Legal Memorandum: Abuse of Discretion and Amendment of Pleadings

Issue: Under Iowa law, does a trial court abuse its discretion by permitting a defendant to amend its answer at the close of plaintiffs’ evidence to allege immunity?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Order permitting amendment of pleadings; Abuse of discretion; Immunity
Jurisdiction: Iowa
Cited Cases: 568 N.W.2d 44; 542 N.W.2d 533; 556 N.W.2d 800
Cited Statutes: Iowa R. Civ. P. 69; Section 670.4(10) of the Iowa Code, § 670.4(7), (8)
Date: 12/01/2001

An order granting or denying permission to amend a pleading is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard.  Wooldridge v. Cent. United Life Ins. Co., 568 N.W.2d 44, 47 (Iowa 1997).  Abuse of discretion occurs when the lower court’s decision is “‘on grounds or for reasons clearly untenable or to an extent clearly unreasonable.'”  Vaughan v. Must, Inc., 542 N.W.2d 533, 543 (Iowa 1996). 

Section 670.4(10) of the Iowa Code provides immunity when a third party not under the city’s supervision and control causes the damage.  Motions to amend pleadings may be freely granted when justice so requires.  Iowa R. Civ. P. 69.  As a corollary, when an amendment causes unfair prejudice to the opposing party, justice should prohibit amendment.  The main consideration is whether the proposed amendment substantively changes the issues before the court.  Allison-Kesley Ag Ctr. v. Hildebrand, 485 N.W.2d 841, 945-46 (Iowa 1992). 

Sole proximate cause” is based on the theory that some third party or other independent event was the sole cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.  Baker v. City of Ottumwa, 560 N.W.2d 578, 583 (Iowa 1997).  Significantly, “[t]he defense is incompatible with the doctrine of comparative fault because, where it applies, the defendant is effectively insulated from liability.”  Id.  The City carried the burden of proof on this issue.  Id.  See Connolly v. Dallas County, 465 N.W.2d 875, 877 n.3 (Iowa 1991) (claim was asserted under precursor to § 670.4(7), (8), court stated that […]

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