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Rixner v. James W. Boyd Revocable Trust

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 9, 2019

JAMES W. BOYD REVOCABLE TRUST and JENNIFER BOYLE and JAMES W. BOYD, Individually, Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Jeffrey L. Poulson, Judge.

         The appellants appeal the dismissal of their petition alleging discrimination in the rental of housing. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

          Connie E. Anstey, Assistant City Attorney, for appellants.

          Patrick T. Parry of Mayne, Hindman, Daane, & Parry, Sioux City, for appellees.

          Heard by Potterfield, P.J., and Bower and Greer, JJ.

          GREER, JUDGE.

         James Rixner and the Sioux City Human Rights Commission (Commission)[1] appeal the dismissal of their petition against the James W. Boyd Revocable Trust (Trust), Jennifer Boyle, and James W. Boyd.[2] The plaintiffs allege the defendants discriminated in the rental of housing in violation of state and municipal law, and they requested damages and an injunction. They argue the district court abused its discretion in striking a paragraph of the petition and erred in finding the plaintiffs are not aggrieved parties. The defendants argue the petition is time barred, the plaintiffs have failed to argue they are the real party in interest, and the plaintiffs do not have standing to pursue this action. We decline to address the statute of limitations and motion to strike issues and conclude that the plaintiffs have established they are aggrieved parties under the statute and have standing to pursue their claims. We reverse and remand to the district court for further proceedings.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         On March 16, 2017, the Commission filed its first petition, which it later amended. According to the amended petition, the defendants owned or were otherwise responsible for conducting business at residential rental properties in Sioux City. On or about April 23, 2014, a third-party tester working on behalf of the Commission contacted Boyle about renting housing. The tester asked about keeping a companion animal due to a disability. Boyle said no animals, including assistive animals, were allowed in the property. The Commission deemed this behavior discriminatory and issued a formal probable cause finding on May 7, 2015. A similar interaction was alleged to be part of a continuing violation related to a subsequent complaint occurring on or about August 10, 2016. The

         Commission claims the defendants violated the law by denying reasonable accommodation of a disability, steering, and restricting rental choices. Due to the allegations, the petition requested an injunction to prevent further discrimination, civil penalties, punitive damages, costs, and attorney fees.

         The defendants filed a motion to strike the reference to the subsequent complaint, claiming the Commission already found it lacked probable cause to pursue the complaint. After an unreported hearing, the court granted the motion to strike on September 14, 2017, finding "no argument or evidence [the] complaint that was dismissed for lack of probable cause involved a companion dog or a refusal to allow a companion dog in the housing." On November 13, the Commission filed an amended petition. Among the changes, the amended petition deleted the struck paragraph, but included a new paragraph about the subsequent complaint detailing more information related to the alleged continuing behavior. Another request to strike the new paragraph was made, but the district court never ruled on the request.

         Along with that second motion to strike, the defendants also included a motion to dismiss. On March 7, 2018, the district court granted the motion, finding the Commission is not an "aggrieved person" eligible to file a petition under Iowa Code section 216.16A(2)(a) (2017). The Commission filed a motion to reconsider followed by a second amended petition that added Rixner-chair of the Commission-as a plaintiff. On April 19, the court denied the motion to reconsider and dismissed the second amended petition, finding "Rixner is no more of an aggrieved party than the Commission itself" and that a tester hired by the Commission could not be an actual "person" or "party" in interest who had been aggrieved. The plaintiffs appeal.

         II. Standard of Review

         We review a motion to strike portions of the petition for abuse of discretion. See Theis v. James, 184 N.W.2d 708, 710 (Iowa 1971). We review a motion to dismiss for correction of errors at law. Rees v. City of Shenandoah, 682 N.W.2d 77, 79 (Iowa 2004). "A motion to dismiss is properly granted only if a plaintiff's petition 'on its face shows no right of recovery under any state of facts.'" Id. (quoting Trobaugh v. Sondag, 668 N.W.2d 577, 580 (Iowa 2003)). "A motion to dismiss is properly granted 'only when there exists no conceivable set ...

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