Bierkamp v. Rogers

Decision Date18 June 1980
Docket NumberNo. 63797,63797
Citation293 N.W.2d 577
PartiesJodi L. BIERKAMP, Appellee, v. Ricky Gene ROGERS, Appellant.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Tom Riley and Iris E. Muchmore of Simmons, Perrine, Albright & Ellwood, Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

David P. McManus of Olinger, Sosalla & McManus, Cedar Rapids, for appellee.

Considered en banc.

REES, Justice.

The sole issue presented by this appeal is whether the Iowa guest statute, section 321.494, The Code, 1 is violative of Article I, section 6, of the Iowa Constitution. We conclude that the statute is constitutionally offensive and affirm the ruling of the trial court.

On April 10, 1979, plaintiff Jodi Bierkamp filed a petition in three divisions alleging that she was a passenger in an auto driven by defendant Ricky Gene Rogers when the car crashed into a ditch, injuring the plaintiff. In her first division she alleged that her injuries were the result of Rogers' negligence in the operation of his vehicle and that the aforementioned statute is unconstitutional. The other divisions, not at issue here, alleged liability framed in terms consistent with the exceptions to application of the statute.

Rogers moved to dismiss the first division of plaintiff's petition, contending that section 321.494 bars recovery by a guest passenger in an action predicated on negligence and that the constitutionality of the statute had been conclusively determined in Keasling v. Thompson, 217 N.W.2d 687 (Iowa 1974). Bierkamp resisted this motion on the ground that the statute was unconstitutional. Following a hearing, the trial court overruled the defendant's motion in a ruling which stated no specific grounds. Rogers then sought permission to bring an interlocutory appeal, which was granted on August 9, 1979.

As a preliminary matter we note that while the trial court did not specifically state its reason for denying the plaintiff's motion, the record discloses that the only argument made against application of the guest statute was constitutional in nature. No attempt to show that the plaintiff was not a guest within the meaning of the statute is apparent on the face of the record. We conclude that the ruling of the trial court was based only on the contentions before it and that the constitutionality of the guest statute is squarely presented by the record.

I. Before reaching the merits of this appeal we once again wish to explain why our review is limited to the Iowa constitutional ground. As we noted in Beitz v. Horak, 271 N.W.2d 755, 758-59 (Iowa 1978), in 1929 the United States Supreme Court held that Connecticut's guest statute did not violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Silver v. Silver, 280 U.S. 117, 50 S.Ct. 57, 74 L.Ed. 221 (1929).

In Silver the Court found a rational distinction between gratuitous passengers in automobiles and those in other means of conveyance. Id., 280 U.S. at 123, 50 S.Ct. at 59, 74 L.Ed. at 225. Several courts, in evaluating the federal constitutional claim, have sought to distinguish Silver by considering a different classification, that separating paying and nonpaying automobile guests. E. g., Brown v. Merlo, 8 Cal.3d 855, 106 Cal.Rptr. 388, 506 P.2d 212 (1973); McGeehan v. Bunch, 88 N.M. 308, 540 P.2d 238 (1975); Ramey v. Ramey, S.C., 258 S.E.2d 883 (1979).

In a series of recent appeals from state court decisions upholding the guest statute the Supreme Court has chosen to dismiss for want of a substantial federal question. Hill v. Garner, 434 U.S. 989, 98 S.Ct. 623, 54 L.Ed.2d 486, dismissing appeal from 277 Or. 641, 561 P.2d 1016 (1977); White v. Hughes, 423 U.S. 805, 96 S.Ct. 15, 46 L.Ed.2d 26, dismissing appeal from 257 Ark. 627, 519 S.W.2d 70 (1975); Cannon v. Oviatt, 419 U.S. 810, 95 S.Ct. 24, 42 L.Ed.2d 37, dismissing appeal from 520 P.2d 883 (Utah 1974). As we acknowledged in Beitz, 271 N.W.2d at 758, these dismissals constitute adjudications on the merits and are binding on both state and federal courts. See Hicks v. Miranda, 422 U.S. 332, 343-45, 95 S.Ct. 2281, 2289, 45 L.Ed.2d 223, 235-36 (1975). While the Silver opinion did not pass on the paying-nonpaying passenger distinction, that classification was raised in the aforementioned appeals which were dismissed for want of a substantial federal question. Thus these cursory dismissals effectively foreclose our evaluation of any of the distinctions or classifications challenged in those cases on federal constitutional grounds. See Sidle v. Majors, 536 F.2d 1156 (7th Cir.), cert. denied 429 U.S. 945, 97 S.Ct. 366, 50 L.Ed.2d 316 (1976). Section 321.494 does not violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Beitz v. Horak, 271 N.W.2d at 759; Keasling v. Thompson, 217 N.W.2d 687, 692 (Iowa 1974).

II. The result reached by the United States Supreme Court in construing the federal constitution is persuasive, but not binding upon this court in construing analogous provisions in our state constitution. See Chicago Title Insurance Co. v. Huff, 256 N.W.2d 17, 23 (Iowa 1977); Davenport Water Co. v. Iowa State Commerce Commission, 190 N.W.2d 583, 593 (Iowa 1971). We acknowledged the possibility of varying interpretations or conclusions in Beitz v. Horak, 271 N.W.2d at 759, while discussing the guest statute. The constitutionality of the guest statute under the Iowa constitution was not before us at that time. The issue is properly raised in the case at bar.

As neither a suspect classification nor a fundamental right is involved, a traditional equal protection analysis is appropriate. Rudolph v. Iowa Methodist Medical Center, 293 N.W.2d 550 (Iowa 1980); Hawkins v. Preisser, 264 N.W.2d 726, 729 (Iowa 1978). The plaintiff has the heavy burden of showing the statute unconstitutional and must negate every reasonable basis upon which the classification may be sustained. MRM, Inc. v. City of Davenport, 290 N.W.2d 338, 342 (Iowa 1980); Chicago Title Insurance Co. v. Huff, 256 N.W.2d at 25. This standard has been articulated by the United States Supreme Court in McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 191, 85 S.Ct. 283, 288, 13 L.Ed.2d 222, 228 (1964): "Judicial inquiry under the Equal Protection Clause, therefore, does not end with a showing of equal application among the members of a class defined by the legislation. The courts must reach and determine the question whether the classifications drawn in a statute are reasonable in light of its purpose . . .."

The source of this standard in the Iowa Constitution is Article I, section 6, which provides: "All laws of a general nature shall have a uniform operation; the General Assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens". We have long found a standard similar to that of McLaughlin to flow from Article I, section 6. See, e. g., MRM, Inc. v. City of Davenport; Redmond v. Carter, 247 N.W.2d 268, 271 (Iowa 1976); Knudson v. Linstrum, 233 Iowa 709, 716, 8 N.W.2d 495, 499 (1943) (A legal classification must be reasonable and based on some substantial distinction); Keefner v. Porter, 228 Iowa 844, 848, 293 N.W. 501, 503 (1940) (There must be a reasonable relationship between the purpose of the legislation and the basis of the classification set out in the act); Hubbell v. Higgins, 148 Iowa 36, 39, 126 N.W. 914, 916 (1910). In light of this standard we evaluate the classifications made in section 321.494.

Our review of the trial court's ruling is de novo as it involves the resolution of a constitutional issue. State v. Matlock, 289 N.W.2d 625, 627 (Iowa 1980). The burden of proof remains on the party challenging the constitutionality of the statute.

Two separate distinctions drawn by the statute are challenged by Bierkamp. She challenges the rational basis of distinguishing between paying and nonpaying guests in automobiles as well as that of establishing a different standard of care for guests in the automobile context as opposed to other guests. In response the defendant relies on the decision of this court in Keasling v. Thompson, 217 N.W.2d 687, 692 (1974), in which we placed great reliance on Silver v. Silver and the apparently pervasive existence of guest statutes in other states in finding section 321.494 constitutional on both federal and state grounds. We are being asked to reconsider our five-four decision in Keasling insofar as that holding rests on Iowa constitutional grounds.

There has been a recent trend among state courts considering the validity of their guest statutes under an equal protection analysis to find the statutes without a rational basis, concluding that whatever rational basis they once possessed no longer exists. See Brown v. Merlo, 8 Cal.3d 355, 506 P.2d 212, 106 Cal.Rptr. 388 (1973); Thompson v. Hagan, 96 Idaho 19, 523 P.2d 1365 (1974); Henry v. Bauder, 213 Kan. 751, 518 P.2d 362 (1974); Manistee Bank & Trust Co. v. McGowan, 394 Mich. 655, 232 N.W.2d 636 (1975); Laakonen v. Eighth Judicial District Court, 91 Nev. 506, 538 P.2d 574 (1975); McGeehan v. Bunch, 88 N.M. 308, 540 P.2d 238 (1975); Johnson v. Hassett, 217 N.W.2d 771 (N.D.1974); Primes v. Tyler, 43 Ohio St.2d 195, 331 N.E.2d 723 (1975); Ramey v. Ramey, S.C., 258 S.E.2d 883 (1979); Nehring v. Russell, 582 P.2d 67 (Wyo.1978). At the same time several states have sustained the constitutionality of their guest statutes in the face of equal protection challenges. Beasley v. Bozeman, 294 Ala. 288, 315 So.2d 570 (1975); Davis v. Cox, Ark., 593 S.W.2d 180 (1980); Richardson v. Hansen, 186 Colo. 346, 527 P.2d 536 (1974); Justice v. Gatchell, 325 A.2d 97 (Del.1974); Dempsey v. Leonherdt, 264 Ind. 206, 341 N.E.2d 763 (1976); Botsch v. Reisdorff, 193 Neb. 165, 226 N.W.2d 121 (1975); Duerst v. Limbocker, 269 Or. 252, 525 P.2d 99 (1974); Tisko v. Harrison, 500 S.W.2d 565 (Tex.Civ.App.1973); Cannon v. Oviatt. Several of these decisions involved only federal grounds, of which Silver was found to be...

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