Cyclist Obtains Settlement Despite Tort Immunity

The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported on a legal settlement reached between Bridgid Ruden, the City of Coralville, the State of Iowa, and Horsfield Construciton Company.  Ms. Ruden had been riding her bicycle on a trail and lost control of her bike and crashed after hitting a patch of mud on the trail.  She was in a coma, had multiple surgeries, and is unable to continue her career as a nurse practitioner.  The basis for Ruden's lawsuit was that the Defendants were negligent in the manner in which the trail was designed, constructed and maintained.  Generally, the State of Iowa (Iowa Code 669.14) and Municipalities (Iowa Code 670.4) are immune from tort liability, unless the negligence falls under certain exceptions.  In this case, Ms. Ruden presented enough evidence to argue that the design of the trail was negligent in that it was not sloped enough to allow for proper drainage.   There are very few cases in Iowa where plaintiffs have successfully argued the design exception. 

Legislature Mulls Expansion of Small Claims Jurisdiction

Currently, if you wish to file a claim in Iowa Courts, the jurisdictional limit for small claims court is $5,000.  That means if the total damages or value you seek is not greater than $5,000 your case is filed in small claims court, and if your damages or value exceed $5,000, your case is filed in district court.  Small claims court is a faster, more inexpensive process, but the procedural rules are often more relaxed, and you don't have the ability to conduct significant discovery.  Currently, the Iowa Legislature is considering House File 248, which would increase this jurisdictional amount to $10,000.  Stay tuned to see the outcome of this legislation.

NCAA lawsuit and the Motion to Strike

Back in 2009, former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon filed a lawsuit against the NCAA seeking a portion of the royalties enjoyed by the NCAA for rebroadcasting old games and using other archival footage.  As the lawsuit wore on, additional former NCAA athletes joined O'Bannon as plaintiffs, and recently, they sought to add a new claim to the lawsuit, seeking a portion of the current and future royalties enjoyed by the NCAA for broadcasting live games, not just rebroadcasts. In response, the NCAA filed a motion to strike the new claim.  A motion to strike is a procedural tool used to remove improper or unnecessary matter in a pleading, and it is filed by the adverse party.  In this case, the judge overruled the motion to strike, and the NCAA plaintiffs can proceed with their additional claim for more damages.  The additional claim, incidentally, increases these potential damages from millions to billions.

Lance Armstrong and the Rules of Civil Procedure

The United States Anti-Doping Agency ("USADA") recently started an investigation into allegations of Lance Armstrong's use of performance-enhancing drugs during his unprecedented 7 straight Tour de France victories.  Lance Armstrong has vigorously denied these allegations, and went so far as to recently file a lawsuit against the USADA and to seek an injunction against the USADA (see my previous blog on injunctions).

After reading Armstrong's complaint, US District Judge Sam Sparks for the Western Division of Texas threw out the lawsuit , not because of the merits of the case, but because the complaint was too long.  Under the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), a plaintiff's complaint must contain "short and plain" statements of both the basis of the court's jurisdiction, and the plaintiff's legal claim for relief. Likewise, Rule 8(d)(1) states, "Each allegation must be simple, concise, and direct."  Judge Sparks noted that:

"Armstrong's complaint is far from short, spanning eighty pages and containing 261 numbered paragraphs, many of which have multiple subparts. Worse, the bulk of these paragraphs contain 'allegations' that are wholly irrelevant to Armstrong's claims and which, the Court must presume, were included solely to increase media coverage of this case, and to incite public opinion against Defendants."

Since the Court made no ruling on the actual merits of the case, Armstrong's legal team will re-file a shorter complaint, but the 7-time Tour winner did not have a good start to this lawsuit

The Function of an Injunction

If you live in Central Iowa and have been following the news this past week, the former superintendent of the Des Moines Public Schools, Nancy Sebring, has been in some hot water for sending sexually explicit emails from her school district email account.  The school district produced the emails pursuant to public records requests from the Omaha World Herald and the Des Moines Register.  Ms. Sebring has filed a Petition in Iowa District Court seeking, in part, injunctive relief. 

Injunctive relief is essentially getting the Court to command or prohibit the doing of certain acts, in this case, getting the school district to stop providing emails without giving Ms. Sebring the opportunity to examine the open records request.  Generally, injunctive relief is available only when there is no adequate remedy at law, and the Court must act to avoid irreparable harm.  Petitioners can seek temporary and permanent injunctions.  A temporary injunction commands or prohibits the doing of certain acts that, if carried out while the parties prepare to argue the merits of a permanent injunction, would render the permanent injunction useless.  In that case, the Petitioner would still have to eventually secure permanent injunctive relief from the Court.

Of course, in the Sebring case, the school district argues that it must provide the emails subject to open records requests, so the Court will have to balance between the importance of making the emails public and the potential damage that would be suffered by Ms. Sebring.