Godfrey v. State

Decision Date30 June 2017
Docket NumberNo. 15-0695,15-0695
Parties Christopher J. GODFREY, Appellant, v. STATE of Iowa; Terry Branstad, Governor of the State of Iowa, Individually and in his Official Capacity; Kimberly Reynolds, Lieutenant Governor of the State of Iowa, Individually and in her Official Capacity; Jeffrey Boeyink, Chief of Staff to the Governor of the State of Iowa, Individually and in his Official Capacity; Brenna Findley, Legal Counsel to the Governor of the State of Iowa, Individually and in her Official Capacity; Timothy Albrecht, Communications Director to the Governor of the State of Iowa, Individually and in his Official Capacity; and Teresa Wahlert, Director, Iowa Workforce Development, Individually and in her Official Capacity, Appellees.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Roxanne Barton Conlin of Roxanne Conlin & Associates, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

Jeffrey S. Thompson, Solicitor General, and Jeffrey C. Peterzalek, Assistant Attorney General, for appellees.

Alan R. Ostergren, Muscatine, for amicus curiae Iowa County Attorneys Association.

Richard J. Sapp and Ryan G. Koopmans (until withdrawal) of Nyemaster Goode, P.C., Des Moines, for amici curiae Iowa League of Cities, Iowa State Association of Counties, Iowa Communities Assurance Pool and Iowa Association of School Boards.

APPEL, Justice.

In this case, we are called upon to determine whether the equal protection and due process provisions of the Iowa Constitution provide a direct action for damages in the context of an employment dispute between an Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner and various state officials, including the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the Governor's chief of staff, the Governor's legal counsel, the Governor's communication director, and the director of Iowa Workforce Development.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the plaintiff's claims. We granted interlocutory appeal. For the reasons expressed below, we reverse in part and affirm in part the judgment of the district court.

I. Factual and Procedural Background.

This case involves claims brought against various state officials for damages related to public employment. The petition as amended named the State of Iowa and individual defendants Terry Branstad, Kimberly Reynolds, Jeffrey Boeyink, Brenna Findley, Timothy Albrecht, and Teresa Wahlert. Christopher J. Godfrey stated in the petition that he was appointed Workers' Compensation Commissioner in 2006 for a partial term and then was subsequently appointed for a full term by Governor Chet Culver in 2009. Godfrey pled that the position of commissioner was statutorily defined as a six-year term, whereas the Iowa Constitution establishes a four-year term for the governorship. Since July of 2008 until the incidents complained of by Godfrey, Godfrey alleged that his salary was $112,068.84 a year, near the maximum in the statutorily set salary range of $73,250–$112,070. See 2008 Iowa Acts ch. 1191, § 14(1), (5).

Godfrey alleged in the petition that defendant Branstad, prior to taking office, demanded Godfrey's resignation by a letter dated December 3, 2010. Godfrey, however, asserted he refused to resign, claiming that his position was quasi-judicial, intended to be nonpartisan, and insulated from politics because of the two-year difference in terms between the commissioner (six years) and the Governor (four years). Godfrey's petition described several meetings with Branstad, Branstad's staff, and some of the other individual defendants in which Godfrey was pressured to resign. Godfrey alleges that as a result of his refusal to resign, he was punished by having his salary reduced to the statutory minimum of $73,250. Godfrey claims he suffered other retaliation in the workplace at the hands of the defendants.

At issue in this interlocutory appeal are four counts alleging violation of due process and equal protection provisions of the Iowa Constitution.1 In Count VI, Godfrey alleges defendants deprived him of his constitutionally protected property interest in his salary without due process of law because of partisan politics and/or his sexual orientation in violation of article I, section 9 of the Iowa Constitution. In Count VII, Godfrey alleges the defendants damaged his protected liberty interest in his reputation without due process of law in violation of article I, section 9 by falsely claiming poor work performance. In Count VIII, Godfrey states the State of Iowa deprived Godfrey of equal protection of the laws in violation of article I, section 6 by discriminating against Godfrey because of his sexual orientation. Finally, in Count IX, Godfrey alleges the individual defendants deprived him of equal protection of the laws by treating homosexual appointed state officers or homosexual individuals differently than heterosexual appointed state officers or heterosexual individuals, also in violation of article I, section 6 of the Iowa Constitution. Under all these claims, Godfrey asks for actual damages, punitive damages, attorney's fees, court costs, and interest.

The defendants moved for summary judgment. According to the defendants, they were entitled to summary judgment because there is no private cause of action for money damages for violation of article I, sections 6 and 9 of the Iowa Constitution. In the alternative, the defendants argued that Godfrey's claims were preempted by the Iowa Civil Rights Act, Iowa Code chapter 216 (2009).

The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on the Iowa constitutional claims. The district court explained that it considered the motion for summary judgment as a motion to dismiss because neither party asserted any particular facts upon which the district court should base its decision. The district court noted that federal precedent in Davis v. Passman , 442 U.S. 228, 99 S.Ct. 2264, 60 L.Ed.2d 846 (1979), and Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics , 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971), appeared to support a cause of action for due process violations in a wrongful termination case. Further, the district court recognized that "[s]ignificant public policy arguments favor recognition of such claims." Nonetheless, the district court found that a recent unpublished court of appeals decision holding there are no private causes of action for violations of the Iowa Constitution was dispositive and dismissed Godfrey's constitutional claims. See Conklin v. State , No. 14-0764, 2015 WL 1332003, at *5 (Iowa Ct. App. Mar. 25, 2015).

Godfrey applied for interlocutory review. We granted the application. For the reasons expressed below, a majority of the court concludes that Bivens claims are available under the Iowa Constitution and that the claims raised by plaintiff in Counts VI and VII were improperly dismissed. On the question of whether the Iowa Civil Rights Act provides an adequate remedy sufficient to stay any Bivens -type claim, a majority concludes that the remedy provided by chapter 216 is adequate under the facts and circumstances of this case, and that as a result, Counts VIII and IX of the plaintiff's complaint were properly dismissed.

II. Standard of Review.

A motion for summary judgment is appropriately granted when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.981(3). "We review the legal issues necessary for resolution of the constitutional claims presented within the context of the summary judgment proceeding de novo." Varnum v. Brien , 763 N.W.2d 862, 874 (Iowa 2009) ; accord Kistler v. City of Perry , 719 N.W.2d 804, 805 (Iowa 2006).

Generally, our review on a motion to dismiss is for correction of errors at law. Hedlund v. State , 875 N.W.2d 720, 724 (Iowa 2016) ; Mueller v. Wellmark, Inc. , 818 N.W.2d 244, 253 (Iowa 2012). To the extent that we review constitutional claims within a motion to dismiss, our review is de novo. McGill v. Fish , 790 N.W.2d 113, 116–17 (Iowa 2010) ; State v. Taeger , 781 N.W.2d 560, 564 (Iowa 2010). If the petitioner fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, we will affirm a grant of a motion to dismiss. Hedlund , 875 N.W.2d at 724 ; King v. State , 818 N.W.2d 1, 8 (Iowa 2012). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, we accept all well-pled facts in the petition as true. Shumate v. Drake Univ. , 846 N.W.2d 503, 507 (Iowa 2014) ; Geisler v. City Council of Cedar Falls , 769 N.W.2d 162, 165 (Iowa 2009).

III. Claims for Monetary Damages Under Article I, Section 6 and Article I, Section 9 of the Iowa Constitution.

A. Positions of the Parties.

1. Godfrey . Godfrey argues that article I, section 6 and article I, section 9 of the Iowa Constitution are self-executing. As a result, according to Godfrey, no implementing legislation is necessary for Godfrey to bring a claim against the defendants for monetary damages under the specific Iowa constitutional provisions involved in this case.

Godfrey cites United States Supreme Court precedent as providing persuasive reasoning that some constitutional provisions are self-executing. The United States Supreme Court declared in Davis v. Burke that a constitutional provision may be said to be "self-executing" if it "supplies a sufficient rule by means of which the right given may be enjoyed and protected, or the duty imposed may be enforced." 179 U.S. 399, 403, 21 S.Ct. 210, 212, 45 L.Ed. 249 (1900). According to Godfrey, the reasoning in Davis supports his position that the due process and equal protection provisions of article I, sections 6 and 9 of the Iowa Constitution fall within the self-executing category.

Godfrey further argues that it would be illogical for the fundamental principles in these key Iowa constitutional provisions to depend upon legislative action for enforcement. In support of his argument, Godfrey cites passages in Varnum where we stated that the purpose of constitutional provisions such as the equal protection clause was...

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