Iowa Supreme Court Does Not Reverse District Court Determination on Supreme Court's COVID-19 Orders
October 21, 2022
By: Matthew A. McGuire
The Iowa Supreme Court is responsible for supervising and regulating trial and appellate courts across the state. As the COVID-19 pandemic descended upon the state in early 2020, the Supreme Court was forced to issue emergency orders to protect the public and court staff while keeping the state’s court system functioning. Ultimately, between March 12, 2020 and the end of 2021, the Supreme Court issued over thirty such “supervisory orders,” including five emergency orders within a six day span between March 12 and March 17, 2020.
The Supreme Court’s supervisory orders had to balance the Governor’s public health proclamations, the dynamic ebb and flow of the virus’s spread in local communities, rapidly evolving understandings of COVID-19 epidemiology and best practices for prevention, and the need to ensure timely access to the justice system—most notably for criminal defendants awaiting trial. The supervisory orders governed everything from the timing of trials—many were postponed—to rules for remote proceedings, procedures for social distancing in court, and even requirements for “wet” signatures and notarized documents.
Certain COVID-19 supervisory orders—issued on April 2, May 8, and May 22, 2020—tolled statutes of limitations and similar deadlines for 76 days, beginning retroactively on March 18, 2020. This tolling applied to any potential plaintiff whose claim accrued prior to June 1, 2020, where the applicable limitations period had not expired prior to March 18, 2020. The tolling was ultimately phased out for any limitations periods that expired on or after March 17, 2021.
Reed Dickey, a high school student from Nebraska, participated in a wrestling tournament held in Council Bluffs on December 7, 2018. Dickey and his parents claim that he suffered repeated head injuries during a match, and on December 6, 2019 he sued a local hospital system who provided an athletic trainer for the tournament as well as the referee supervising the match. Dickey alleged that the trainer and referee were negligent in failing to remove Dickey from the match after he exhibited signs of brain injury, resulting in further brain injuries from subsequent blows to the head.