Neifert, Byrne & Ozga, P.C.

Welcome to the blog for Neifert, Byrne & Ozga, P.C., devoted to developments in the field of workers' compensation in the State of Iowa. We hope the blog provides helpful information to users, including updates of Iowa Supreme Court and Court of Appeals cases of interest to claimants and workers' compensation practitioners.

Neifert, Byrne & Ozga represents only injured workers in workers' compensation claims in Iowa. This blog is meant to provide accurate and updated information on state of workers' compensation claims in our state. Should you have further questions, please contact us at Neifert, Byrne & Ozga, P.C, 1441 29th Street, Suite 111, West Des Moines, IA 50266. Tel. 888-926-2117 (toll free). Visit us on the web at www.nbolawfirm.com or www.iowa-workers-comp.com.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Supreme Court Establishes Private Constitutional Right of Action Against Government Actors in Commissioner's Suit

Following the reduction of his salary by the Governor in 2010, former Commissioner Chris Godfrey filed an action against the State of Iowa and various state officials, including the Governor, alleging a variety of legal theories.  In Godfrey v. State of Iowa et al., No. 15-0695 (Iowa June 30, 2017), the Court ruled, for the first time, that constitutional claims, in this cases allegations of deprivation of property rights without due process of law and deprivation of liberty interests without due process created causes of action directly under the Iowa Constitution.

Four counts of the petition were at issue before the court.  Count VI alleged that Godfrey was deprived of his property rights in his salary because of partisan politics and sexual orientation.  Count VII alleged a damage to a protect liberty interest in his reputation without due process by falsely claiming poor work performance.  Count VIII alleged a violation of the equal protection of the laws for discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Finally, Count IX alleged equal protection violations because of different treatment of homosexual state officers or individuals as compared to heterosexual officers or individuals.

The commissioner alleged that Article I, section 6 and Article I, section 9 of the Iowa Constitution were self-effectuating.  Section 6 is the equal protection division of the constitution and section 9 is the due process provision.  He argued that the provision of the Iowa Constitution (Article XII, section 1) which requires that "the legislature shall pass all laws necessary to carry [the] constitution into effect," was modified by the word "necessary" and that it was not necessary to effectuate due process and equal protection provisions.  Defendants argued that if the drafters of the Constitution had intended the Constitution to be self-effectuating, they would have said so.  Defendants also noted that Iowa had not passed an analogue to 42 USC 1983, the provision of federal law that allows direct actions under the US Constitution.

After considering Supreme Court jurisprudence as well as the Iowa Constitution at length, the Court ultimately concluded that there was a direct action under the Iowa Constitution for due process and equal protection violations.  Three justices would have also held that the constitutional claims in Counts VIII and IX were not preempted by the Iowa Civil Rights Act.  Justice Cady, who concurred in the judgment with respect to Counts VI and VII, found that the Iowa Civil Rights Act provided an adequate remedy for the sexual discrimination claim, and thus those claims were found to have been correctly dismissed.

The three dissenters argued that the Constitution required legislative authorization or a footing in the common law of torts before a direct action was possible. The dissenters believed that the constitutional text of Article XII, section 1 foreclosed plaintiff's argument, since it required the legislature to pass laws enabling a right to sue.  The conclusion they reached was that although the impact of the decision in commissioner Godfrey's case might be limited, there could be "many claims from current and former inmates seeking damages for wrongful incarceration" and juveniles who were resentenced because their earlier sentences violated Article I, section 17 to seek damages under the constitution.

The Godfrey  case will now proceed to trial, with the further expenditure of public funds to defend the case.

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