Iowa: Implementing Recommendations of Supreme Court Task Force for Civil Justice Reform

In December 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court established the Supreme Court Task Force for Civil Justice Reform to develop a blueprint for the reform of the state’s civil justice system. The Task Force was asked to develop proposals to make the system faster, less complex, more affordable, and better equipped to handle complex cases, such as complex business cases and medical malpractice matters. It has administered a survey of the Iowa bench and bar, focusing on specific problems and potential solutions. The Task Force has convened a larger committee of 70 and formed five subcommittees dedicated to exploring the following issues: 1) discovery; 2) court-annexed alternative dispute resolution; 3) litigation management; 4) specialty courts and rules; and 5) pretrial procedures.

The Task Force issued its final report, "Reforming the Iowa Civil Justice System", in March of 2012.  Among the recommendations was the establishment of a business court pilot project, one judge/one case and date certain for trial, adoption of the Federal Rules' initial disclosure regime, and a two-tiered differentiated case management pilot project. 

Iowa is in the process of implementing the committee’s recommendations. As a first step, in December 2012, the Iowa Supreme Court established a three-year pilot project for an Iowa Business Specialty Court for complex cases. Cases are eligible to be heard in the Business Court Pilot Project if compensatory damages totaling $200,000 or more are alleged, or the claims seek primarily injunctive or declaratory relief. In addition, eligible cases must satisfy one or more of the criteria listed in the Memorandum of Operation issued by the Supreme Court. The Court has appointed three judges to serve as business court judges for the pilot project: Hon. Michael D. Huppert, Hon. Annette J. Scieszinski, and Hon. John D. Telleen. The pilot project began accepting cases for management and case processing in May 2013.

More recently, the Iowa Supreme Court has adopted an expedited civil action rule for actions involving $75,000 or less in money damages. The new expedited civil action rule includes limits on discovery and summary judgment motions, an expedited trial, and limitations on the length of trial. Finally, the Iowa Supreme Court also adopted a package of discovery amendments that include initial disclosures, limitations on the frequency and extent of discovery, a discovery plan, and an expert report requirement. Both the expedited civil action rule and the discovery amendments took effect January 1, 2015.

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