Deadlocked Iowa High Court Affirms Lower Courts

Iowa case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: appellate procedure, equally divided court, Iowa Code 602.4107.

The Village at White Birch Town Homeowners Ass'n v. Norandex Building Materials Distribution, Inc., et al.. appellate procedure, equally divided court, Iowa Code 602.4107.

This case arose out of alleged construction defects at a townhome community in Ankeny, IA, developed between 2004 and 2008. The builder-developer and general contractor, Triton Homes, became insolvent, filed for bankruptcy, and was out of the picture when defects were discovered. The homeowners filed suit against the project engineer and the subcontractors who had worked on the project. The plaintiffs alleged negligence and breach of warranty and negligence against the subcontractors, who moved to dismiss.

The Polk County District Court, Judge Michael D. Huppert, granted the subcontractors' motion to dismiss, and the plaintiffs appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals. In an unreported decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed. It held that the liability for either claim did not extend to the plaintiffs. Their claim was against the general contractor only. The Court of Appeals noted that imposing such liability would overstep current case law and declined to extend the doctrine, "leaving that determination to our supreme court." The Village at White Birch Town Homeowners Ass'n v. Goodman Associates, Inc., No. 2-605/11-1842 (Iowa Ct. App. Oct. 31, 2012).

The Supreme Court accepted the invitation and granted further review, but found itself deadlocked. Chief Justice Cady and Justices Waterman and Zager would affirm the lower courts. Justices Wiggins, Hecht, and Appel would have reversed. Justice Mansfield did not participate in the decision. Accordingly, as provided by Iowa Code 602.4107, the decision of the Court of Appeals was affirmed by operation of law by the equally divided court.

No. 11-1842 (Iowa April 4, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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