The Implementation of Electronic Filing in the Courts

In this day of technology, it is no surprise that the court systems are moving to using an Electronic Document Management System (EDMS for short) for parties to file documents with the Court, without even setting foot in the Courthouse. The district courts have been working on this conversion since early 2013; introducing and training courthouse staff before converting each county to EDMS filing. It won't be long before every district court in Iowa is available using this system.

This can be a benefit to parties who no longer have to pay an attorney to go down to the courthouse every time a signature is needed from the Judge and can allow for much quicker turnaround times on certain Orders from the Court. This also allows parties to file documents outside of the normal hours of the court and can be an advantage to clients who want to sign up and track the progress of their case using the EDMS system. For those who use the system on a regular basis, it is fairly simple to learn, doesn't require much training, and lets attorneys know almost immediately when filings are presented to the Court.

There can also be some disadvantages as it doesn't allow the attorneys and judges to have the face-to-face contact that they once had and there are times that expected documents sit out in "space" waiting for attention from the Clerk's office or a Judge so that they can be completed. It can also be harder for pro se clients who have to follow the same rules as attorneys; and without a legal background and knowledge of the technology, this can make it almost impossible for self representation.

Overall the implementation of EDMS in the courts has many advantages for attorneys and Judges in that they can more easily track cases and locate filings, it makes it easier to file documents in other counties immediately, without having to send them by mail or charge for them being hand delivered, and it makes it easier to meet filing deadlines by allowing documents to be filed any time, day or night. At this time there are only 13 counties left to be converted to EDMS, at which time every district court in the state will be accessible online. With the recent conversion of the Court of Appeals, it won't be long before most cases can be handled without an attorney ever having to leave their office chair!

Finding an Attorney

Many people come to a point in their life where they need professional legal advice and finding someone to talk to can be a very scary and confusing process.  The first step in looking for an attorney is locating someone who practices in the area you need representation. A good place to start is talking to family and friends to see if any of them have someone they can recommend.  Social media is also a good way to find recommendations if you are comfortable with sharing your need for legal advice.

Another option is searching the internet using key words such as "Legal Services West Des Moines, Iowa" or "West Des Moines Iowa Law Firm" checking with organizations, such as the Iowa Bar Association.  There are also various websites such as "The Unsecret Shopper" where you can get a more personal review like the one where our own Samantha Gronewald was featured a few years ago.

Once you locate an attorney you would like to meet with, you should start out by giving their office a call and asking a few questions.  Explain why you need an attorney and ask questions about their costs, if they offer free consultations and what information you might need to bring to your first appointment.  You don't have to go in to great detail, but make sure they have a basic understanding of what your needs are, while at the same time you can get a feel for them and what they need from you.  Sometimes just in talking to someone on the phone for a few minutes, you can figure out if this is an office or attorney you are comfortable working with or not and if it is, move forward with making an appointment to sit down and discuss your situation in greater detail.

Google Made Easy!


 At Sullivan and Ward, P.C., we continually seek ways to streamline our resources and tune-up our skills to provide quality representation to our clients in the most efficient and effective manner.  As a paralegal for the firm, I am always seeking information to utilize our computer software and other on-line tools more efficiently.  I often ask myself, “What resources are at our fingertips that we don’t utilize to the fullest to the benefit of our clients?”


I recently ran across an article in Paralegal Today, a professional publication I subscribe to that provided a great article on how to use Google more effectively.  The article, Become a Google Power Searcher, was written by Paralegal, Kris Hill, ACP, FRP.  In her article, Kris, provides a link to a Google website that provides several lessons on how to utilize Google more effectively.  The website can be found at  The lessons are free of charge. I have not been through the entire list of lessons, but did complete the first stage, and found the information to be very helpful. 


A few things that I learned were:


·         Images can be searched, and then filtered by color.  This can be helpful if you remember certain characteristics of something, but not the actual name you want to search.  The website gave the example of a book.  You might remember what was on the cover and the author’s name, but not the name of the book.  You can provide in the query, the word “book” and the author’s name, and click on “images” and then search.  If you remember that the book was yellow, you can then filter the images by the color yellow, and you will most likely see the image of the book for which you are looking. (Lesson 1-1)


·         If you filter images for the color, “white” Google will show you charts and diagrams relating to your search criteria. (Lesson 1-1)


·         You can also filter the images by their usage rights.  For instance,if you want to use a Google image, type in your search, the word "Google and hit “image” below the search box,  then filter by, “Labeled for reuse," and Google will give you the image you can use. (Lesson 1-1)


·         When you do a search in Google, here are the questions that Google’s software asks:

v    How many times does this page contain your key words?

v    Do the words appear in the title? In the URL (web address)?

v    Do the words appear directly adjacent?

v    Does the page include synonyms for those words?

v    Is this page from a quality website? Or is it low quality, even spammy?  What is this page’s PageRank?

Google combines all those factors together to produce each page’s overall score and send you back your search results, about half a second after you submit your search. (Lesson 1-3)   Remembering these questions can help you better describe what you are looking for in your search.


Some of these are common sense, but a few of them I did not know.


·         By searching with less common words, you might find your answer more quickly, (i.e., instead of using the word “old” to find an “old town” that you cannot remember the name of, Google suggests trying  “ghost town.”)  (Lesson 1-4)


·         When searching via Google, remember that every word in your query matters, as well as the order of your words, however capitalization does not.  Most punctuation also does not matter, however there are several symbols that Google does read (such as % and $). (Lesson 1-5)


I found this website and the lessons completed to be very helpful and plan to go through all of the information/lessons in the near future.  I hope that this information and the website provided are also helpful to you – and happy Googling!


What do Paralegals do Anyway?

 As a Paralegal, I’m often asked what paralegals do.  A Paralegal or Legal Assistant (the terms are used interchangeably) is a paraprofessional whose duties are not really understood by the general public.  For this reason, I think it’s worthwhile to explain not only what a paralegal does, but how we are utilized at Sullivan & Ward, P.C., to help serve our clients in the most efficient way.

The American Bar Association defines a paralegal as follows:

A legal assistant or paralegal is a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.

The Iowa Association of Legal Assistants breaks the role of a paralegal down a little further:

One of the primary purposes of a paralegal/legal assistant is to enable the lawyer to be more efficient in the use of his or her time and more productive in the quality of his or her work.  A paralegal/legal assistant can relieve the lawyer of many time-consuming and burdensome tasks that in many instances can be done by a paralegal/legal assistant at less cost.

In short, we provide the background work to allow the attorney to be on the front lines. A Paralegal’s duties may include reviewing and organizing volumes of documents for easier review by the attorney; preparing drafts of legal documents and memos; locating and assembling information for attorneys; proofing and editing final drafts for the attorney; being on top of/knowledgeable about legal procedures and requirements of courts and agencies, and various other tasks specific to any given case. These tasks can sometimes take many hours to perform and can be billed to the client at a much lower rate when performed by a paralegal, saving the client money. Examples of things Paralegals are prohibited from doing include: representing clients before courts and giving legal advice.  Paralegals are bound by the same ethical rules as attorneys.

At Sullivan & Ward, P.C., our Paralegals, perform all of the tasks outlined above, and many others, in order to assist our attorneys in the proficient management of client case files. 

Attorney General: "Share the Road"

On January 17, 2013, the Iowa Attorney General issued an opinion regarding bicycle side path rules, specifically the newly-passed ordinance in the City of Grimes, Iowa. A side path rule is one that prohibits the use of bicycles within the road right-of-way when an adjacent trail is available. The Attorney General noted that the Iowa Code at 321.234(2) provides that a person riding a bicycle on the highway has all the rights and duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle. Further, the Code states that local authorities are without the power to enact, enforce, or maintain any ordinance, rule, or regulation that conflicts with the Code. Ultimately, the Attorney General concluded that the Grimes ordinance violates state law. The City of Grimes has yet to decide how it will proceed in light of this opinion. Tiffany De Masters wrote a great article in the Des Moines Register regarding the interplay between the Grimes ordinance, the Attorney General opinion, and many other related issues.

Iowa Supreme Court on Defamation

In a lengthy opinion released today, the Iowa Supreme Court tackled the intricate legal issue of defamation in Iowa.  In Gail Bierman and Beth Weier vs. Scott Weier and Author Solutions, Inc., the Court analyzed the history of Iowa and Federal defamation law.  Generally, the tort of defamation requires publication (spoken is slander, printed is libel) of a defamatory statement which was false and malicious, made of and concerning the plaintiff, which causes injury.  The Weier opinion analyzes the level of proof required in certain scenarios, including who made the statement and the content of the statement.  The Court also reiterated that plaintiffs must show more evidence to prove defamation if the actor is determined to be a "media defendant," rather than a private person, although Justices Hecht and Appel disagreed with this distinction.

So, if you have a free hour and a strong desire to understand Iowa defamation law (particularly libel), click on the link above and enjoy 68 pages of fun.  


Where Your Yard Ends & Your Neighbor's Begins

When neighbors have disputes about property lines, it is often unclear where one property ends and the other begins, especially when property owners have held the property for a long period of time.  In the event of a dispute, Iowa Code section 650 provides a procedure for resolution.  Under section 650, an interested party files a special action with the district court seeking determination of the disputed boundaries.  The Court appoints a commission composed of licensed land surveyors who make findings of fact.  The parties then have an opportunity to challenge the commission's findings before the district court, and the ruling of the district court can be appealed.  Of course, the parties can always agree to the boundaries without the Court's intervention.

Is a Nut Allergy a Disability?


In a ruling issued today, the Iowa Court of Appeals ("Court") sent a case back to the District Court for determination on whether a tree nut allergy fits the description of a "disability" under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.  The Court examined the similarities between the Iowa and Federal Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA").  The Court reasoned that the Iowa Act has always closely followed the Federal ADA, and since the Federal ADA has recently broadened its definitions of the term "disability," the District Court should further examine whether a nut allergy fits within this expanded definition.

Photo on Flickr by uacescomm

Can they do that? An Intro to Inverse Condemnation

As property owners, sometimes we are faced with situations where the government (state, county, municipal, etc.) does something that permanently affects the way we enjoy our property. If the property owner is not compensated for this, the legal method through which the property owner can receive compensation is called "inverse condemnation." See Kingsway Cathedral v. Iowa Department of Transportation, 711 N.W.2d 6 (Iowa 2006). Iowa courts have reviewed a wide array of inverse condemnation situations, including: property that consistently floods following road construction projects, ordinances that prohibit nuisance lawsuits for odors emanating from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and zoning actions affecting the use of a property. If successful, the property owner is entitled to the difference in market value of the property before and after the government's action. 

The Skill of Knowing When to Fold Them

A Federal District Court Judge in Brooklyn ruled that poker is a game of skill, rather than a game of chance.  At issue was whether game operators should be prosecuted under the federal law that prohibits running an illegal gambling business.  Judge Jack Weinstein noted in his ruling that the "most professional poker players earn the same celestial salaries as professional ballplayers," and reviewed statistics which showed that in a sample of 100 million poker hands played, over 70% of those hands were won before cards were turned over.  Instead, he reasoned "[t]he pot went not to the luckiest among them but to the most deft — the player who could guess his opponents’ intentions and disguise his own, make calculated decisions on when to hold and fold, and quickly decide how much to wager." 

Service Via Facebook?

In an order issued this month, a federal judge refused a request by Chase Bank to serve legal papers on an alleged identity thief via facebook. The case at issue involves a daughter who allegedly used her mother's identity to obtain a credit card from Chase and subsequently ran up charges of $1,243. To date, Chase has been unable to locate the daughter to serve her notice of the pending lawsuit. The detective who was hired to find her found four possible addresses as well as a facebook profile. When they were unable to find the daughter at any of the addresses, Chase asked the judge for permission to use an alternative method of service - facebook - to serve her. In rejecting the request, the judge said service via facebook is "unorthodox to say the least" and directed Chase to instead place ads in local newspapers. 

Iowa's rule regarding alternative methods of service provides that service can be made in "any manner consistent with due process of law prescribed by order of the court in which the action is brought." To the best of my knowledge, there have been no cases in Iowa in which a court has authorized service via facebook; however, based on my reading of the rule it could happen. Courts in Australia, New Zealand and England have allowed service via facebook. It will be interesting to see if Iowa follows suit as the use of social media continues to grow.           


Transferring Property From an LLC

Although Corporations and Limited Liability Companies offer their owners similar protections from liability, differences between the two entities can be found.  For instance, when transferring property from an LLC, the Iowa Revised Uniform Limited Liability Act requires that the record (i.e deed) must disclose whether the LLC is member-managed or manager-managed; whether the conveyance is in the ordinary course of the LLC's business or affairs; and that the signer has authority to act on behalf of the LLC.  Whereas, the record does not need show these additional disclosures for property transferred by a corporation. 

Consideration must be given to subtle differences such as these when deciding on a choice entity for a new venture.

Iowa Fence Law Legislative Update

As an update to previous entries regarding Iowa's fence law, the 2011 proposed legislative changes (Senate File 2102) failed to make it out of subcommittee.  We will have to wait another year to see whether the legislature decides to modify the century-old statute, in particular limiting its application to agricultural uses.  Until then, the statute will continue to operate in a gray area.

Iowa Fence Law (Needs) Update

Iowa Law Blog recently featured a post regarding the Iowa fence law found at Iowa Code Chapter 359A.  That post discussed that although the fence law was historically enacted for agricultural purposes, the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that its applicability extends to "serve the broader public good by mediating boundary, fence and trespass disputes."  Gravert v. Nebergall, 539 N.W.2d 184, 188 (Iowa 1995).  The fence law could be used for urban purposes as well.

The fence law directs that the township trustees of the subject area will serve as "fence viewers," a group that decides the outcome of a fence dispute between two neighbors.  However, as unincorporated land is annexed by municipalities, that land is no longer part of the township, but instead part of the municipality.  Thus, the township trustees no longer have jurisdiction over fence disputes. 

Logically, under this scenario it would seem that the city council would become the "fence viewers" who would resolve the dispute between the neighbors.  However, city councils traditionally serve a legislative function, and not a judicial one.  Accordingly, it would seem that the Iowa District or small claims court would be the appropriate venue for these disputes.

Such result does not mesh with Iowa Code 359A or the Gravert decision of the Iowa Supreme Court.  The Iowa legislature should review 359A to ensure that it still serves it purpose, and that there is a clear mechism for citizens to utilize it.

Good Fences Make Good Lawsuits

During Jan Mickelson's (@amtalker) radio show this morning on 1040 WHO, I heard part of a story about two neighbors who had a dispute about a fence.  The discussion involved Iowa Code Section 359A, which is a very old statute.  Essentially, the statute sets forth the procedure under which a person can force his adjoining land neighbor to help pay for the costs of a fence between the two properties.

There are several policies furthered by this statute.  The centuries-old proverb that "good fences make good neighbors" is an obvious reason, but for agricultural states it also helps clarify farmland boundaries and contain livestock. 

This is where clarification is important:  although the radio guest noted that this statute is intended for agricultural purposes, the statute technically does not have that limitation.  The Iowa Supreme Court has held that:

"Chapter 359A applies equally to all adjoining landowners without regard to the use of the land. Our decision rested on the fundamental belief that, in the long run, shared responsibility for partition fences minimizes conflict among neighbors. The fencing statute does not merely benefit livestock owners.  It serves the broader public good by mediating boundary, fence and trespass disputes."  Gravert v. Nebergall, 539 N.W.2d 184, 188 (Iowa 1995).

So for the city-folk reading this note, you have the access to this statute as well.

The Law fought the Bike Lanes, and the Bike Lanes Won

Earlier I blogged about a bike lane in Prospect Park West in Brooklyn that had come under some legal fire.  The plaintiffs were a number of disgruntled residents who filed a mandamus action against the City, arguing that the installation of a bike lane was aribtrary or unfair.

On Tuesday, August 16, 2011, the Court ruled in favor of the City, but on a technical and procedural statute of limitations issue, and not on whether the installation of the bike lane was arbitrary or unfair. 


A lawsuit about a hot dog

Trial began yesterday in a case in Kansas City.  Here, the Plaintiff John Croomer attended a baseball game of the Defendant Kansas City Royals on September 8, 2009.  The Royals mascot, Sluggerrr, was throwing free hot dogs into the stands, and Croomer alleged that one of these frankfurters was negligently thrown and hit him in the eye, resulting in a detached retina requiring multiple surgeries.  For a great  synopsis of the case, read Mark Morris' piece in the Kansas City Star.  It remains to be seen whether Croomer will relish in victory.

Bike Lanes Under Legal Attack

A petition was filed in New York State Court on Monday against New York City's Department of Transportation, seeking declaratory relief that would, in part, remove the new bikes lanes abutting Prospect Park West in New York City.  The New York Times reported on the lawsuit yesterday, noting that much of the issue has to do with politics.  However, the lawsuit does reference a great deal of evidence regarding traffic issues and increased risk of harm to cyclists and motorists.  Stay tuned for updates on this issue.

Legislature takes on Parental Waivers for Student Field Trips

Back on November 5, 2010, my colleague Matt Gardner discussed the Iowa Court of Appeals' decision in Galloway v. State, where the Court held that it is against public policy to allow parents to waive the child's legal rights to sue for damages against a third party.  Essentially, the Court said that when parents sign a permission slip for their children, the slip cannot waive a third party's responsibility to the child, noting that if the Iowa Legislature wants to change the law, they are free to do so.

Somebody in the legislature was listening, because House File 353 was filed yesterday.  The bill provides that: "A parent of a minor child may, on behalf of the parent’s minor child, waive such minor child’s prospective claim for negligence."  Matt's blog lays out the policy behind the argument, now it remains to be seen which argument wins the day in the legislature. 

Stay tuned for updates on this interesting and relevant legal issue as it works its way through the capitol.

Slow Pitch Softball at the Iowa Supreme Court

The Iowa Supreme Court released an opinion today in Feld v. Borkowski.  The case centers around a slow-pitch softball practice, where the players were taking batting practice.  The batter, Borkowski, was a right handed hitter.  On this particular pitch, Borkowski swung too early, fouling the ball high and foul over the left field line.  However, during some part of his swing, Borkowski released the bat, sending it flying....down the right field line, where it struck the first baseman, Feld, in the forehead causing serious damage.  This is not a normal flight pattern for a released bat.

The issue for the Court was to first determine whether softball is a contact sport.  If it is a contact sport, the batter is liable if his conduct was reckless or intentional.  If softball is not a contact sport, the batter is liable if his conduct was simply negligent.  The Court determined that softball was a contact sport, so that its players should be on notice that such type of danger is inherent, unless the danger was created by reckless conduct, which would place liability on the acting party. 

The Court then considered an affidavit from Ed Servais, the Creighton University head baseball coach.  Mr. Servais noted that a right handed hitter who fouls a ball down the left field line should not, under normal circumstances, ever release his bat down the right field line.  The Court found this to raise an issue of recklessness that was appropriate to take the case to a jury.

Another interesting story at the intersection of sports and the law.  Stay tuned to see how this case turns out when it goes to trial. 

Coaching Changes Lead to Lawsuit

In sports news, its common to hear about coaches who leave one program for the next, often breaking their contract to do so.  This time, somebody is getting sued.  In Tennessee Football, Inc. v. Lane Kiffin, University of Southern California, the Tennessee Titans sued the new USC football coach for "inducement of breach of contract" and tortious interference with contractual relations claiming that Coach Kiffin and USC induced Tennessee Titans' running back coach Kennedy Pola to breach his contract with Tennessee by convincing him to coach at USC instead.

Clay Travis at AOL Fanhouse gives a great synopsis of the case and other details surrounding it.  Time will tell whether the outcome of this lawsuit will change how contracts are treated in collegiate and professional sports, but it will be a great spectator event over the next year or two.

Judge: Cheerleading Not a Sport

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 states that: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance...

In collegiate sports, Title IX essentially provides that men and women must have equivalent athletic opportunities.  Given the budget constraints of collegiate athletic departments, deference is usually given to revenue generating sports, such as football and basketball, and other sports have to be cut to weighing the two major factors:  1) Cost of the sport, and 2) Compliance with Title IX.  Quinnipiac University attempted to cut its women's volleyball program, arguing that its cheerleading program was a qualifying varsity sport under Title IX.  A US District Court Judge in Connecticut found that the school failed to provide equivalent athletic opportunities to male and female athletes, and further noted that:

"Competitive cheer may, sometime in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX; today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students..."


Court of Appeals affirms Polk County decision in Boesen case

The Iowa Court of Appeals issued its ruling today in Freedom Financial Bank v. Estate of Edward Boesen et al.  The Court upheld the priority of Freedom Financial's purchase money mortgage which the late Edward Boesen used to buy a commercial property in Ankeny.  Citing century-old case law, the Court noted that prinicples of equity and fairness demand that the mortgage, which was used solely to purchase the property, be acknowledged. 

Iowa Texting Ban

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, text-messaging is banned for all drivers in 28 states and the District of Columbia. Effective July 1, 2010 Iowa joined the ranks when House File 2456 ( went into effect.  For adult drivers, the new ban prohibits writing, sending, or reading text or electronic mail messaging while driving. Adult drivers can still use cell phones to place and receive calls; however, drivers 14-18 years old cannot. Drivers 14-18 have an outright ban of cell phone or electronic device use while driving. This applies to drivers operating under instructional permits, school permits, and/or graduated or intermediate driver's licenses. 

While the new law goes into effect July 1, 2010, law enforcement will simply be issuing warnings for the first year. Beginning July of 2011; however, violations of the texting ban will result in a simple misdemeanor change punishable by a $30 scheduled fine, plus court costs and surcharges for adults. There will also be enhanced sanctions in situations where an accident occurs resulting in serious injury or death. Violations by restricted teen drivers will result in a $50 fine, plus court costs, surcharges and various license suspension provisions. Cell phones may not be confiscated by law enforcement if drivers violate the ban.     

NCAA Football: Let the Votes be Counted...Publicly

As reported on August 25, 2009 by Andy Staples on, is issuing open records requests to the 51 public school bowl championship subdivision football coaches who cast votes for the weekly coaches poll in NCAA football.  The coaches poll carries 33% weight in the determination of which schools are eligible to compete in the BCS national championship game, and other high-paying bowl games.  Staples argues that since football coaches at public universities are public employees, all records-including their votes-are subject to the open records laws of their specific states. 


Neither Kirk Ferentz or Paul Rhoads are voting in the coaches this year (2009), but if they were, an interested person could make an open records request under Iowa Code Chapter 22.  Whether such requests by are successful remains to be seen, but Iowa's law in particular seems to favor the interested person under these circumstances.


What is clear, however, is that this author is excited for the approaching college football season.  Stay tuned for any other excuses to write about the divergence of college football and the law. 

Win or Lose: You've Got the Job

This post should be prefaced with the fact that I am an alumnus of the Univeristy of Iowa, but I will attempt to remain as objective as possible in my reporting.

Iowa State University recently finialized its contract with new Head Football coach Paul Rhoads.  The contract, linked here by the Des Moines Register, has an interesting term that is not often found in coaching contracts.  Under Article V of the contract, instances are provided that equate to "just cause" for termination, in other words, reasons the University can give to fire him.  Paragraph 2(a) of this Article specifically lists some situations that cannot be considered just cause, including:

ii) Win-loss record or public unhappiness with win-loss record; or

iii) Other general displeasure at the direction or success of the football program.

Generally, win-loss records and displeasure with the direction of an athletic program are the main reasons coaches are fired by their university employers.  It would be interesting to know at whose behest these clauses were added, and the policy behind them.  It should be noted that the contract also lists a number of "just cause" reasons to fire Rhoads, and the University would likely be able to find separate reasoning to release him besides the win-loss record of the team. 

At any rate, his job is safe for a while, even after September 12, 2009.  Go Hawks.

Des Moines Schools: Facebook Sleuths?

The Des Moines School Board voted 6-0 on Tuesday, May 19, 2009 to approve a tougher student conduct policy related to illegal activities and behavior.  The policy will go into effect in the Fall of 2009, and will apply to students year-round.  Opponents of the new changes have focused their attention on a particular part of the policy:  The new code allows district officials to use information from social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook as evidence to discipline students, even in the event the student is not charged by legal authorities. 

The Des Moines Board policy certainly raises a number of questions about the authenticity of social networking information as evidence (Is a picture of a student-athlete holding a red Solo cup of Pepsi at a party going to get him or her suspended?) (What if a beer is Photoshopped into the picture?) (What if the picture was taken before the policy was in effect?); the availability of resources to enforce the new policy (Will the district employ an individual to scour the Internet in search of allegedly damning photos?); and whether investigations will be commenced by school administrators, by an opposing team a few days before the big game, or by a parent of a student-athlete from the same team (Is this a tool for the district or does it promote everybody to become a whistle-blower?).  Additionally, the moral/social debate about parental decision-making overruled by the school district is alive and well following the board's actions.  From a legal perspective, however, high school extra-curricular activities are a privilege, not a right.  Accordingly, the school district is likely entitled to use social networking sites as a means to enforce its policies. 

Also, look for students to simply change their habits.  Many will avoid situations where alcohol or drugs are involved, while others may not abate their behavior, but will just take the photos off the Internet.

The introduction of Internet information as evidence, especially found on Facebook and MySpace, is a fascinating legal phenomenon.  The information is plentiful and can provide tremendous assistance to a fact-finder, but its authenticity is highly questionable. 


Icy Injuries: Assigning responsibility in Iowa parking lots

One of our readers recently posted a comment to an Iowa Law Blog entry from last month.  She wants to know who is responsible if someone falls on ice that has accumulated in a parking lot. 
Generally, a failed attempt to remove snow and ice can create an artificial condition subjecting the one who created the condition to liability.  Kragel v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.  537 N.W.2d 699, 707 (Iowa1995).  A possessor of land, who occupies and controls the land, is subject to liability for physical harm caused to his business customers by a condition on the land if, but only if, the owner:
(a) knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees, and
(b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, and
(c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.

Wiedmeyer v. Equitable Life Assur. Society of U.S., 644 N.W.2d 31, 33 (Iowa 2002).  
So to answer your question, if the customer has a viable claim for injuries suffered in a slip and fall, the owner of the parking lot is generally liable and must prove that he or she followed the three steps above.  But remember, each case is different, and courts will review a number of factors, including the steps the landowner took to address the snow and ice and the degree of care the plaintiff took in crossing the parking lot.
Be careful out there!


Freedom of Religion in Prison

Yesterday on, Lynda Waddington reported on an 8th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on three prisoners' rights to observe their religious holiday at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison.  The three plaintiffs are Wiccan, and sought 8 full hours to observe Samhain, their most important day of religious observance, which takes place at the end of October.  The inmates brought their suit under the Free Exercise Clause under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  The Appellate Court ruled that 3 hours was a sufficient amount of time to observe the holiday, especially given the timing and safety constraints within which the prison officials must operate.  The Iowa Department of Corrections officially recognizes approximately 12 other religions.

Polk City Sign Language: Freedom of Speech or Defamation?

In the Des Moines Register today, Jeff Eckhoff wrote a story today about businessman Anthony Herman in Polk City, Iowa.  Apparently, Mr. Herman is involved in several legal battles with the City of Polk City, and began using a sign on his property to display his distaste for the City using choice statements about the Mayor and members of the City Council.  The Polk City city council "has no plans to try to interfere with his right to free speech." 

Pursuant to a 1971 U.S. Supreme Court case (an oldie but a goodie), Polk City might face a tough challenge regulating Herman.  In Cohen v. California, the Supreme Court ruled that "the State may not, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, make the simple public display of [an] expletive a criminal offense."  Justice Harlan famously wrote that "one man's vulgarity is another's lyric."

As individuals, the Polk City Mayor and City Council could try to sue Herman on defamation grounds.  However, the City officials would probably be considered "public officials."  To prove libel (written defamation), the Polk City officials need to prove that 1) the statements were defamatory; 2) of and concerning the city officials; 3) the statements were published; 4) the statements damaged the reputation of the officials; 5) that Herman knew the statements were false; and 6) that his statements were made with reckless disregard of the truth.


Taking the Temperature of the Iowa Legislative Agenda

The first session of the 83rd Iowa General Assembly convenes on January 12, 2009, and a number of prefiled bills have already been released to the public.  Several will likely generate some buzz, including:

Stay tuned for an exciting legislative session, and check back to Iowa Law Blog for updates thoughout the session.

Iowa Law: Walking in a Winter Wonderland of Shoveled Sidewalks

Looking out my window at today's snow accumulation, I am unfortunately reminded of my legal duty to shovel my sidewalk when I get home.  According to Iowa Code Section 364.12(2)(b):

The abutting property owner is responsible for the removal of the natural accumulations of snow and ice from the sidewalks within a reasonable amount of time and may be liable for damages caused by the failure of the abutting property owner to use reasonable care in the removal of the snow or ice.


A "reasonable amount of time" means:

  • Des Moines:  within 48 hours following the end of the snowfall. Property owners who do not comply are subject to a civil citation.
  • West Des Moines:  after the 24 Hr period after the storm ends, complaint calls will be routed to the Police Department for complaint follow-up and code enforcement.
  • Urbandale: after twenty-four (24) hours or more, 12 hours to shovel following complaint, then subject to criminal prosecution.
  • Clive: twenty-four (24) hours after a snowfall or the deposit or formation of ice.

If your City is not included in my list above, suffice it to say, you should still shovel your walk tonight.

Photo on Flickr by Marko K

Iowa's Brain Drain

A December 2008 report by the Generation Iowa Commission finds:

  • Iowa had a “brain drain” of 19,500 college-educated people for 1995-2000.
  • 12 percent of currently available jobs in Iowa are for college graduates.
  • Iowa’s brain drain is 4th worst in the nation since 2000.
  • Iowa is one of only six states facing a declining rate of the percent of our population with at least a bachelor’s degree.
  • Iowa has the 9th lowest average wage out of 10 regional states.
  • Iowa’s wages are 20 percent lower than the national average.
  • Cost of living adjustments do not make up the wage gap.
  • Iowa college students rank 17th nationally at a volunteer rate of 32 percent.

The Commission offers several recommendations to attempt to reverse these alarming trends, including:

  1. Allowing Next Generation more participation and input on state economic commissions and boards,
  2. Advancing a more ambitious and expansive job-creation program throughout the state,
  3. Expanding internship availabilities to Iowa college students in higher-educated growth industries, and
  4. Providing increased incentives for participation in Americorps and other volunteer organizations within the state.

Iowa is a national leader in alternative fuel and energy production.  It would be interesting to see if the state can create a new model for economic success by powering the country through the utilization of young talent and ideas, before these college graduates leave our state in search of greener pastures.

Injunctive Relief for the NFC North title?


On my way into work this morning, I caught a radio segment from ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning radio show on 1700 The Champ.  The discussion was regarding the NFL's decision to suspend six players for violating the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances.  The players are each suspended for the rest of the regular season.  This news is difficult for some fans in our office, including yours truly, since two of these players are defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams of the Minnesota Vikings.  The fact that the Vikings just took the lead in their division (NFC North) makes the news even more difficult to bear. 


However difficult the ruling is for a fan, there are some interesting legal issues to come out of the story:

1) The Williamses plan to file suits in U.S. District Court for injunctive relief, which if granted, would allow them to play through the season and address the issue after the season.  Generally, to prevail on a temporary injunction, a petitioner must show: 1) that he or she is likely to succeed on the merits of the case, and 2) that there is no other adequate remedy at law.  Whether the Williamses will be able to meet this burden is not clear, but a grant of injunctive relief is rather difficult to obtain.

2) Another remedy for the Williamses includes suing the manufacturer of the weight-loss pills for failure to include on its label the ingredient bumetanide, which is banned by the NFL.  To prevail in this lawsuit, a plaintiff would likely need to show that the manufacturer was negligent in its failure to warn consumers about the included ingredients.  The case would revolve around whether the Williams' harm was foreseeable, and whether inclusion of the ingredents would have been a reasonable method to warn the consumer.  However, this lawsuit would not help the Vikings win the NFC North and make the playoffs.


Check back for updates on the fate of the Williamses and the Vikings.

photo on flickr by  funnystrange or funny ha ha

Election Day in Iowa: Know Your Rights

On this much anticipated first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, millions of people are flocking to the polls to cast their ballots.  For Iowa voters, there are some nuances to election law that are important to keep in mind:

  • Unregistered voters can register and vote on election day.  You must be at the precinct where you live, complete a voter registration application, sign a written oath, and present appropriate identification.  Iowa Code § 48A (2008).
  • A student who attends an Iowa college or university may vote in their hometown or at their college residence.  Obviously, you have to choose one or the other.  Iowa Code § 48A (2008). 
  • People convicted of felonies who have completed their sentence (including probation, parole, & supervised release) before July 4, 2005 are eligible to vote.  On that date, Governor Vilsack signed Executive Order No. 42, which granted a blanket restoration of the right to vote and hold public office to persons who were disqualified from registering to vote because of conviction for a felony or aggravated misdemeanor.

If you have any questions, contact your county auditor.  Remember, the polls in Iowa close at 9 p.m., so make sure to cast your ballot before then!