Gold Crown Properties, Inc. v. Iowa Dist. Court for Pottawattamie County, 84-165

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Citation375 N.W.2d 692
Docket NumberNo. 84-165,84-165
Decision Date16 October 1985

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375 N.W.2d 692
No. 84-165.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
Oct. 16, 1985.

Page 693

John D. Sens and John M. French of Stuart, Tinley, Peters, Thorn, Smits & Sens, Council Bluffs, for plaintiff.

Lyle A. Rodenburg of Lyle A. Rodenburg, P.C., Council Bluffs, for defendant.


REYNOLDSON, Chief Justice.

Plaintiff Gold Crown Properties, Inc., defendant in an underlying tort action, filed a motion for a formal order dismissing that action pursuant to Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 215.1. When the district court overruled its motion, Gold Crown brought a certiorari action in this court. We transferred the proceeding to the court of appeals, which rejected Gold Crown's certiorari challenge. We granted further review and now affirm the court of appeals.

April 28, 1981, a single female, D.R.R., filed the underlying action against Gold Crown and three other defendants for injuries resulting from her violent rape by an alleged employee of one or more of the corporate defendants. This incident occurred in D.R.R.'s apartment, located in a complex managed by Gold Crown. D.R.R.'s complaint against Gold Crown was based upon breach of contract and negligence.

June 4, 1981, Gold Crown filed its answer. Thereafter, discovery commenced and continued steadily through April 15, 1982.

July 15, 1982, the clerk of court served the parties with the try-or-dismiss notice provided in Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 215.1 1 informing them that if the case was not tried by January 1, 1983, it would be dismissed unless continued pursuant to that rule. August 27, 1982, D.R.R. filed her certificate of readiness for trial.

October 22, 1982, D.R.R. filed application for continuance that stated "the cause should be continued to March 22, 1983, for dismissal unless further continuance is granted thereafter by this court." This application carried the stipulation of all interested defendants in the case. On the same date the district court, Judge Keith E. Burgett presiding, ordered that "this action shall not be dismissed under Rule 215.1," but would be continued "because the case is being prepared for trial and is set for trial on March 22, 1983." A subsequent pretrial order, filed October 26, 1982, reaffirmed the trial date and scheduled further filing dates for the parties.

Following the above orders, the parties undertook further discovery. A number of

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related motions were filed. The two corporate defendants other than Gold Crown filed motions for summary judgment.

February 28, 1983, a hearing was held and all these motions were submitted to the court, Judge J.C. Irvin presiding. At that time Gold Crown requested and obtained permission to promptly file its own summary judgment motion, which later was filed on March 3. Although no calendar entry was found describing the court's rulings at the February 28 hearing, Judge Irvin at a later proceeding recalled, on the record, that he had announced the action could not be reached for trial on the assigned date and would be continued because of his case load and the nature of the summary judgment motions he was taking under submission, together with other unrelated matters in the case. He further recalled that "no objection was made by any party to the continuance of the trial as indicated by the court to all counsel at that time." At the same subsequent proceeding Judge Irvin stated on the record: "The court's subsequent ruling ... was simply a recitation of what did in fact occur on February 28th. The court specifically recalls contacting the Court Administrator upon the conclusion of the hearing to obtain a new trial date."

March 4, 1983, the court filed a conforming written ruling detailing some of the events and filings in the "complex litigation." It ruled on ten of the pending motions, took the three summary judgment motions under advisement, and continued the case until June 28, 1983.

March 30, 1983, apparently anticipating that the court would be unable to meet its current trial schedule and with the summary judgment motions still under submission, the district court administrator rescheduled the trial from June 28 to July 19, 1983. A docket entry was made and the parties were notified. No objections were raised. More discovery ensued.

May 26, 1983, the court granted the summary judgment motions filed by the other two corporate defendants. D.R.R. appealed this ruling, and it was reversed by the court of appeals in D.R.R. v. English Enterprises, CATV & American Heritage Cablevision, Inc., 356 N.W.2d 580 (Iowa Ct.App.1984).

In May, June, and July of 1983, Gold Crown continued to take depositions and file various motions in this case. On June 23, 1983, Gold Crown filed a motion to stay the proceedings and "to strike the case from the trial calendar" on the theory D.R.R.'s appeal from the summary judgment ruling in favor of the other two corporate defendants caused the district court to lose jurisdiction. This motion was overruled.

The record reflects there had been settlement negotiations as the trial date neared. July 18, 1983, the day before trial was to commence, counsel for Gold Crown telephoned the court administrator to report the case had been settled. It was removed from the trial schedule.

August 17, 1983, D.R.R. filed a motion praying for an "order ... enforcing the settlement agreed upon, or in the alternative setting the matter for immediate jury trial." Gold Crown's resistance, filed September 12, 1983, conceded a dispute existed between the parties regarding the terms of settlement and asserted the case "should be set for trial after pre-trial conference."

September 20, 1983, the district court, Judge E.F. Hanson presiding, by calendar entry ruled that, "Case is not settled--To be set for trial at earliest possible date. If trial docket prevents trial before end of year this case shall not be dismissed under RCP 215 and shall stand continued to date fixed for trial by Court Administrator."

September 26, 1983, Gold Crown filed an application for pretrial conference, requesting the court "enter an order regarding additional pleadings, discovery, motions, jury instructions and other items."

December 16, 1983, six months having passed since the trial date, on March 22, 1983, Gold Crown filed its "Motion for Formal Order of Court Dismissing Case," pursuant to rule 215.1. Gold Crown alleged the case was not tried as scheduled on March 22, 1983, it was continued on the court's own motion without motion for continuance

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being made by the parties, and plaintiff had not filed or served an application for reinstatement within the six-month period permitted by the rule. The case, Gold Crown alleged, therefore was dismissed by operation of law when it was not tried on March 22, 1983, and the court was without jurisdiction to do other than enter an order formally dismissing the case, striking it from the trial calendar, and assessing all costs to D.R.R.

The above motion was resisted by D.R.R., thoroughly briefed by all parties, and submitted to the district court on December 30, 1983, Judge Burgett presiding. January 17, 1984, Judge Burgett filed an eight-page ruling. It recited the court had reviewed the four volumes of court files in the case, which had revealed "a complex litigation with multiple parties defendant involving a multitude of factual and legal issues." Trial court found the matter "was pursued vigorously in discovery, pleading, and motions" and the "attorneys were very active in the preparation of the case for trial."

The court found when the trial was rescheduled to June 28, 1983, the court thereby amended the previous pretrial order pursuant to the earlier stipulation of the parties on October 22, 1982, and by presenting the belated motions to amend and the summary judgment motions at the February 28, 1983, hearing, the parties had made an implied application for a continuance.

Trial court found Gold Crown's participation in the hearing and following proceedings estopped it from "being heard to say there was no application for a continuance." Further, the October 22, 1982, stipulation of the parties to the March 22, 1983, trial date "unless further continuance is granted thereafter by the court" (emphasis in ruling) was an effective application for further continuances, agreed to by the parties and ordered by the court. The court found the act of the court administrator in rescheduling the case for trial on July 19, 1983, was "to accommodate the court's trial schedule."

Trial court further found plaintiff's counsel "did everything reasonably possible to get his client's case to court" and to apply rule 215.1 to dismiss the case would unconstitutionally deny plaintiff due process of law. The court reasoned that in these circumstances it had inherent jurisdiction and power in the administration of its judicial business to reschedule cases for trial. Finally, the court found:

A further proceeding on application of plaintiff on August 17, 1983, heard by Judge E.F. Hanson on September 20, 1983, upon notice, serves as a reinstatement of the case even if it were deemed earlier dismissed under Rule 215.1. That proceeding resulted in a calendar entry which provided in pertinent part that the case was not settled, was to be set for trial at the earliest possible date and should not be dismissed under Rule 215.1.

For these and other assigned reasons, trial court denied Gold Crown's motions.

We granted Gold Crown's petition for writ of certiorari to test this ruling and transferred the cause to the court of appeals. That court's divided opinion annulled the writ. It determined there was substantial compliance with rule 215.1 in the first continuance to June 28, 1983, and "[i]t would be exalting form over substance to force plaintiff to apply for a...

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