DILLON CLARK, AGNES DUSABE, MUSA EZEIRIG, ZARPKA GREEN, ABRAHAM TARPEH, and DUSTY NYONEE, Appellants,
INSURANCE COMPANY STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee.
from the Iowa District Court for Jasper County, Terry Rickers
and John D. Lloyd, Judges.
appeal from district court judgment dismissing action.
Matthew M. Sahag of Dickey & Campbell Law Firm, PLC, Des
Moines, for appellants.
P. Duffy and Mitchell R. Kunert of Nyemaster Goode, P.C., Des
Moines, for appellee.
Brian Scieszinski of Bradshaw Fowler Proctor & Fairgrave,
Des Moines, for amici curiae Iowa Association of Business and
Industry, Employers Mutual Casualty Company, and United Fire
& Casualty Company.
case, employees and former employees of an Iowa manufacturing
company brought a common law tort claim against the
employer's workers' compensation insurance carrier.
The claim alleged that the insurance carrier failed to
conduct or negligently conducted an insurance inspection at
the company's manufacturing facility and that the
omission or action caused serious health problems for
insurance carrier moved to dismiss the petition based on Iowa
Code section 517.5 (2017). This Code provision provides, "No
inspection of any place of employment made by insurance
company inspectors . . . shall be the basis for the
imposition of civil liability upon the inspector or upon the
insurance company . . . ." Id. Plaintiffs
resisted, arguing that the statutory provision is
unconstitutional as violative of equal protection,
inalienable rights, and due process under article I, sections
1, 6, and 9 of the Iowa Constitution. The district court held
the provision constitutional and dismissed the actions.
granted interlocutory review. For the reasons expressed
below, we affirm the judgment of the district court.
Factual and Procedural Background.
Iowa, LLC is a wind blade manufacturing facility located in
Newton, Iowa. TPI employs hundreds of employees at its Newton
plant. The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania
(ICSOP) is TPI's workers' compensation insurer.
Plaintiffs Dillon Clark, Agnes Dusabe, Musa Ezeirig, Zarpka
Green, Dusty Nyonee, and Abraham Tarpeh are current or former
employees of TPI.
filed a petition in district court naming as defendants
ICSOP, TPI, and various TPI affiliates, officers and
employees. Plaintiffs' petition included a variety of
claims against the various defendants, but the only claims
against ICSOP were based on the failure to inspect the
premises, or in the alternative, negligent inspection.
plaintiffs alleged that employees at TPI were exposed to
hazardous chemicals while manufacturing wind blades at the
TPI manufacturing facility. Plaintiffs alleged the acts or
omissions of ICSOP caused them various injuries, including
horrific skin ruptures, rashes, burns, swollen and wounded
eyelids, irregular vaginal bleeding, extensive body itches,
congestion in the throat and lungs, and erectile dysfunction.
Plaintiffs sought compensatory damages for their personal
injuries, medical expenses, and lost wages. Plaintiffs also
sought punitive damages.
moved to dismiss plaintiffs' claims against it. ICSOP
noted that the only claims against it arose from alleged
failure to inspect or negligent inspections. ICSOP asserted
that it had statutory immunity from such claims under Iowa
Code section 517.5.
responded that section 517.5 is unconstitutional. They
pointed to article I, sections 1, 6, and 9 of the Iowa
district court granted the motion to dismiss. We granted
Standard of Review.
review motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim for
corrections of errors at law. Rees v. City of
Shenandoah, 682 N.W.2d 77, 78 (Iowa 2004).
Constitutional claims are reviewed de novo. Godfrey v.
State, 752 N.W.2d 413, 417 (Iowa 2008).
Statutory and Constitutional Provisions. Plaintiffs
challenge the constitutionality of Iowa Code section 517.5.
That provision states,
No inspection of any place of employment made by insurance
company inspectors or other inspectors inspecting for group
self-insurance purposes shall be the basis for the imposition
of civil liability upon the inspector or upon the insurance
company employing the inspector . . . .
Id. Plaintiffs claim that Iowa Code section 517.5
violates the equal protection and privileges and immunities
provisions of the Iowa Constitution, Iowa Const. art. I,
§ 6 ("All laws of a general nature shall have a
uniform operation; the general assembly shall not grant to
any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities,
which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all
citizens."), the inalienable rights clause of the Iowa
Constitution, id. art. I, § 1 ("All men
and women are, by nature, free and equal, and have certain
inalienable rights . . . ."), and the due process clause
of the Iowa Constitution, id. art. I, § 9
("The right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate . .
. [and] no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or
property, without due process of law.").
Positions of the Parties. A. Plaintiffs.
respect to equal protection, plaintiffs assert that similarly
situated persons-nonemployee tortfeasors-are treated
differently that other nonemployee tortfeasors under the
workers' compensation statutes. Ordinarily, nonemployee
tortfeasors are subject to common law liability. But,
plaintiffs point out, ICSOP as a nonemployee tortfeasor
receives absolute immunity under Iowa Code section 517.5.
Further, plaintiffs assert the distinction between
nonemployee tortfeasor insurance companies and other
nonemployee tortfeasors impacts a fundamental interest in
access to the courts, and as a result, the classification is
subject to strict scrutiny.
support of their equal protection claim, plaintiffs cite
Suckow v. NEOWA FS, Inc., 445 N.W.2d 776 (Iowa
1989). In Suckow, the plaintiff challenged a
classification scheme arising out of the workers'
compensation statute. Id. at 777. He asserted that
because a coemployee could be liable for workplace injuries
based on gross negligence under Iowa Code section 85.20
(1985), the employer should also be subject to liability
under a gross negligence theory. Id. The plaintiff
attacked the distinction between employers and coemployees
both under a strict scrutiny and a rational basis analysis.
Id. at 778-79. The Suckow court determined
that a fundamental right was not involved and that the
statute had a rational basis. As a result, the
Suckow court affirmed the district court's
dismissal of the claim. Id. at 778-80.
in this case recognize that the Suckow court
concluded that the classification did not involve a
fundamental right of access to the courts. Plaintiffs argue,
however, that the Suckow court emphasized that the
statutory immunity granted to employers did not eliminate an
employee's ability to recover against the employer, but
only required that any recovery be channeled through the
workers' compensation process. Id. at 778-79.
Plaintiffs thus emphasize that the immunity statute at issue
in Suckow did not eliminate all potential claims