rely upon [their
expert's] two "no causation" opinions. There is
no evidence before the court that a jury could reasonably
rely upon in concluding reliance on a medical doctor's
twice-stated and consistent no-causation opinion was
the district court found the defendants' "motion to
reconsider and their motion for summary judgment as to the
second period claim should be granted." The court denied
Dunlap's motion to reconsider and dismissed his amended
now appeals the district court's grant of summary
judgment in favor of the defendants.
Scope of Review.
appellate courts review rulings on motions for summary
judgment for correction of errors at law. See Homan
v. Branstad, 887 N.W.2d 153, 163 (Iowa 2016).
Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file,
and affidavits show there is no genuine issue of material
fact, and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a
matter of law. Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.981(3); Mueller v.
Wellmark, Inc., 818 N.W.2d 244, 253 (Iowa
2012). The district court's findings of fact are binding
on us if supported by substantial evidence. Iowa R. App. P.
6.904(3)(a). If the moving party has shown there is no
genuine issue regarding any material fact, entitling the
moving party to judgment as a matter of law, summary judgment
is appropriate. See Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.981(3).
Therefore, our review is limited to two questions: (1)
whether there is a genuine dispute regarding the existence of
a material fact, and (2) whether the district court correctly
applied the law to the undisputed facts. See Homan,
887 N.W.2d. at 164.
is material if it may affect the lawsuit's outcome.
See id. There is a genuine dispute as to the
existence of a fact if reasonable minds can differ as to how
the factual question should be resolved. See id.
"Even if facts are undisputed, summary judgment is not
proper if reasonable minds could draw from them different
inferences and reach different conclusions." Walker
Shoe Store v. Howard's Hobby Shop, 327
N.W.2d 725, 728 (Iowa 1982).
reviewing summary judgment rulings, we view the record in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See
Homan, 887 N.W.2d at 163-64. This includes drawing all
legitimate inferences that the record supports in favor of
the nonmoving party. See id. at 164. The nonmoving
party is also given the benefit of any doubt in determining
whether granting summary judgment is appropriate. See
Butler v. Hoover Nature Trail, Inc.,
530 N.W.2d 85, ...