Contradictory affidavit rule

Mollie Pawlosky Iowa Banking Law Iowa Real Estate & Land Use Dickinson Law Des Moines Iowa

Posted on 06/01/2016 at 12:00 AM by Mollie Pawlosky

The Iowa Supreme Court opinion Estate of Paul Dedrick v. Daniel J. Baldi, No. 14-1547 (May 6, 2016) addressed many important issues unique to wrongful death suits, but the case also addressed one issue that can arise in any civil suit. For the first time, the Iowa Supreme Court adopted the “contradictory affidavit rule” regarding motions for summary judgment.

The rule states that a party opposing summary judgment may not manufacture a material fact issue simply by filing an affidavit that directly contradicts prior testimony. A contradictory affidavit must be rejected, where the contradiction is unexplained and unqualified by the affiant.

In the Estate of Dedrick, the widow had previously testified in a criminal case against Dr. Baldi, the defendant in the later wrongful death suit. Excerpts of the criminal trial transcript were included in the summary judgment record to address the factual question as to whether the widow knew or should have known the causal connection between Dr. Baldi’s care and the decedent’s death.

In resisting a motion for summary judgment, the widow filed an affidavit stating that to the best of her “knowledge, recollection, understanding[,] and belief,” she did not discover Dr. Baldi might have caused or contributed to her husband’s death until less than two years before the petition was filed.

The Iowa Supreme Court concluded that the affidavit did not create a genuine issue of material fact and did not preclude summary judgment, because the affidavit contradicted her earlier sworn testimony.

The ruling included three caveats. First, the contradictory affidavit rule is not limited to affidavits characterized by fraud or malfeasance. Second, the contradictory affidavit rule is inapplicable if the affiant offers a reasonable explanation for any apparent contradiction between the affidavit and other sworn testimony. Third, to invoke the rule, “the inconsistency between a party’s deposition testimony and subsequent affidavit must be clear and unambiguous.” The widow’s affidavit clearly and unambiguously contradicted her earlier sworn testimony in the criminal case against Dr. Baldi, and, thus, could be rejected.

Most courts applying the contradictory affidavit rule do so when the plaintiff provides deposition testimony and a contradictory affidavit in the same case. The Iowa Supreme Court, however, applied the rule when the previous testimony was presented at trial in a different proceeding, as long as the two proceedings feature a common factual nucleus and the same person provides both the earlier testimony and the later conflicting affidavit.

The adoption of the “contradictory affidavit rule” should further streamline the litigation process by allowing the trial courts to more often grant motions for summary judgment.  For further questions regarding commercial litigation, contact Mollie Pawlosky.

The material in this blog is not intended, nor should it be construed or relied upon, as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney if specific legal information is needed.

 

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