Friday, October 13, 2006

Fresh Law

The Iowa Supreme Court posted new opinions today.

ASMUS vs. WATERLOO COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT: Middle school teacher who filed workers’ compensation claim based on alleged mental injury appeals from decision on judicial review upholding workers’ compensation commissioner’s denial of that claim. Basically, the teacher had alleged numerous interpersonal conflicts with the principal and other teachers, and claimed that he equated the principal with his abusive stepfather and that the stresses thus produced were a major cause of his current depressive state, which was of a degree of magnitude such that he would never be able to teach again. The school agreed he equated the principal with his abusive stepfather and mispercieved the principal's actions as a vendetta, but argued he'd brought the prior stressors with him into the job, rather than job stress causing the breakdown. On the causation issue, the Court sided with the agency: "While evidence presented by the claimant would permit a finding of legal causation, it does not compel such finding. The ultimate decision in such instances is entrusted to the agency. Consequently, the decision of the workers’ compensation commissioner and the district court must be affirmed." The plaintiff had also argued Equal Protection, in that the standard for proving a mental injury required proof of legal causation (the claimant’s stress was “of greater magnitude than the day-to-day mental stresses experienced by other workers employed in the same or similar jobs, regardless of their employer.”) as well as evidence of causation in fact - that the stress caused the mental injury at issue; whereas the standard for proving a physical injury only requires evidence of causation in fact. The Court used a rational basis scrutiny to determine constitutionality - whether or not the distinction between physical and mental illnesses was rationally related to a permissible governmental purpose. The Court found that it was:
"In searching for a rational governmental purpose supporting the Dunlavey standard of legal causation in mental injury cases, we need only examine the reasons set forth in that opinion for adopting the standard that was chosen. After considering several different standards of causation in mental injury cases, some more restrictive than the one chosen and some less restrictive, we opted for the standard that was approved because we feared that if only causation in fact was required this would convert the workers’ compensation system into general mental health insurance because few workers with nontraumatic mental problems could not show that job stress somehow contributed to that condition. . . . The need to protect against that undesirable consequence provides a rational basis for the standard of legal causation that has been adopted. We have considered all issues presented and conclude that the judgment of the district court should be affirmed."
STATE v. GREEN is another reminder that the State can't get lazy or take shortcuts in proving up the elements of criminal cases. Defendant argued at her driving under suspension trial that the DOT had not properly notified her of the suspension. The State argued that the proper mechanizm to attack the suspension itself was not in the DUS criminal trial, but the required DOT agency appeals. It also pointed out of the Iowa Code Section 321.16, which states:
A person’s . . . claim of failure to receive a notice of revocation, suspension, or bar mailed by first class mail to the person’s last known address shall not be a defense to a charge of driving while suspended, revoked, denied, or barred.
Although it may seem like a good argument at first blush, the Court quickly decimated it, pointing out that: 1) While 321.16 does preclude arguing you never received the suspension notice, it doesn't preclude arguing that the DOT never mailed it. 2) While prior caselaw in which defendants had attempted to attack the suspension process did relegated to intra-agency appeals within the DOT, those cases were distinguishable because "in the present case, the issue is whether the condition precedent to agency action, i.e., the notice to the licensee, was established by the DOT." 3) While the DOT had introduced a copy of a suspension letter into evidence, it produced no testimony to support its claim of having actually mailed the letter, despite the fact that the DOT rules themselves required an affidavit of mailing. Because the State failed to comport with the evidentiary standard set up within the agency rules themselves, the evidence of notice was insufficient and the charge of driving under suspension could not stand.

STATE v. GRANT is a drug case arguing whether or not the State entered sufficient circumstantial evidence of an intent to deliver on the part of the defendant. According to the facts, many of the standard signifiers of dealing were absent: there were no large, unexplained wads of cash lying around, no lists of customers, and the amount of meth present was small enough that, while still fairly substantial, it could conceivably have been for personal use only. However, the 8-ball of meth had been divided into packages containing between .58 and .66 grams, generally used by drug dealers as “dosage” units designed for sale as such in order to produce a quick high. The defendant acknowledged this, but argued he bought it that way. The State argued it wouldn't make sense to do so, when it would've been easier to have bought all the meth in one bag, and dip into it for your individual dose, rather than going to all the trouble of dividing it out. It pointed out that drug dealers do have meth available in the larger quantities, which Defendant would more likely have bought if it were for personal use. The Court sided with the State, finding that the division of the meth into the dosage baggies could support a factual inference that the Defendant intended to deliver the drug instead of retaining it for personal use. The upshot: I guess the case simply reinforces the idea one should always buy bulk.

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