Lee v. State, No. 12–2055.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtWATERMAN
Citation844 N.W.2d 668
Decision Date28 March 2014
Docket NumberNo. 12–2055.
PartiesTina LEE, Appellee, v. STATE of Iowa and Polk County Clerk of Court, Appellants.

844 N.W.2d 668

Tina LEE, Appellee,
v.
STATE of Iowa and Polk County Clerk of Court, Appellants.

No. 12–2055.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

March 28, 2014.


[844 N.W.2d 670]


Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Jeffrey S. Thompson, Deputy Attorney General, and Jeffrey C. Peterzalek and Meghan L. Gavin, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellants.

Paige E. Fiedler and Brooke C. Timmer of Fiedler & Timmer, P.L.L.C., Urbandale, for appellee.


WATERMAN, Justice.

This case returns to us on defendants' appeal following a remand. On October 29, 2007, after a jury found the State terminated plaintiff in violation of her right to self-care leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D) (2000), the district court awarded plaintiff money damages and ordered the State to reinstate her to her former position in the Polk County Clerk of Court Office. Defendants appealed and successfully requested a stay of plaintiff's reinstatement pending the outcome. In Lee v. State ( Lee I), we held sovereign immunity precluded plaintiff's judgment for money damages against the State. 815 N.W.2d 731, 743 (Iowa 2012). We remanded the case for the district court to determine plaintiff's entitlement to prospective injunctive relief against a state official under Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 155–56, 28 S.Ct. 441, 452, 52 L.Ed. 714, 727 (1908). Lee I, 815 N.W.2d at 743. On October 18, 2012, the district court again ordered plaintiff reinstated and awarded her lost wages and benefits from the date of the original 2007 reinstatement order. The district court concluded that plaintiff was entitled to reinstatement as a form of injunctive relief and that the State had waived its sovereign immunity by seeking a stay of the reinstatement order and promising to pay plaintiff's interim wages and benefits if we affirmed the 2007 order.

[844 N.W.2d 671]

Defendants nevertheless contend that the new reinstatement order should be reversed because plaintiff failed to adequately plead claims for such relief under Ex parte Young and the award of wages since 2007 is barred by sovereign immunity. We disagree. Plaintiff's pleadings were sufficient to preserve her right to Ex parte Young remedies, and the parties litigated the reinstatement remedy by consent. Further, this case is strikingly similar to Barnes v. Bosley in which the plaintiff was wrongfully terminated from the St. Louis City Circuit Court Clerk's Office. 828 F.2d 1253, 1255 (8th Cir.1987). We agree with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals holding in that case: the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution does not bar an award of wages and benefits for the period a reinstatement order was stayed. See Barnes, 828 F.2d at 1257. We therefore affirm the district court's 2012 order.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On November 10, 2004, after taking FMLA leave to cope with anxiety, Tina Lee was terminated from her employment with the judicial branch of the State of Iowa, in the office of the Polk County Clerk of Court. Lee sued the State of Iowa and the Polk County Clerk of Court, alleging violations of her FMLA rights. A jury ultimately found in favor of Lee and awarded her past lost earnings. The district court awarded additional amounts for Lee's attorney fees, litigation expenses, and interest and ordered her reinstated to her former position. Additional detail concerning Lee's employment and the parties' claims and defenses are set forth in Lee I. See815 N.W.2d at 734–35. We will now focus on the facts relevant to this postremand appeal.

At the outset of her lawsuit, Lee demanded the following remedies in her petition's prayer for relief:

[J]udgment against Defendants, jointly and severally, in an amount which will fully and fairly compensate her for her injuries and damages, for liquidated damages, for interest as allowed by law, for attorneys' fees, for the costs of this action, and for such other relief as may be just in the circumstances and consistent with the purpose of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The case proceeded to trial, which commenced September 10, 2007. On the witness stand, Lee asked the court to reinstate her to her former position, and defendants cross-examined her on the propriety of reinstatement in light of Lee's soured relationship with her supervisor in the clerk's office. Outside the presence of the jury, the district court discussed the remedy of reinstatement with the parties, and defendants acknowledged “reinstatement is one of the equitable remedies available to the Court if the jury concludes that there was liability.” The district court responded, “That's an agreement by both parties, that if there's a finding for the Plaintiff this Court has the subject matter jurisdiction to reinstate the Plaintiff.” The parties also stipulated the issue of front pay would be reserved for the district court.


Two claims under the FMLA were submitted to the jury: wrongful discharge and retaliation. On September 13, the jury found in favor of Lee on both claims and awarded her damages for past lost earnings in the amount of $165,122. Defendants moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, arguing sovereign immunity precluded judgment against the State. Lee resisted this motion and filed her own posttrial “Motion for Reinstatement

[844 N.W.2d 672]

and Other Equitable Relief,” requesting that the court order defendants to reinstate her, adopt an FMLA retaliation policy, and provide all employees with FMLA training. Defendants resisted, arguing reinstatement was impractical. On October 15, the district court held a hearing on the posttrial motions. The district court ruled on the record in favor of Lee, ordering her reinstatement.

The district court memorialized its oral rulings in a written order entered October 29. The district court concluded Congress abrogated the State's sovereign immunity as to the self-care provision of the FMLA. The district court therefore awarded Lee past lost earnings in the amount of the jury verdict of $165,122, with $19,127 in prejudgment interest, plus $68,109 in attorney fees and $5734 in litigation expenses. The district court ordered the State to reinstate Lee and pay her lost wages and benefits in the amount of $1146 weekly from the date of the jury verdict until the date of her reinstatement. Additionally, for the purposes of retirement benefits and FMLA leave, the court ordered defendants to credit Lee for years of service as if she had never been terminated.

Defendants filed a notice of appeal and a “Motion to Stay All Proceedings Pending Appeal without Filing a Supersedeas Bond.” In the motion to stay, defendants represented to the district court,

[t]he plaintiff will not suffer any irreparable harm or injury if the district court stays all proceedings. If the Supreme Court affirms the district court, then the State of Iowa will pay the judgment, plus any amounts owed to the plaintiff during the time she should have been reinstated and when she is reinstated. Thus, the plaintiff will be made whole.

Lee agreed to stay collection of the monetary judgment, but asked the district court to compel her reinstatement.


In a January 25, 2008 ruling on the motion to stay, the district court concluded:

Plaintiff here has shown that her loss has been, and continues to be, substantial. A stay of reinstatement would require Plaintiff to wait another 18–24 months before allowing her to return to work. This delay in salary and benefits would surely cause significant harm to Plaintiff as she has been unable to find comparable employment.

The district court also considered defendants' likelihood of success on the merits, whether defendants would suffer irreparable injury in the absence of a stay, and the public interests implicated. The district court ruled all of the factors supported a denial of the stay of reinstatement and therefore ordered defendants to “immediately reinstate Plaintiff to her previous position.”


On February 16, defendants asked our court to stay Lee's reinstatement during their appeal, repeating their assurance that Lee would not suffer irreparable harm from a stay. We granted defendants' motion, staying Lee's reinstatement. We transferred the case to the court of appeals, which affirmed the judgment in favor of Lee. We granted defendants' application for further review.

We held the appeal in abeyance pending a decision by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of whether the self-care provision of the FMLA validly abrogated the states' sovereign immunity from suit. That decision, Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland, held Congress failed to “identify a pattern of constitutional violations and tailor a remedy congruent and proportional to the documented violations,” and therefore, Congress failed to abrogate

[844 N.W.2d 673]

sovereign immunity. ––– U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 1327, 1338, 182 L.Ed.2d 296, 307 (2012) (plurality opinion). Accordingly, we held on May 25, 2012, that sovereign immunity precluded Lee's judgment against the State for money damages. Lee I, 815 N.W.2d at 743. But, we noted injunctive relief remained available to Lee under the doctrine of Ex parte Young:

Nevertheless, states are bound to follow the self-care provisions of the FMLA, and state employees who are wrongfully denied self-care leave are still permitted to seek injunctive relief against the responsible state official. [Coleman, ––– U.S. at ––––, 132 S.Ct. at 1350, 182 L.Ed.2d at 320 (Ginsburg, J., dissenting) ] ( citing Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 155–56, 28 S.Ct. 441, 452, 52 L.Ed. 714, 727 (1908) ( establishing proposition that suit for injunctive relief against state official does not offend sovereign immunity ))....

In this case, the judgment entered by the district court was predicated on legal error. Accordingly, the noninjunctive relief granted in the judgment cannot stand, and we must reverse the district court. We remand the case to the district court to determine what relief granted in its judgment is...

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13 practice notes
  • Hedlund v. State, No. 18-0567
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 28, 2019
    ...Law § 9.04 & cmts. b –c , at 523–24; 2 Dobbs Law of Remedies § 6.10(2), at 198; 3 id. § 12.21(4), at 489; see also Lee v. State , 844 N.W.2d 668, 671 (Iowa 2014) (noting concern regarding the propriety of reinstatement in an employment context); Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 367(1), a......
  • Godfrey v. State, No. 19-1954
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2021
    ...position to obtain a certain litigation outcome. See Wellmark, Inc. v. Iowa Dist. Ct., 890 N.W.2d 636, 645 n.5 (Iowa 2017); Lee v. State, 844 N.W.2d 668, 683 (Iowa 2014). The doctrine is "designed to protect the integrity of the judicial process." Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Hedlund, 740 N.W.2d 19......
  • Godfrey v. State, 19-1954
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2021
    ...to obtain a certain litigation outcome. See Wellmark, Inc. v. Iowa Dist. Ct. , 890 N.W.2d 636, 645 n.5 (Iowa 2017) ; Lee v. State , 844 N.W.2d 668, 683 (Iowa 2014). The doctrine is "designed to protect the integrity of the judicial process." Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Hedlund , 740 N.W.2d 192, 19......
  • Lee v. State, No. 14–1386.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 12, 2016
    ...if the appellate court affirmed the reinstatement order on appeal when it moved to stay the judgment. See Lee v. State (Lee II ), 844 N.W.2d 668, 673 (Iowa 2014). The State resisted, arguing Lee had not named any state official in her original action, challenging the characterization of los......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
13 cases
  • Hedlund v. State, No. 18-0567
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 28, 2019
    ...Law § 9.04 & cmts. b –c , at 523–24; 2 Dobbs Law of Remedies § 6.10(2), at 198; 3 id. § 12.21(4), at 489; see also Lee v. State , 844 N.W.2d 668, 671 (Iowa 2014) (noting concern regarding the propriety of reinstatement in an employment context); Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 367(1), a......
  • Godfrey v. State, No. 19-1954
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2021
    ...position to obtain a certain litigation outcome. See Wellmark, Inc. v. Iowa Dist. Ct., 890 N.W.2d 636, 645 n.5 (Iowa 2017); Lee v. State, 844 N.W.2d 668, 683 (Iowa 2014). The doctrine is "designed to protect the integrity of the judicial process." Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Hedlund, 740 N.W.2d 19......
  • Godfrey v. State, 19-1954
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2021
    ...to obtain a certain litigation outcome. See Wellmark, Inc. v. Iowa Dist. Ct. , 890 N.W.2d 636, 645 n.5 (Iowa 2017) ; Lee v. State , 844 N.W.2d 668, 683 (Iowa 2014). The doctrine is "designed to protect the integrity of the judicial process." Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Hedlund , 740 N.W.2d 192, 19......
  • Lee v. State, No. 14–1386.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 12, 2016
    ...if the appellate court affirmed the reinstatement order on appeal when it moved to stay the judgment. See Lee v. State (Lee II ), 844 N.W.2d 668, 673 (Iowa 2014). The State resisted, arguing Lee had not named any state official in her original action, challenging the characterization of los......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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