Legal Memorandum: Discretionary-function Immunity in IA

Issue: Does the discretionary-function exception shield an Iowa municipality when its agent violated a clear directive that barricades blocking a public road for a public celebration not be taken down before pedestrians were off the road?

Area of Law: Government Claims, Municipal, County and Local Law
Keywords: Discretionary-function exception; Muncipality; Barricades on public road
Jurisdiction: Iowa
Cited Cases: 336 N.W.2d 416; 378 N.W.2d 903; 648 A.2d 705; 542 N.W.2d 533; 586 N.W.2d 340; 587 N.W.2d 232; 222 A.2d 649
Cited Statutes: Iowa R. App. P. 14(f)(2); Iowa Code Ann. § 670.4(3);
Date: 12/01/2001

 “In considering the propriety of a motion for directed verdict the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion was made.”  Iowa R. App. P. 14(f)(2). A motion for judgment n.o.v. renews the motion for directed verdict; thus the standard of review is the same.  See Vaughan v. Must, Inc., 542 N.W.2d 533, 538 (Iowa 1996).

Discretionary-function immunity is available for “[a]ny claim . . . based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of the municipality or an officer or employee of the municipality, whether or not the discretion is abused.”  Iowa Code Ann. § 670.4(3) (Supp. 2001).  Iowa has adopted a two-part analysis to resolve whether the discretionary-immunity exception applies.  The court must determine “(1) whether the action in question was a matter of judgment or choice for the acting employee and (2) whether, if an element of judgment is involved in the challenged conduct, the judgment is of a kind that the discretionary function exception was designed to shield.”  City of Cedar Falls v. Cedar Falls Cmty. Sch. Dist., 617 N.W.2d 11, 19 (Iowa 2000).  Both parts must be satisfied before the City can escape liability.  Id.

The Iowa Supreme Court explained the second part of the analysis.  “The exception protects governmental actions and decisions which are made based on considerations of public policy grounded on social, economic and […]

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