Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law.
Consistent with the “Rule of Threes,” litigation, including business litigation, may soon undergo further changes in Iowa. The first change, which is largely rolled out across the state, enables litigants to access important case documents and submit legal filings with the court online, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Second, litigants in Iowa’s most populous county, Polk, will soon “enjoy” litigating their cases in a new courthouse. And third, if the Iowa Supreme Court’s recently proposed rules are adopted, civil litigants (citizens and businesses alike) could soon find themselves sailing through the litigation process more quickly and at a lower cost.
More than 3,000,000 Iowans, but only 204 Civil Jury Trials in 2012
Statistics clearly show that Iowan’s are utilizing Iowa’s court system less and less. In fact, in just 10 years, civil cases tried to an Iowa jury dropped a staggering 63%. Indeed, in 2012, only 204 civil cases were tried to a jury. Many attorneys and legal commentators attribute the dramatic decline to the rising costs - both time and money - in litigating a case to trial. A 10-year snapshot of Iowa jury trials plainly depicts the drastic downward trend.
To address this significant slide, the Iowa Supreme Court established a Civil Justice Reform Task Force. The Task Force was charged with diagnosing weaknesses and prescribing improvements to Iowa’s civil justice system. More than four years and hours of work later, the Iowa Supreme Court incorporated the Task Force’s findings into two (2) proposed rules. As summarized briefly below, both rules aim to reduce costs and delays while simultaneously providing Iowan’s greater access to courts. Our Supreme Court promulgated the draft rules in late 2013 and is currently seeking comments from the public (the comment period closes March 17, 2014).
First Rule - Expedited Civil Actions
The first proposed rule, titled “Expedited Civil Actions,” contains provisions that allows litigants seeking limited damages (generally $75,000 or less) to try their case in an expedited fashion. Specifically, the rule states cases must be tried within one year or less. Comparatively, today’s litigants often wait two or more years to try their case. To meet this accelerated timeframe, the rule contemplates several changes. For instance, the rule requires parties to voluntarily and timely disclose information to opponents. Currently, parties are not required to voluntarily disclose most information to their opponents. Further, the rule places significant constraints on the discovery a party may conduct by limiting the number of depositions, requests for production, and interrogatories a party may use. Lastly, the rule incorporates a six-hour trial limit and requires cases be submitted to a judge or jury in two business days or less (a far cry from the weeks of trial time that currently drag on in many civil cases).
To read the full text of this First Rule, including additional requirements, click here: http://www.iowacourts.gov/wfdata/frame3495-1263/File3.pdf
Second Rule - Discovery Amendments
The second rule, titled “Proposed Discovery Amendments,” contains broader reforms that would apply to most lawsuits filed in Iowa, including the expedited actions referenced above. Similar to the first rule, the second focuses on streamlining litigation by providing litigants and the court with a new “toolkit.” One of the new tools requires parties to promptly participate in mandatory conferences within two (2) weeks of first responding to a lawsuit. The mandatory meeting will facilitate early discussions between parties, including perhaps settlement discussions, and spur the parties to drive the litigation forward. Additionally, the rule requires parties to voluntarily and in a timely manner turn over key information to opponents - yet another acceleration tool that is not available today. Finally, the rule imposes heightened obligations upon parties to fairly respond to discovery and timely resolve discovery disputes without involving the court. This latter tool addresses what many attorneys believe is the greatest cause of delay and cost in litigation.
To read the full text of this Second Rule, including additional requirements, click here: http://www.iowacourts.gov/wfdata/frame3495-1263/File2.pdf
As referenced above, the Iowa Supreme Court is seeking public comment on these proposed rules. Comments must be submitted prior to March 17, 2014 at 4:30 p.m. According to this Supreme Court Order (link), comments may be submitted by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org. The email must state “Discovery Rules” or “Expedited Civil Action” in the subject line of the email and the comments must be sent as an attachment to the email in Microsoft Word format. Comments may also be delivered in person or mailed to the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Judicial Branch Building, 1111 East Court Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa, 50319.
For more information on these or other rules, please consider contacting a licensed attorney.