Carlson v. Second Succession, LLC, 20-0879

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtMcDONALD, Justice.
Citation971 N.W.2d 522
Parties Patricia K. CARLSON, Appellant, v. SECOND SUCCESSION, LLC, Iowa Commercial Advisors, LLC, d/b/a Cushman & Wakefield Iowa Commercial Advisors, and Jones Property Services, Inc., Appellees.
Docket Number20-0879
Decision Date18 March 2022

971 N.W.2d 522

Patricia K. CARLSON, Appellant,
SECOND SUCCESSION, LLC, Iowa Commercial Advisors, LLC, d/b/a Cushman & Wakefield Iowa Commercial Advisors, and Jones Property Services, Inc., Appellees.

No. 20-0879

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Submitted November 17, 2021
Filed March 18, 2022

John C. Wagner of John C. Wagner Law Offices, P.C., Amana, for appellant.

Alex E. Grasso of Hopkins & Huebner, P.C., Des Moines, for appellees Second Succession, LLC, and Iowa Commercial Advisors, LLC, d/b/a Cushman & Wakefield Iowa Commercial Advisors.

Matthew G. Novak and Bradley J. Kaspar of Pickens, Barnes & Abernathy, Cedar Rapids, for appellee Jones Property Services, Inc.

McDonald, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Christensen, C.J., and Waterman, Mansfield, Oxley, and McDermott, JJ., joined. Appel, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

McDONALD, Justice.

971 N.W.2d 524

A personal injury suit must be brought within two years after the cause of action accrues. Iowa Code § 614.1(2) (2018). On January 9, 2020, Patricia Carlson filed her personal injury suit one day too late. Defendants Second Succession, LLC, Iowa Commercial Advisors, LLC, and Jones Property Services, Inc., moved to dismiss Carlson's petition on the ground her claims were time-barred. Carlson resisted the motion. She argued her untimely petition related back to January 3; on that date, Carlson attempted to file her petition, but the clerk of court rejected the proposed filing due to Carlson's failure to include personal identification information with the proposed filing. The district court concluded Carlson's filed petition did not relate back to the rejected filing and granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss. The court of appeals affirmed the district court, and we granted further review. The question presented is whether Carlson's filed petition related back to her rejected filing.

We begin our answer to the question with background regarding the initiation of a civil action. "For all purposes, a civil action is commenced by filing a petition with the court." Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.301(1). Every petition (with some exceptions not applicable here) must be accompanied by a cover sheet. See Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.301(2) ; Iowa R. Elec. P. 16.306(1)(a ) (requiring filing of an electronic cover sheet). The cover sheet is used for administrative purposes. Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.301(2). Some of the information requested in a cover sheet is useful for administrative purposes but is not mandated to be collected by any law. See Jacobs v. Iowa Dep't of Transp. , 887 N.W.2d 590, 597–98 (Iowa 2016) (identifying entries on electronic cover sheet). However, some of the information requested in a cover sheet is necessary for administrative purposes and is required by law to be collected.

One piece of necessary and required information is identification information. Iowa law requires that any party who initiates a civil action must provide the clerk of the district court with identification information, specifically her date of birth and social security number. Iowa Code § 602.6111(1)(b )–(c ). This statute is limited by federal law. The Privacy Act of 1974 makes it unlawful for any "[s]tate or local government agency to deny to any individual any right, benefit, or privilege provided by law because of such individual's refusal to disclose his social security account number." Privacy Act of 1974, Pub. L. No. 93-579, § 7(a)(1), 88 Stat. 1896, 1909 (uncodified but appearing in the U.S. Code as a historical note at 5 U.S.C. § 552a ). The Office of the Attorney General has opined that "the clerk of court cannot, by virtue of the Privacy Act, refuse to file a pleading or other document if a party does not provide his or her social security number." Op. Iowa Att'y Gen. No. 94–5–1(L) (May 2, 1994), 1994 WL 328337, at *2. Thus, the Iowa statute, as limited by the Privacy Act, requires a party initiating suit to provide, at minimum, her date of birth.

When a party initiates a new case, the clerk of court is authorized to review the proposed filing and take corrective action where the proposed filing is deficient or otherwise erroneous. See Iowa Rs. Elec. P. 16.308(2)(d )(1) ("If the clerk of court discovers an error in the filing or docketing of a document, the clerk will ordinarily notify

971 N.W.2d 525

the filer of the error and advise the filer of what further action the filer must take, if any, to address the error."),16.308(2)(d )(2) ("The clerk of court may return the submission to the filer with an explanation of the error and instructions to correct the filing."). The rules of electronic procedure specifically identify the "omission of information necessary to properly identify the parties initiating a new case" as an example of a filing error. Id. r. 16.308(2)(d )(4).

Carlson omitted the necessary and required identification information in her first filing. She attempted to file her petition after regular business hours on Friday, January 3, 2020, at 6:53 p.m. On Monday, January 6, at 2:54 p.m., the clerk notified Carlson in writing that the filing had been rejected. The clerk stated, "I am returning your filing back to you. Please add either the DOB [date of birth] or SS# [social security number] for the plaintiff. We need one or the other not both." The clerk's notice of returned filing generated an electronic notification that was sent directly to the email address for Carlson's attorney. On Thursday, January 9, at 3:51 p.m., Carlson refiled the petition with a complete cover sheet, including the requested identification information. The clerk accepted the petition.

Although Carlson admits her petition was filed one day after the limitations period, she argues the untimely petition should relate back to the unsuccessful filing she attempted on January 3rd. We recently addressed the question of when a filed petition relates back to a proposed filing in Jacobs v. Iowa Department of Transportation. 887 N.W.2d 590. In that case, Jacobs filed a petition for judicial review of an administrative agency decision. Id. at 592. Jacobs submitted his petition for judicial review on the last day before the filing period elapsed. Id. The next morning, the clerk of court sent Jacobs's counsel a message that his petition had been "Returned Not Filed" because the cover sheet did not identify the correct type of action and lacked Jacobs's address. Id. Counsel promptly (just over an hour later) corrected the errors and resubmitted the petition via the court's electronic document management system (EDMS), and the clerk of court accepted the petition for filing. Id. On the agency's motion, the district court dismissed the petition for judicial review as untimely. Id.

We reversed the judgment of the district court and held the resubmitted filing related back to the original submission date for purposes of meeting a deadline given the convergence of three circumstances. Id. at 599. "First, the party submitted an electronic document that was received by EDMS prior to the deadline and was otherwise proper except for minor errors in the electronic cover sheet." Id. "Second, the proposed filing was returned by the clerk's office after the deadline because of these minor errors." Id. (emphasis added). And, third, "the party promptly resubmitted the filing after correcting the errors." Id.

More recently, in Toney v. Parker , we again addressed the issue of whether a filing related back to a rejected filing. 958 N.W.2d 202, 204 (Iowa 2021). At issue in that case was whether the plaintiff's untimely resistance to the defendant's motion for summary judgment related back to a timely proposed filing. See id. In determining the issue, we reiterated the three circumstances relevant to the result in Jacobs . Id. at 208. We explained the holding in Jacobs was necessary to, among other things, give "effect to the language of the rule requiring the filer to keep track of the date and time of the original submission," to ensure the legal effect of the filing was not "dependent on how a clerk exercised his or her discretion," and to protect the

971 N.W.2d 526

"filer if the original submission was returned erroneously or if the clerk's office took a long time to process and then ultimately return a filing." Id. at 209 (quoting Jacobs , 887 N.W.2d at 599 ). We ultimately held the filing related back because the error was minor (inclusion of an unredacted social security number in a document contained in the appendix), the clerk rejected the filing after the deadline, and the documents were refiled promptly—forty-five minutes—after rejection. See id.

None of the three circumstances identified in Jacobs and Toney are present here. First, Carlson did not establish she timely submitted an electronic filing that was otherwise proper except for minor errors. Carlson's original submission had a major error when compared to the minor errors at issue in Jacobs and Toney . In Jacobs , the petitioner omitted his address from the cover sheet and incorrectly categorized his petition for judicial review as "Other Action" when it should have been correctly categorized as a "Civil—Administrative Appeal." Jacobs , 887 N.W.2d at 592. Neither party disputed that these errors were minor, and we agreed with that assessment. Id. at 597. No statute, court rule, or order required the filer...

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