Chris Godfrey's lawsuit against Branstad administration takes another detour to Iowa Supreme Court

Nearly four years have passed since Governor Terry Branstad and his senior staffers tried to strong-arm Iowa Workers Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey into resigning years before the end of his fixed term, but the lawsuit Godfrey filed in early 2012 won’t be heard in court anytime soon. Grant Rodgers reported for the Des Moines Register today that before the case goes to trial, the Iowa Supreme Court will rule on whether Godfrey “can invoke the Iowa Constitution to win monetary damages from the state in his lawsuit against Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and four former state officials.” Excerpts are after the jump, but you should click through to read the whole story. Godfrey’s attorney Roxanne Conlin appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court after Polk County District Court Judge Brad McCall “tossed out Godfrey’s four constitution-based claims in an April order.”

Last summer, a divided Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Godfrey could sue Branstad and five other administration officials individually for defamation, extortion and other claims, in addition to pursuing general claims and tort claims against the state of Iowa.  The governor contends that neither he nor his staffers discriminated against Godfrey, and that he was seeking to appoint a commissioner who would be more sympathetic to business owners. Depositions began in the fall of 2014, and a trial date had been set for November of this year. The Iowa Supreme Court is likely to resolve the new constitutional issue sometime in 2016.

From Grant Rodgers’ report for the Des Moines Register on June 4, “Godfrey lawsuit headed back to Iowa Supreme Court”:

Godfrey’s lawsuit alleges Branstad and others violated his constitutional due-process rights when the governor in 2011 cut the former commissioner’s pay from $112,000 to $73,000 in an effort to get Godfrey to resign his position. […]

The issue Godfrey poses is significant, as the Supreme Court has not decided whether the Iowa Constitution provides for monetary damages in a lawsuit against the state government. More commonly, damages are sought under legislation like the Iowa Tort Claims Act and Iowa Civil Rights Act.

Being able to recover damages under the Iowa Constitution is important for plaintiffs’ lawyers because there’s gray area not currently covered by legislation, said Nate Boulton, a Des Moines labor attorney and outspoken supporter of Godfrey. […]

Giving plaintiffs’ lawyers an alternative to that process creates fear about the possibility of more lawsuits being filed, putting a greater financial burden on the state, [appellate law attorney Ryan] Koopmans said.

“Whether the state should allow such lawsuits and what limits should be placed on them is a subject about which people can and do disagree,” he said. “This is going to be a battle about who should decide whether there’s a private cause of action under the constitution, the Legislature or the courts.” […]

Des Moines attorney George LaMarca, who is defending Branstad, said in a statement that the newest appeal on the constitutional issue is “puzzling.” Godfrey’s suit already includes other claims, including violations of the state’s civil rights act, that he could win monetary damages on, making the constitutional claims unnecessary.

 

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