July 9, 2014

Iowa Diploma Privilege

Recently, the Iowa State Bar Association "Blue Ribbon Committee on Legal Education & Licensure" submitted recommendations to the Iowa Supreme Court regarding Iowa's bar admission process. The Committee's principal recommendation was that Iowa adopt a "diploma privilege" whereby graduates of the two Iowa in-state law schools, Drake University Law School and the University of Iowa College of Law, would automatically be admitted to practice law in the state of Iowa, absent passage of the current Iowa Bar Examination. In recommending "diploma privilege," the Committee reasoned the Iowa Bar Examination screens out very few graduates from either of Iowa's law schools, but imposes a significant financial burden on a large number of both institutions' graduates. In addition, the Committee concluded that, due to the amount of student debt generated by the delay between graduation and bar admission, the Iowa Bar Examination constitutes a clear impediment to new lawyers seeking to practice in Iowa's rural and traditionally underrepresented communities. Finally, the Committee reasoned the "diploma privilege" would assure graduates of both Iowa law schools have adequate exposure to Iowa practice and procedure by requiring certain courses be taken during law school to be eligible. Currently, Iowa utilizes the Multistate Bar Examination, which does not test Iowa-specific law. Corresponding with the adoption of "diploma privilege," the Committee recommendations would also retain the current Iowa bar character and fitness examinations, the related requirement of Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) passage, and revise the Iowa basic skills course (requiring candidates for admission to successfully complete a 2-credit course in Iowa legal practice and procedure).

The court seeks public comment on the "diploma privilege" recommendation. Comments sent by email must be emailed to rules.comments@iowacourts.gov, must state "Bar Admission Process" in the subject line of the email, and must be sent as an attachment to the email in Microsoft Word format. Instead of submission by email, comments may be delivered in person or mailed to the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Judicial Branch Building, 1111 East Court Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa, 50319.

The deadline for submitting comments is 4:30 p.m. on July 14, 2014. A public hearing is scheduled for August 27, 2014, in the Iowa Supreme Court courtroom.

Spring 2014 Iowa Civil Case Law Update

Over the past three months, the Iowa Supreme Court decided the following cases of interest:
* In Garr v. City of Ottumwa, decided May 2, 2014, the Iowa Supreme Court held that the City's negligence was not proven by expert testimony which was required to establish a causal link between topographical changes and flooding.

* In Hagenow v. American Family Mutual Insurance Co., decided May 2, 2014, the Iowa Supreme Court found if an uninsured motorist is not negligent because a defense negated an element of the negligence claim, then the insured motorist is not "legally entitled to recover" uninsured-motorist benefits from the insurer.

* In Shumate v. Drake University, decided May 9, 2014, the Iowa Supreme Court concluded that a non-disabled service dog trainer did not have an implied right of action to enforce the access rights granted by statute to persons with disabilities.

* In Den Hartog v. City of Waterloo, decided May 30, 2014, the Iowa Supreme Court determined that property originally acquired for use as a road right-of-way constituted an "unused right-of-way," and was subject to procedural requirements for municipality sale of such property.

A more in depth discussion of these cases is below.

Garr v. City of Ottumwa In a negligence action arising from a significant, rare rainstorm, the Garrs brought suit against the City of Ottumwa alleging the City's approval of a residential development and golf course and failure to comply with storm water management policies caused flooding to their property, which was located downstream. At trial, the jury awarded the Garrs $84,400.00. The City appealed, arguing the Garrs' expert's testimony was insufficient to establish a causal connection between the City's allegedly negligent conduct and the Garrs' damages. The Iowa Supreme Court, reversing in favor of the City, held that the Garrs' expert's testimony demonstrated that no reasonable efforts by the City to control upstream drainage, or other flood control measures, could have prevented the flooding to the Garrs' property in such a heavy rain event. Pursuant to this determination, the Court concluded that the expert's testimony, which was required to establish a causal link between topographical changes and flooding, was inadequate. Therefore, the Court found that the city's negligence was not a cause of any damages suffered by the Garrs from flooding.

Hagenow v. American Family Insurance Co. In 2008, Dennis Hagenow was stopped at a red light when his vehicle was rear-ended by Betty Schmidt. Hagenow suffered personal injuries and his vehicle was totaled. Schmidt claimed to have suffered a stroke immediately prior to the accident. The Hagenows filed suit against Schmidt for negligence. Schmidt defended the action on the basis that a "sudden medical emergency or legal excuse" absolved herself of liability due to her stroke. Concurrent to the action against Schmidt, the Hagenows filed an uninsured motorist claim under their insurance policy against their provider, American Family Insurance Company, who also insured Schmidt. When American Family determined Schmidt was not an uninsured motorist and denied the claim, the Hagenows brought a breach of contract action to recover uninsured motorist benefits. The Iowa Supreme Court found that in order to recover for an uninsured motorist claim, the insured must be "legally entitled to recover." At the civil trial against Schmidt, Schmidt was found not liable for negligence in the collision. Thus, the Court reasoned that the Hagenows were not "legally entitled to recover" from Schmidt. In addition, the Court noted that even if the Hagenows were "legally entitled to recover," Schmidt's vehicle was not an uninsured motor vehicle under the terms of the Hagenows' uninsured motorist policy.

Shumate v. Drake University The Iowa Supreme Court was presented with the issue of whether Iowa Code Chapter 216C, entitled "Rights of Persons with Physical Disabilities," implicitly provided a non-disabled service dog trainer a private right of action. Nicole Shumate enrolled at Drake University Law School in 2006, and in her first semester of law school, founded Iowa's first service dog training nonprofit organization. The rigorous nature of service dog training often required Shumate to be accompanied by dogs she was training. Due to service dog accompaniment, Shumate claimed she was denied access to law school classes and a cultural event because she was accompanied by a dog she was training. Shumate also alleged Drake humiliated and harassed her because of her attempts to bring the dog she was training on campus, thereby creating a "poisonous learning environment." Drake argued, as a matter of law, there is no private right of action under Iowa Code Chapter 216C. The Court agreed. The Court held that the legislature did not intend to allow non-disabled service dog trainers to sue to enforce the access rights created by Iowa Code Chapter 216C. The Court reasoned that the legislature provided no express right to sue under the chapter, nor did the legislature intend to create a private right of action for service dog trainers under Chapter 216C. 

Den Hartog v. City of Waterloo The City of Waterloo agreed to transfer land originally acquired for use as a road right-of-way to a residential developer, Sunnyside South Addition, LLC, as part of a development agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, Sunnyside proposed to relocate a two-lane state highway approximately eight feet south of its current position, intending to retain the property on which the current highway sat for purposes of residential construction. Taxpayers challenged the legality of the proposed transfer, contending the City failed to follow the procedures of Iowa Code Chapter 306-including appraisal, notice, right-of-first refusal, and public bid requirements-for the sale of the unused right-of-way. The City argued the phrase "unused right-of-way" refers to land not currently in use for roadway or related purposes and, therefore, Chapter 306 requirements were inapplicable. The taxpayers responded that "unused right-of-way" refers broadly to any land the agency adjudges will not be used for roadway purposes. The Iowa Supreme Court, finding for the taxpayers, held that the term "unused right-of-way" applies to land that will not be used for roadway purposes going forward, regardless of whether the property had been previously used for roadway purposes.   
Ahlers & Cooney's Litigation, Dispute Resolution 
      & Investigations Group
1 Presently, only Wisconsin recognizes "diploma privilege" for in-state law school graduates.
2 Mr. Garr estimated around 25 feet of water blocked him from his home. Additionally, in rescue efforts, police were required to use Jet-skis.

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