Wall, In Interest of, 64239

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Citation295 N.W.2d 455
Docket NumberNo. 64239,64239
PartiesIn the Interest of Tyrone James WALL, a child, Appellant.
Decision Date27 August 1980

David Arthur Adams of Legal Services Corporation of Iowa, Burlington, for minor child-appellant.

Robert Todd of Edward Dailey Law Offices, P. C., Burlington, for mother-appellee.

Thomas J. Miller, Atty. Gen., John G. Black, Spec. Asst. Atty. Gen., and Francis C. Hoyt, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., for State of Iowa.

Considered by REYNOLDSON, C. J., and LeGRAND, UHLENHOPP, ALLBEE and McGIVERIN, JJ.

ALLBEE, Justice.

This appeal arises from a determination by the juvenile court that subsection 232.2(5)(c)(1), The Code 1979, is unconstitutionally vague both on its face and as applied. The factual background of the case is as follows. In January of 1977, appellee Pamela Wall, then age fifteen, gave birth to a son, Tyrone, who resided with her for approximately one year. The man believed to be Tyrone's natural father has been absent since the child's birth. Sometime in January, 1978, the local office of the state Department of Social Services received a report that Tyrone was not receiving proper care. Subsequently, Pamela entered into a voluntary placement agreement with that agency, pursuant to which the child was placed in foster care. Approximately four months later, a petition alleging Tyrone to be a child in need of assistance was filed in the juvenile court. As a result of Pamela's execution of a second voluntary placement agreement, however, no formal ruling was made on the petition. During all of this time, Pamela remained in periodic contact with the Department of Social Services for counseling and related services. She also had visitations with the child, although apparently on a sporadic basis. Pamela's contact with the agency and the juvenile court continued, culminating with the filing of a petition in July of 1979 which again alleged Tyrone to be a child in need of assistance. That petition was based upon the subsection challenged here, which provides as follows:

"Child in need of assistance" means an unmarried child:

c. Who has suffered or is imminently likely to suffer harmful effects as a result of:

(1) conditions created by the child's parent, guardian, custodian; . . . .

§ 232.2(5)(c)(1), The Code 1979 (emphasis added).

The petition merely recited the above-quoted statutory language; it contained no factual allegations as to the "conditions" created by Pamela which resulted in "harmful effects" to the child. Pamela responded with a motion to dismiss, asserting that subsection 232.2(5)(c)(1) was unconstitutionally vague both facially and as applied, and that the notice she received was so deficient as to deprive her of due process of law. 1 The juvenile court sustained the motion based upon the vagueness challenge, and this appeal followed. 2

I. In evaluating a challenge to the constitutionality of a statute based upon vagueness grounds, this court has recognized a distinction between criminal and civil statutes. E.g., MRM, Inc. v. City of Davenport, 290 N.W.2d 338, 344 (Iowa 1980); Knight v. Iowa District Court, 269 N.W.2d 430, 432 (Iowa 1978). As a general rule, legislation which is either criminal or penal in nature will be subjected to a more exacting standard of scrutiny than civil remedial or regulatory enactments. MRM, 290 N.W.2d at 344; Knight, 269 N.W.2d at 432. See Davis v. Smith, 583 S.W.2d 37, 41 (Ark.1979).

While it is clear that the statutory provision involved in this case contains no criminal sanctions, we are not of the opinion that this automatically requires the application of a standard of review such as that which would be used in the civil remedies context. Rather, in determining the level of scrutiny to be employed in any particular vagueness case, we believe that the focus should necessarily be upon the various interests affected, the purpose underlying the enactment in question and the potential deprivation which could result from its application. 3 See People v. D. A. K., 596 P.2d 747, 751 (Colo.1979), appeal dismissed, 444 U.S. 987, 100 S.Ct. 515, 62 L.Ed.2d 416 (1980). See also Custody of a Minor, 79 Mass. Adv.Sh., 2099, 393 N.E.2d 379, 383 (1979); In re Trapp, 593 S.W.2d 193, 203 (Mo.1980). Consequently, the degree of specificity constitutionally required of non-criminal statutes will vary, depending upon these factors. See D. A. K., 596 P.2d at 751.

Subsection 232.2(5)(c)(1) implicates several interests: those of a parent in maintaining his or her family, those of the state in its capacity as parens patriae and, of course, those of the child. In dealing with these interrelationships between the parent, state and child, this court in another context has recognized a parental interest in the integrity of the family unit. In re Voeltz, 271 N.W.2d 719, 723 (Iowa 1979) (termination of parental rights); In re Lewis, 257 N.W.2d 505, 510 (Iowa 1977) (termination of parental rights). However, it is also understood that this interest is not absolute, but rather may be forfeited by certain parental conduct. Voeltz, 271 N.W.2d at 723; Lewis, 257 N.W.2d at 510.

In evaluating vagueness challenges to statutes authorizing the termination of the parent-child relationship, some courts have utilized a strict standard of scrutiny, similar to that employed in the examination of criminal and penal legislation, due to the parental interest involved, e. g., Roe v. Conn, 417 F.Supp. 769, 777 (M.D.Ala.1976); Alsager v. District Court, 406 F.Supp. 10, 17-19 (S.D.Iowa 1975), aff'd per curiam on other grounds, 545 F.2d 1137 (8th Cir. 1976) and the permanence and severity of the resulting deprivation. See Lewis, 257 N.W.2d at 510. However, subsection 232.2(5)(c)(1) deals not with the termination of parental rights, but rather sets out one of several grounds upon which a child in need of assistance adjudication may be based. In the event of such an adjudication, any separation of parent and child will ordinarily be temporary in nature, and therefore the intrusion upon the interest of a parent is less severe than where termination is decreed. Accordingly, the requisite statutory specificity and the degree of scrutiny to be employed in evaluating that specificity will be less strict than in those situations in which a permanent severance of parental rights is involved. Nonetheless, we are mindful that a child in need of assistance proceeding may indeed serve as the initial step in the termination process. See § 232.114, The Code 1979; D. A. K., 596 P.2d at 751. See also In re Hewitt, 272 N.W.2d 852, 857 (Iowa 1978) (discussing child in need of assistance provisions of the 1977 Code).

In light of the foregoing considerations, we conclude that the level of scrutiny applicable with respect to the definiteness of section 232.2(5)(c)(1) lies between that which would be employed in the evaluation of a criminal or penal enactment and that applied to civil remedial or regulatory legislation. As such, the language of that statutory provision need not possess the precision and specificity required of the former, yet it must necessarily be less flexible than wording which would be considered permissible in the latter context. See Davis, 583 S.W.2d at 42; Lewis, 257 N.W.2d at 509-10.

II. As previously stated, Pamela alleges that the terms "harmful effects" and "conditions," as used in subsection 232.2(5)(c)(1), are impermissibly vague and therefore unconstitutional. To avoid constitutional infirmity due to vagueness, due process requires that statutory language be of an adequate degree of specificity, so as to both convey sufficiently definite warning of the conduct which is proscribed and to provide guidance for the statute's application and enforcement. See Davis v. Smith, 583 S.W.2d 37, 41 (Ark.1979); People v. D. A. K., 596 P.2d 747, 751 (Colo.1979), appeal dismissed, 444 U.S. 987, 100 S.Ct. 515, 62 L.Ed.2d 416 (1980); In re D. T., 89 S.D. 590, 596, 237 N.W.2d 166, 169 (1975). See also Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108-09, 92 S.Ct. 2294, 2298-99, 33 L.Ed.2d 222, 227-28 (1975); Alsager v. District Court, 406 F.Supp. 10, 17-18 (S.D.Iowa 1975), aff'd per curiam, 545 F.2d 1137 (8th Cir. 1976); Knight v. Iowa District Court, 269 N.W.2d 430, 432 (1978); State ex rel. Health & Social Services Department v. Natural Father, 93 N.M. 222, 225, 598 P.2d 1182, 1185 (Ct.App.1979). Thus, the question we must decide is whether the challenged provisions are sufficiently definite and specific, so as to afford these due process requirements considered in light of the interests affected, the purpose of the proceeding and the potential deprivation at stake. In making this determination, we are guided by generally recognized principles applicable to vagueness challenges. See State v. Aldrich, 231 N.W.2d 890, 893-94 (Iowa 1975).

We are satisfied that the phrase "harmful effects," as utilized in subsection 232.2(5)(c), pertains to the physical, mental or social welfare of a child, and that the statute conveys this meaning to persons of ordinary intelligence. When so considered, the phrase also affords adequate guidance for its application and enforcement. Other similar terms have been determined to be sufficiently definite to pass constitutional muster in both the dependency and termination contexts. E. g., In re V. A. E. Y. H. D., 605 P.2d 916, 918-19 (Colo.1980) ("environment . . . injurious to (child's) welfare"); D. A. K., 596 P.2d at 751 (1979) ("mistreatment or abuse"); D. T., 89 S.D. at 596, 237 N.W.2d at 169 (1975) ("mistreatment or abuse"; "environment . . . injurious to (child's) welfare"). In light of these considerations, we believe that the phrase "harmful effects" is of sufficient specificity to meet the requirements of due process, both facially and as applied to Pamela.

However, we are constrained to conclude that the term "conditions," as used in the statute, does not sufficiently convey an understanding of what is proscribed to those persons to whom it...

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24 practice notes
  • Paul v. Department of Transp., State, No. 27238.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • September 24, 2007
    ...or commercial interests are involved, a lesser standard is utilized for determining vagueness.") (Citation omitted.); cf. In re Wall, 295 N.W.2d 455, 457 (Iowa 1980) (the degree of specificity constitutionally required of noncriminal statutes will vary, depending on "the various interests a......
  • Gardens at West Maui v. County of Maui, No. 21903.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • May 11, 1999
    ...or commercial interests are involved, a lesser standard is utilized for determining vagueness.") (Citation omitted.); cf. In re Wall, 295 N.W.2d 455, 457 (Iowa 1980) (the degree of specificity constitutionally required of non-criminal statutes will vary, depending on "the various interests ......
  • Greenawalt v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment of City of Davenport, 83-440
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 15, 1984
    ...ordinances when they are attacked on vagueness grounds. The basic distinction is between penal and civil enactments. In Interest of Wall, 295 N.W.2d 455, 457-58 (Iowa 1980); MRM, Inc. v. City of Davenport, 290 N.W.2d 338, 344 (Iowa 1980); Knight v. District Court, 269 N.W.2d 430, 432 (Iowa ......
  • D.J.R., In Interest of, 89-503
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 18, 1990
    ...review because the court of appeals relied on statutory language that was declared unconstitutionally vague in In the Interest of Wall, 295 N.W.2d 455 (Iowa 1980). The State concedes that the reasoning of the court of appeals cannot stand, but argues that the juvenile court properly termina......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
24 cases
  • Paul v. Department of Transp., State, 27238.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • September 24, 2007
    ...or commercial interests are involved, a lesser standard is utilized for determining vagueness.") (Citation omitted.); cf. In re Wall, 295 N.W.2d 455, 457 (Iowa 1980) (the degree of specificity constitutionally required of noncriminal statutes will vary, depending on "the various interests a......
  • Gardens at West Maui v. County of Maui, 21903.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • May 11, 1999
    ...or commercial interests are involved, a lesser standard is utilized for determining vagueness.") (Citation omitted.); cf. In re Wall, 295 N.W.2d 455, 457 (Iowa 1980) (the degree of specificity constitutionally required of non-criminal statutes will vary, depending on "the various interests ......
  • Greenawalt v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment of City of Davenport, 83-440
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 15, 1984
    ...when they are attacked on vagueness grounds. The basic distinction is between penal and civil enactments. In Interest of Wall, 295 N.W.2d 455, 457-58 (Iowa 1980); MRM, Inc. v. City of Davenport, 290 N.W.2d 338, 344 (Iowa 1980); Knight v. District Court, 269 N.W.2d 430, 432 (Iowa 1978). This......
  • D.J.R., In Interest of, 89-503
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 18, 1990
    ...further review because the court of appeals relied on statutory language that was declared unconstitutionally vague in In the Interest of Wall, 295 N.W.2d 455 (Iowa 1980). The State concedes that the reasoning of the court of appeals cannot stand, but argues that the juvenile court properly......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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