Case Summaries - Constitutional Law

Bruning, Dixon and Everett v. Carroll Community School District (2008)

When these three young women were in the seventh grade, they were subjected to gross, continuous sexual harassment from seventh grade boys. These girls were fondled, poked, pinched and electrocuted with a homemade cattle prod. These activities were often done in the view of teachers, staff and even the principal. Other girls suffered the same treatment, but these three reported the conduct and tried to get help from school officials. Finally, they told their parents and filed criminal charges against one of the perpetrators. The girls then experienced retaliation from school officials and classmates. These courageous young women filed constitutional and Title 9 claims against the school district and also sued the boys and their parents. In the course of discovery, it was clear that the boys were not the principal wrongdoers. The school's total failure to control their conduct, or train the staff, plus the purposeful misunderstanding of state and federal law created a horrific daily experience for these young women. Each of the boys told the truth, and apologized. The school district was the only remaining defendant when the case was settled for a confidential amount. Jean Pendleton of the Pendleton Law Firm was co-counsel on this case.

Cross v. City of Liscomb (2004)

Linda Cross was the long-time City Clerk of Liscomb until November 2001, when some members of the City Council discussed ways to exclude Hispanics from using the City's Community Center. They directed Linda to lie to any Hispanic who sought to rent it. One of the Council members concocted a scheme where he would leave $50.00 on deposit, and if someone of Hispanic ethnicity tried to rent the Center, Linda was directed to tell that person that it was already rented for that day and that the City Council member already put down the required deposit. Linda absolutely refused to participate in this scheme. She continued to rent the Community Center on a first-come, first-served basis. She rented it to a Hispanic family to use for the celebration of their toddler's baptism. At the Council meeting right before this rental, some members of the Council were furious and demanded to know why Linda had not followed their orders to exclude "the Mexicans." They wanted her to call other cities and towns to see how they kept "the Mexicans" out. Linda refused. On December 15, 2001, the date of the baptism, the Hispanic family and their friends arrived at the Community Center only to find that one of the Council members had locked them out. They waited in the cold for nearly an hour until Linda discovered their plight and rushed to open the door.

Linda continued to insist that she would not participate in any way in excluding people from City facilities on the basis of their ethnicity. The Council members began criticizing her work, telephoning residents to drum up charges against her and cutting her wages. She was accused of writing unauthorized checks, tampering with the agenda and throwing away City mail. She resigned, but the false accusations continued. When she applied for unemployment compensation, some council members submitted a response which contained fictitious defamatory allegations. Plaintiff was found to be eligible for unemployment compensation, despite the unauthorized responses by some city council members. She filed a claim for violation of the Iowa Constitution, the Iowa Civil Rights Act and for defamation. Shortly thereafter, the matter settled for a confidential amount.

Ironically, throughout Linda's ordeal, her husband was an elected member of the Liscomb City Council. Like Linda, he was appalled by the actions of the majority members who openly discussed their desire to deny the use of City facilities to citizens based on their heritage.

Sullivan v. City of Dexter, Iowa, Mayor Jerry Stiles and Gregg Wahman (2003)

Cristie was married to Gary Rasmussen for six years, during which he became increasingly violent toward her and their children. She filed for divorce on December 7, 2001 and Rasmussen left the City of Dexter. He returned, however, when the Dexter City Council hired him as Chief of Police, despite Cristie's objections. From his position as Chief of Police, Rasmussen continued to harass and threaten to kill Cristie and her children. A judge granted her a temporary restraining order against him for six months in November of 2002.

As a result of the restraining order, the Mayor went to businesses in Dexter and told them they would be without police protection if they let Cristie into their establishments. Cristie was thereafter banned from several local businesses because of the Mayor's statements. In fact, the restraining order did not prohibit Rasmussen from responding to any emergencies whether Cristie was there or not. Cristie brought action against the City and its two chief elected officials for violating her constitutional rights. Unfortunately, much of the case was dismissed on Defendants' motion. However, the remaining claims of the case were settled for $25,000 plus $5,000 in expenses for a total of $30,000. The City also undertook a program to train all employees on domestic violence.

Van Pelt v. Correctional Medical Services, Inc. and Polk County Jail (2000)

Charles suffered from AIDS. He was arrested for driving while intoxicated. While he was in jail, he got very ill, but the private correctional officials in charge of the Polk County Jail refused to take him to the hospital, instead giving him two aspirins. He fell into a coma and was finally taken to Broadlawns where he remained in a coma and on a ventilator for eleven days. As a result of the delay in treatment, Charles suffered significant disability. He sued for violation of his constitutional rights. He settled his case for a confidential amount, most of which he used to set up a fund to assist other AIDS patients. He died shortly thereafter.