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Court seeks comment on proposed rule 1.904(2) changes

Mollie Pawlosky Iowa Banking Law Dickinson Law Des Moines, Iowa

Posted on 09/08/2016 at 12:00 AM by Mollie Pawlosky

Earlier in 2016, the Iowa Supreme Court noted concerns about a specific area of appellate practice. In Hedlund v. State, 875 N.W.2d 720, 726 (Iowa 2016), the Court recognized, “rule 1.904(2) has been subject to criticism,” and stated that the Court had “initiated an effort to explore [the rule’s] possible amendment.”

Rule 1.904(2) allows a party to challenge the findings and conclusions of a judge trying an issue of fact without a jury; a party may ask the court to enlarge or amend the findings and conclusions. However, an improper rule 1.904(2) motion cannot extend the time to appeal. Thus, if a party files an “improper” 1.904(2) motion, the time to file a notice of appeal continues to run.

Such was the case in Hedlund. Hedlund, a former employee of the Department of Public Safety, was terminated. Hedlund filed suit, alleging wrongful discharge in violation of public policy and the Iowa Code. Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that Hedlund failed to state a claim. The district court granted the motion in part, dismissing Hedlund’s claim of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Hedlund filed a Rule 1.904(2) motion to amend the ruling. Rather than citing new facts, Hedlund provided additional legal authority.

After explaining the proper usage of Rule 1.904(2), the Court ruled that Hedlund’s motion amounted to no more than a rehash of legal issues previously raised. As such, the 1.904(2) motion was not, “proper,” so the time to appeal had passed, and the interlocutory appeal was dismissed.

The Court has now proposed a way to avoid Hedlund-type dismissals in the future. By Order dated August 29, 2016, the Court seeks public comment on proposed amendments to Rule 1.904 and Iowa Rule of Appellate Procedure 6.101, that would remove consideration as to whether the 1.904 motion was “proper.”

The proposed amendments add a new title to subsection 1.904(2), “Motion to reconsider, enlarge, or amend.” The proposed amendments include that, in addition to enlarging or amending findings and conclusions, the findings and conclusions may be, “reconsidered.” The proposed comment to the rule states, “[The amendments] are intended to supersede prior caselaw that held a timely rule 1.904(2) motion must also have been ‘proper’ to extend the time for appeal. …To obviate controversies over whether a rule 1.904(2) motion tolls the time for appeal, the amended rule now authorizes any timely rule 1.904(2) motion to extend the appeal deadline.”

If the rule is amended as proposed, appellate controversies as to whether the 1.904(2) motion was “proper” will be avoided.  Litigants, however, may more commonly file 1.904(2) motions before the district court, because there is little risk to filing. Even if overt motions to reconsider have little chance of success, as long as the litigant cites the rule in general, there need not be an overt request for reconsideration—the motion will toll the time to appeal, whether the motion requests an “enlargement,” an “amendment”, or a “reconsideration.”

Public comment may be provided by following the procedure set forth in the Court’s Order of August 29, 2016. Stay tuned to monitor how the Supreme Court chooses to resolve this issue. For further information regarding the proposed amendment or appellate practice in general, 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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