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Blazek v. City of Nevada

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 7, 2019

DENA JEAN BLAZEK, Administrator of the Estate of ADAM WILLIAM BLAZEK, Deceased; DENA JEAN BLAZEK, Individually, and as Next Friend of C.B. and A.B., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
CITY OF NEVADA, IOWA and CITY OF NEVADA, IOWA EMPLOYEES DOE, Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Story County, James A. McGlynn, Judge.

         The plaintiffs appeal the district court's decision granting the motion for summary judgment filed by the City of Nevada and unnamed City of Nevada employees in a suit seeking money damages for the death by suicide of Adam Blazek and the conduct of City of Nevada police officers.

          William T. Talbot of Newbrough Law Firm, LLP, Ames, for appellants.

          Jason C. Palmer, Thomas M. Boes, and Catherine M. Lucas of Bradshaw, Fowler, Proctor & Fairgrave, P.C., Des Moines, for appellees.

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

          POTTERFIELD, JUDGE.

         Dena Blazek appeals the district court's decision granting the motion for summary judgment filed by the City of Nevada and unnamed City of Nevada employees in a suit seeking money damages for the death by suicide of her husband, Adam Blazek, and the conduct of City of Nevada police officers. Dena brought the suit in her personal capacity and in her representative capacities as the administrator of Adam's estate and as next friend of C.B., Dena's child from a previous marriage, and of A.B., Dena and Adam's child.[1] For the plaintiffs' tort-based causes of action (claims I, II, III, and V), the district court determined summary judgment was proper because the defendants did not owe a duty to Adam, Dena, or the children individually. For the plaintiffs' constitutional claims, the district court determined summary judgment was proper regardless of whether the claims were based on constitutional torts brought under Godfrey v. State, 898 N.W.2d 844 (Iowa 2017) or substantive due process claims. On further review, we conclude the district court properly granted summary judgment on all claims.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         All the facts pertinent to this appeal occurred within a twenty-four-hour period. The parties stipulated to the facts for the purpose of summary judgment. On the morning of February 3, 2016, Adam was at the family's home with C.B. and A.B., then thirteen and six years old respectively. Dena was at work. The children were loudly playing and laughing in C.B.'s bedroom when Adam came into the bedroom and told them to be quiet. He then left the room. The children continued to play loudly, and Adam returned and told them if they would not be quiet, he would get his gun. A.B. responded that they would call 911 if he did that, to which Adam responded that they would be dead before the police showed up. Adam then left the bedroom again, returning a short time later with a handgun. Adam held the gun against his chest, frightening the children. He left the room again, and C.B. went into the bathroom to hide. She sent Dena a series of six to eight text messages at around 10:40 a.m., telling Dena what had happened.

         Dena noticed the messages around 11:00 a.m. and was shocked by what she read. Adam had never threatened the children with the gun before, nor had he taken the gun out in Dena's presence before. Dena called C.B. and told her to get A.B. and get out of the house. Dena then called her father, Phil, who also lived in Nevada. She told Phil what had happened and asked him take the children to his house. He told her he would. C.B. tried to call Phil around this time, but Adam took her phone while C.B. was making the call. Dena then called Adam and told him her father would be picking the children up. During this call, Adam smashed C.B.'s phone. The children waited outside where Phil picked them up and brought them back to his house.

         Dena then left work and travelled to Phil's house, where she spoke with the children. Around 3:45 p.m., she and her cousin Charlie traveled back to the Blazeks' home to gather the children's clothing and other items. Adam was present while they were there. Adam and Dena agreed to talk the next day about what had happened. While Dena and Charlie were leaving, Dena told Charlie she believed Adam would kill himself. She based this belief on the "eerie" feeling she had while at the home and on how calm Adam had been while she was there with Charlie.

         Dena and Charlie returned to Phil's house. On the advice of a family friend who was a retired police officer, Dena called the Nevada Police Department. Dena told the 911 operator what had happened, and the operator sent Officer Kelli Springer to speak with Dena at Phil's house. Officer Springer spoke with Dena, her parents, and the children. Dena told Officer Springer she believed Adam was suicidal and asked Officer Springer to perform a welfare check on Adam, which she agreed to do. She also told Officer Springer that Adam worked in Ames and would be leaving for work that night between 10:10 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. Dena warned Officer Springer Adam would likely not open the door for the police. Officer Springer told Dena the police would try to arrest Adam that night when he got to work and, if they were unable to do so, they would try again the next morning. Officer Springer advised Dena to stay at Phil's house that night and that she would call her if they arrested Adam that night. Dena agreed to stay at Phil's house and wait for Officer Springer's call. Officer Springer told Dena the police would arrest Adam for child endangerment and aggravated assault.

         Officer Springer left Phil's house and went back to the police department building. There, she conferred with other police officers. The police determined the safest way to apprehend Adam was to arrest him once he arrived at work. From 9:50 p.m. to 10:50 p.m. that night, three police officers waited outside the Blazeks' home for Adam to come out. The police officers never observed Adam leave the Blazeks' home.

         At around 3:15 a.m., the Nevada Fire Department received a call about a fire at the Blazeks' home. The fire department arrived at the home to find it engulfed in flames. Once the fire was out, firefighters and police officers searched the building and found Adam's body in the basement. His cause of death was determined to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. After an investigation, the police determined Adam ...


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