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Case Number: 22-0293
Court: Supreme Court of Iowa on appeal from the District Court, Black Hawk County
Plaintiff's Attorney: Molly M. Hamilton
Defendant's Attorney: Bradley M. ?Strouse and Bruce L. Gettman
Description: Waterloo, Iowa personal injury lawyer represented Plaintiff, who sued Defendants on governmental tort claims act negligence theories.
Marcelino Alvarez Victoriano filed suit against the City of Waterloo and
Waterloo Police Department Officer C.J. Nichols, alleging Nichols shot him
without justification. The defendants moved to dismiss the petition pursuant to
Iowa Code section 670.4A (2022), which sets forth a qualified immunity defense
to and heightened pleading requirements for claims arising under the Iowa
Municipal Tort Claims Act (IMTCA). The district court set the motion for hearing
on January 13, 2022, but on January 12 Alvarez Victoriano dismissed his
petition without prejudice. The defendants moved to set aside the dismissal
without prejudice. They argued Alvarez Victoriano’s alleged failure to meet the
statutory pleading requirement mandated “dismissal with prejudice.” Id.
§ 670.4A(3). The district court granted the defendants’ motion and entered an
order dismissing the case with prejudice. The question presented in this appeal
is whether the district court erred in dismissing the case with prejudice after the
plaintiff had already voluntarily dismissed his case without prejudice.
A plaintiff’s right to dismiss a petition without prejudice to a future action
has been the law since the founding of this state. The Iowa Code of 1851 provided
that a party may dismiss a case “at any time before the jury return with their
verdict.” Iowa Code § 1803 (1851). The Iowa Code of 1860 provided an “action
may be dismissed, and such dismissal shall be without prejudice to a future
action . . . [b]y the plaintiff before the final submission of the case.” Iowa Code
§ 3127.1 (1860). The statutory right of dismissal persisted until the adoption of
the rules of civil procedure in 1943. See Iowa Code, Rule of Civil Procedure No. 1
(1946) (discussing effective date of the rules); id. r. 215 (providing for voluntary
dismissal). Rule 215, adopted in 1943, allowed a party to dismiss a petition as a
matter of right “without order of court . . . at any time before the trial has begun.”
Id. r. 215. The rule did not limit a plaintiff’s ability to dismiss the petition without
prejudice as a matter of right, but it did require a plaintiff to file the dismissal
before trial rather than at any time before final submission. See id.
The current rule of civil procedure, Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.943
(2022), is a continuation of the prior statutes and rule. It provides, “A party may,
without order of court, dismiss that party’s own petition, counterclaim, crossclaim, cross-petition or petition of intervention, at any time up until ten days
before the trial is scheduled to begin.” Id. The current rule of civil procedure does
not limit a plaintiff’s ability to dismiss the petition without prejudice as a matter
of right, see id. (“A dismissal under this rule shall be without prejudice, unless
otherwise stated . . . .”), but it does require a plaintiff to file the dismissal at least
ten days before trial is scheduled to begin rather than at any time before trial.
We have interpreted the voluntary dismissal rule broadly. Generally, the
rule “allows plaintiffs to dismiss their petitions without prejudice and start over—
once” as a matter of right. ACC Holdings, LLC v. Rooney, 973 N.W.2d 851, 852
(Iowa 2022). We have stated the rule provides “the absolute right to dismiss” a
petition “without court approval” at any time prior to ten days before trial is
scheduled to begin. Valles v. Mueting, 956 N.W.2d 479, 484 (Iowa 2021). Under
the rule, the “court retains no discretion to prevent such dismissal.” Lawson v.
Kurtzhals, 792 N.W.2d 251, 256 (Iowa 2010). This is because the dismissal is
self-executing. See, e.g., Valles, 956 N.W.2d at 484. Even when a party dismisses
an “action to escape the consequences” of an opposing party’s motion, “it [does]
not matter.” Venard v. Winter, 524 N.W.2d 163, 168 (Iowa 1994). “The motive of
the dismissing party plays no part in a voluntary dismissal under [the rule].” Id.
The district court here recognized “in nearly all circumstances the plaintiff
is allowed to dismiss its own petition at any time up to 10 days before trial is
scheduled to begin and such dismissal shall be without prejudice.” The district
court concluded, however, that section 670.4A conflicted with and superseded
rule 1.943 and our precedents interpreting the same. In the district court’s view,
a party’s voluntary dismissal of a petition, when made in response to a motion
to dismiss pursuant to section 670.4A, must be construed as a dismissal with
Section 670.4A was enacted into law on June 17, 2021. See 2021 Iowa
Acts ch. 183, § 14 (codified at Iowa Code § 670.4A (2022)). The act, “being
deemed of immediate importance, [took] effect upon enactment.” Id. § 16. The
law does two things relevant here. First, Iowa Code section 670.4A(1)(a) (2022)
provides qualified immunity to employees or officers subject to claims arising
under the IMTCA:
1. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an employee or
officer subject to a claim brought under this chapter shall not be
liable for monetary damages if any of the following apply:
a. The right, privilege, or immunity secured by law was not
clearly established at the time of the alleged deprivation, or at the
time of the alleged deprivation the state of the law was not
sufficiently clear that every reasonable employee would have
understood that the conduct alleged constituted a violation of law.
Second, the law changes pleading requirements for a claim brought under
the IMTCA. Id. § 670.4A(3). Generally speaking, Iowa is a notice pleading state.
See Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.402(2)(a). Under notice pleading, a petition is sufficient “if
it informs the defendant of the incident giving rise to the claim and of the claim’s
general nature.” Rees v. City of Shenandoah, 682 N.W.2d 77, 79 (Iowa 2004).
Under the newly-enacted Iowa Code section 670.4A(3), however, a plaintiff
asserting a claim under the IMTCA must meet a heightened pleading
A plaintiff who brings a claim under this chapter alleging a violation
of the law must state with particularity the circumstances
constituting the violation and that the law was clearly established
at the time of the alleged violation. Failure to plead a plausible
violation or failure to plead that the law was clearly established at
the time of the alleged violation shall result in dismissal with
The heightened pleading requirement in section 670.4A(3) has three
components. First, a plaintiff “alleging a violation of the law must state with
particularity the circumstances constituting the violation.” Id. Second, the
statute requires the plaintiff to “plead a plausible violation” of law. Id. Third, the
statute requires the petition plead “that the law was clearly established at the
time of the alleged violation.” Id. We need not and do not determine the demands
of these heightened pleading requirements. The determination of those issues is
not necessary to resolve this appeal.
What we do need to determine is whether anything in section 670.4A
precludes the plaintiff from exercising his well-established right to dismiss his
petition once without prejudice. This is a question of statutory interpretation and
construction. In answering the question, we focus on the language of the statute
at issue. See Doe v. State, 943 N.W.2d 608, 610 (Iowa 2020). We also consider
the statute’s relationship to other provisions of law. See Iowa Code § 4.1(38);
State v. Doe, 903 N.W.2d 347, 351 (Iowa 2017). As a general rule, “we assume
the legislature is familiar with the existing state of the law when it enacts new
legislation.” State v. Adams, 810 N.W.2d 365, 370 (Iowa 2012). Thus, “a statute
will not be presumed to overturn long-established legal principles, unless that
intention is clearly expressed or the implication to that effect is inescapable.”
Wilson v. Iowa City, 165 N.W.2d 813, 822 (Iowa 1969).
The text of section 670.4A expresses no intent to abrogate rule 1.943 or
our longstanding precedents, nor does the text make such a conclusion
inescapable. On the contrary, the statute incorporates existing law regarding
pleading practice and procedure. The statute requires dismissal with prejudice
only upon “[f]ailure to plead” a plausible violation of law or the law was clearly
established at the time of the alleged violation. Iowa Code § 670.4A(3). The
statutory reference to pleading has legal consequence. The term “pleading” is a
term of art defined and governed by the rules of civil procedure. See generally
Iowa Rs. Civ. P. 1.401–1.423. A petition is an allowable pleading. See id. r. 1.401.
“The form and sufficiency of all pleadings shall be determined by the rules [of
civil procedure] . . . .” Id. r. 1.402(1). The rules defining and governing pleadings
allow for correcting, recasting, and amending pleadings. See id. r. 1.402(3)–(4).
In addition, rule 1.943 allows for voluntary dismissal of the plaintiff’s petition
without prejudice once as a matter of right. Id. r. 1.943. The statutory phrase
“failure to plead” incorporates both the rules of civil procedure governing
pleading and our precedents interpreting the same, including the
long-established rule that a plaintiff has the right to dismiss the petition without
prejudice once as a matter of right.
The defendants nonetheless contend different language in the statute
requires dismissal with prejudice. The statute provides that the failure to meet
heightened pleading requirements “shall result in dismissal with prejudice.” Iowa
Code § 670.4A(3). The defendants argue the word “shall” required the district
court to rule on their motion to dismiss and precluded Alvarez Victoriano from
dismissing his suit without prejudice prior to that ruling. We disagree. The word
“shall” limits the dispositions available to the district court, i.e., when ruling on
a motion to dismiss, the district court must dismiss the case as opposed to
allowing the defective pleading to stand and must do so “with prejudice.” Id. The
word “shall” in no way limits the plaintiff’s long-established pleading rights.
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