Ritz v. Wapello County Bd. of Supervisors, 97-2134

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtConsidered by McGIVERIN; CADY
Citation595 N.W.2d 786
Parties138 Lab.Cas. P 33,903 Cindy RITZ, Appellant, v. WAPELLO COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, et al., Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 97-2134,97-2134
Decision Date03 June 1999

Page 786

595 N.W.2d 786
138 Lab.Cas. P 33,903
Cindy RITZ, Appellant,
v.
WAPELLO COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, et al., Appellees.
No. 97-2134.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
June 3, 1999.

Page 787

Rod Powell of Powell Law Firm, P.C., Norwalk, for appellant.

Joni L. Keith and Lloyd E. Keith of the Keith Law Firm, P.C., Ottumwa, for appellees.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Rick Autry, Assistant Attorney General, amicus curiae for the Civil Rights Commission.

Considered by McGIVERIN, C.J., and HARRIS, LAVORATO, NEUMAN, and CADY, JJ.

CADY, Justice.

A terminated employee appeals the dismissal of her petition alleging violations of the Iowa Civil Rights Act and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. We reverse the district court decision and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Cindy Ritz was employed by the Wapello County Board of Health as a nurse administrator. She initiated this action in district court on April 4, 1997, against the Wapello County Board of Supervisors and

Page 788

Board of Health, as well as the chair person of the Board of Health (collectively referred to as Wapello County) after her employment was terminated. In her petition, Ritz alleged her termination violated the Iowa Civil Rights Act and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. The petition claimed the termination occurred February 12, 1996. It further alleged Ritz filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission on August 9, 1996, and the Commission issued an administrative release and "right-to-sue" letter on January 8, 1997.

Ritz did not serve Wapello County with an original notice and copy of the petition at the time of the filing. On August 21, 1997, the district court, sua sponte, issued an order giving Ritz until September 19, 1997, to file proof of service. Ritz filed proof of service on September 19, 1997, indicating Wapello County was served on September 17, 1997.

Wapello County responded to the petition by filing a motion to dismiss. It alleged the district court did not have jurisdiction over the case because the termination occurred February 5, 1996, and Ritz did not file a timely complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. Wapello County also claimed the petition should be dismissed because the delay between the filing of the petition and the service of the petition was abusive.

Ritz responded to the motion to dismiss by submitting numerous documents to the district court explaining the background and procedural history of the case. These documents indicated Ritz was told on February 5, 1996, that her position would be eliminated February 12, 1996. The documents also included an administrative closure letter issued by the Civil Rights Commission informing Ritz the Commission would take no further action on her complaint. The letter included a copy of the Commission "screening data analysis and case determination." This document indicated Wapello County provided the Commission with a legitimate, nondiscriminatory explanation for the termination, and further indicated the complaint was untimely because the date of the termination was February 5, 1996. It also noted Ritz failed to respond to the Commission's questionnaire, which permitted administrative closure under Iowa Administrative Code rule 161-3.12(1). Finally, the documents submitted by Ritz included a copy of an administrative release letter, authorizing Ritz to commence an action in district court.

The district court granted the motion to dismiss. 1 It found the Commission had no jurisdiction to issue the administrative release letter based upon the finding contained in the screening analysis that the complaint was untimely. The district court determined it was unnecessary to address the abusive delay claim because the failure to file a timely complaint with the Commission was dispositive of the case. Neither party filed a motion under Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 179(b).

Page 789

On appeal Ritz claims the district court erred by dismissing her petition. Specifically, she contends the district court erred by: (1) finding the Iowa Civil Rights Commission failed to issue a proper right-to-sue letter; and (2) dismissing her Family and Medical Leave Act claim. The State submitted an amicus curiae brief, claiming the Iowa Civil Rights Commission properly issued the administrative release letter. The Board asserts even if the trial court erred, the case should have been dismissed based upon the abusive delay in service of process.

II. Standard of Review.

Our review of rulings on motions to dismiss is limited. Haupt v.. Miller, 514 N.W.2d 905, 907(Iowa 1994). We review a district court's ruling on a motion to dismiss for correction of errors at law. Iowa R.App.P. 4; McCormick v. Meyer, 582 N.W.2d 141, 144 (Iowa 1998).

A motion to dismiss is properly granted only if a plaintiff's petition "on its face shows no right of recovery under any state of facts." Schaffer v. Frank Moyer Constr., Inc., 563 N.W.2d 605, 607(Iowa 1997) (quoting Tate v. Derifield, 510 N.W.2d 885, 887 (Iowa 1994)). Allegations in the petition are viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff and facts not alleged cannot be relied on to aid a motion to dismiss nor may evidence be taken to support it. Id.

III. Abusive Delay in Service of Process.

A. Preservation of Error.

A rule 179(b) motion is necessary to preserve error when a trial court fails to resolve an issue, claim, defense, or other theory properly submitted to it for adjudication. Iowa R.Civ.P. 179(b); Lawrence v. Grinde, 534 N.W.2d 414, 418 (Iowa 1995). The purpose of a rule 179(b) motion is "to advise counsel and the appellate court of the basis of the trial court's decision in order that counsel may direct his attack upon specific adverse findings or rulings in the event of an appeal." City of Fort Dodge v. Civil Serv. Comm'n, 562 N.W.2d 438, 440 (Iowa App.1997) (quoting Berger v. Amana Soc'y, 254 Iowa 1036, 1040, 120 N.W.2d 465, 467 (1963)).

Ritz contends the Board failed to preserve its abusive delay in service of process claim because it failed to file a rule 179(b) motion requesting the trial court to enlarge its ruling. We have recognized, however, a distinction between successful and unsuccessful parties for purposes of error preservation. See Johnston Equip. Corp. of Iowa v. Industrial Indem., 489 N.W.2d 13, 16 (Iowa 1992) (successful party need not cross appeal to preserve error on ground urged but ignored or rejected in trial court). Rule 179(b) is directed at unsuccessful parties who intend to challenge the district court's ruling on issues it did not resolve. A successful party would have no motivation to raise a rule 179(b) motion to challenge the basis upon which the district court made its decision. Consequently, the requirements of rule 179(b) are only applied to unsuccessful parties challenging the district court decision.

The Board was the successful party in this case. Accordingly, it was not required to file a rule 179(b) motion on its abusive delay in service of process claim.

B. Abusive Delay.

At the time this action was commenced, our rules of civil procedure did not provide a specific time period in which service of process must be made following the filing of a petition. 2 See McCormick,

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582 N.W.2d at 145. Nevertheless, our cases have required dismissal of a lawsuit if an unjustified abusive delay in completing service occurs. Id.; Alvarez v. Meadow Lane Mall Ltd. Partnership, 560 N.W.2d 588, 591 (Iowa 1997). Under this standard, the court must first determine if the delay was presumptively abusive. McCormick, 582 N.W.2d at 145. If presumptively abusive, the court must then determine if the plaintiff has shown the delay was justified. Id. If it is justified, dismissal is inappropriate. Alvarez, 560 N.W.2d at 591.

The delay between the filing of the petition and service of process in this case was 166 days. Although the district court made no finding whether this delay was presumptively abusive, we have found similar delays in other cases to be presumptively abusive. See Henry v. Shober, 566 N.W.2d 190, 192 (Iowa 1997) (169-day delay presumptively abusive); Alvarez, 560 N.W.2d at 591 (159-day delay presumptively abusive); see also Turnbull v. Horan, 522 N.W.2d 860, 861 (Iowa App.1994) (126-day delay presumptively abusive).

Although we can resolve issues on appeal based upon grounds raised but not relied upon by the district court, those grounds must be supported by facts in the record unless the matter can be decided as a matter of law. See Tate, 510 N.W.2d. at 887. Because of the procedural posture of this case, there is no record on appeal for us to determine whether or not the delay was justified. Therefore, we are unable to decide the appeal on grounds raised but not relied upon by the district court.

IV. Right-to-Sue Letter.

There are two conditions to filing a petition in district court for unfair or discriminatory practices. First, the petitioner must file a timely complaint with the Civil...

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41 practice notes
  • State v. Childs, No. 15-1578
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2017
    ...and on appeal. See Adams v. City of Des Moines , 629 N.W.2d 367, 369 (Iowa 2001) (citing Ritz v. Wapello County Board of Supervisors , 595 N.W.2d 786, 789 (Iowa 1999), to emphasize that a motion to expand a ruling is "crucial to preservation of error" on a legal issue urged but not decided ......
  • Berent v. City of Iowa City, No. 06-1382.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • August 31, 2007
    ...distinction between successful and unsuccessful parties for purposes of error preservation." Ritz v. Wapello County Bd. of Supervisors, 595 N.W.2d 786, 789 (Iowa 1999). A party would have no motivation to move to expand the findings or appeal a successful verdict. As the successful party, t......
  • King v. State, No. 08–2006.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 24, 2012
    ...because the appellant seeks [818 N.W.2d 12]to overturn the judgment rendered below. See Ritz v. Wapello Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, 595 N.W.2d 786, 789 (Iowa 1999) (stating that “[w]e have recognized ... a distinction between successful and unsuccessful parties for purposes of error preservat......
  • Mormann v. Iowa Workforce Dev., No. 16-1333
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 15, 2018
    ...the timeliness of a complaint are rarely resolved at this juncture in the proceedings." Ritz v. Wapello Cty. Bd. of Supervisors , 595 N.W.2d 786, 791 (Iowa 1999). He further asserted "[p]laintiff clearly alleged facts that there was no way that he could have known that he did not get the jo......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
41 cases
  • State v. Childs, No. 15-1578
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2017
    ...and on appeal. See Adams v. City of Des Moines , 629 N.W.2d 367, 369 (Iowa 2001) (citing Ritz v. Wapello County Board of Supervisors , 595 N.W.2d 786, 789 (Iowa 1999), to emphasize that a motion to expand a ruling is "crucial to preservation of error" on a legal issue urged but not decided ......
  • Berent v. City of Iowa City, No. 06-1382.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • August 31, 2007
    ...distinction between successful and unsuccessful parties for purposes of error preservation." Ritz v. Wapello County Bd. of Supervisors, 595 N.W.2d 786, 789 (Iowa 1999). A party would have no motivation to move to expand the findings or appeal a successful verdict. As the successful party, t......
  • King v. State, No. 08–2006.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 24, 2012
    ...because the appellant seeks [818 N.W.2d 12]to overturn the judgment rendered below. See Ritz v. Wapello Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, 595 N.W.2d 786, 789 (Iowa 1999) (stating that “[w]e have recognized ... a distinction between successful and unsuccessful parties for purposes of error preservat......
  • Mormann v. Iowa Workforce Dev., No. 16-1333
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 15, 2018
    ...the timeliness of a complaint are rarely resolved at this juncture in the proceedings." Ritz v. Wapello Cty. Bd. of Supervisors , 595 N.W.2d 786, 791 (Iowa 1999). He further asserted "[p]laintiff clearly alleged facts that there was no way that he could have known that he did not get the jo......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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