To improve the overall efficiency and responsiveness of the courts, the Iowa Supreme Court created the Iowa Business Specialty Court pilot program in December 2012. The genesis for this effort to leverage judicial expertise and gain court efficiencies throughout the judicial branch came from a key recommendation of the 2012 Report of the Iowa Civil Justice Reform Task Force (PDF). In February 2016, after considering two annual evaluations of the pilot program, the supreme court adopted the business court as an ongoing component of the Iowa court system. On January 15, 2019, the supreme court modified the operation of the business court to enhance access to, and the operation of, the court. The supreme court’s Amended Memorandum of Operation outlines the business court and its operation.
Goals of the Iowa Business Specialty Court
In the 2013 Condition of the Judiciary address, Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady announced that the justices of the supreme court are committed to making Iowa’s system of justice the best, most advanced, and most responsive court system in the nation. The Iowa Business Specialty Court is one step toward meeting this goal.
The primary aim of the Iowa Business Specialty Court is to move business and complex commercial litigation cases through the court system more expeditiously, lowering costs for litigants and the court system. Businesses and attorneys benefit from having judges assigned to their cases who have particular experience and expertise in business litigation, resulting in enhanced consistency, predictability, and accuracy of decisions with respect to complex business cases. District court judges statewide benefit from the sharing of the specialized judicial expertise developed by their business court colleagues. All Iowans benefit from a more attractive and cost-effective environment for the resolution of complex business disputes. Nonbusiness case dockets benefit from the removal of time-consuming, complex business cases from the general docket. The court system as a whole benefits from the business court’s role as an incubator of innovative court practices that may be applied generally across the justice system.
Cases Eligible to Be Heard in the Iowa Business Specialty Court
Section E of the Amended Memorandum of Operation sets forth the criteria cases must meet for assignment to the business court. Cases must involve claims for compensatory damages totaling $200,000 or more or involve claims seeking primarily injunctive or declaratory relief. In addition, cases must also satisfy one or more of the following criteria:
- Arise from technology licensing agreements, including software and biotechnology licensing agreements, or any agreement involving the licensing of any intellectual property right, including patent rights.
- Relate to the internal affairs of businesses (i.e., corporations, limited liability companies, general partnerships, limited liability partnerships, sole proprietorships, professional associations, real estate investment trusts, and joint ventures), including the rights or obligations between or among business participants, or the liability or indemnity of business participants, officers, directors, managers, trustees, or partners, among themselves or to the business.
- Involve claims of breach of contract, fraud, misrepresentation, or statutory violations between businesses arising out of business transactions or relationships.
- Be a shareholder derivative or commercial class action.
- Arise from commercial bank transactions.
- Relate to trade secrets, noncompete, nonsolicitation, or confidentiality agreements.
- Involve commercial real property disputes other than residential landlord-tenant disputes and foreclosures.
- Be a trade secrets, antitrust, or securities-related action.
- Involve business tort claims between or among two or more business entities or individuals as to their business or investment activities relating to contracts, transactions, or relationships between or among them.
No Extra Filing Fees
There are no extra filing fees for cases in the Iowa Business Specialty Court.
Procedure for Transferring a Case to the Iowa Business Specialty Court
In order to fully take advantage of the benefits of the business court, parties are advised to start the transfer process when the petition is initially filed or as soon after as possible.
There are two avenues parties may use to transfer a case into the business court.
The business court includes a voluntary opt-in format in which all parties agree to bring their legal dispute to the Iowa Business Specialty Court docket. Parties may transfer a case to the business court docket by submitting a Joint Consent for Case Assignment to the Iowa Business Specialty Court with the State Court Administrator, acknowledging that the case meets the criteria set forth in section E of the Amended Memorandum of Operation.
Motion to Transfer Case
As of January 15, 2019, any party may file a Motion to Transfer Case to the Iowa Business Specialty Court docket. The motion is filed in the case in the same manner as motions are usually filed, but the motion will be ruled on by the chief judge of the judicial district in which the case is filed instead of the assigned district court judge.
Forms to Transfer Case to the Business Court
The supreme court has developed two fillable PDF forms that the parties must use to initiate the transfer of a case to the business court.
The Joint Consent for Case Assignment to the Iowa Business Specialty Court form (PDF) is used when all parties in the case agree to transfer their case into the business court. The parties must certify that the case involves claims for compensatory damages totaling $200,000 or more or involves claims seeking primarily injunctive or declaratory relief, and that the case also satisfies one or more of the criteria set forth in section E of the Amended Memorandum of Operation. The form is used to identify the status of the case and the names and contact information for the attorneys of all parties. An attorney for one of the parties submits the form to the State Court Administrator and certifies that all parties have agreed to the Joint Consent for assignment of their case to the business court docket.
Motion to Transfer Case
If not all parties consent to transferring the case to the business court, any party may file a Motion to Transfer Case to the Iowa Business Specialty Court form (PDF). In the motion, the filer must certify that the case involves claims for compensatory damages totaling $200,000 or more or involves claims seeking primarily injunctive or declaratory relief, and that the case also satisfies one or more of the criteria set forth in section E of the Amended Memorandum of Operation. The filer must also identify the status of the case and the names of any other parties joining in the motion. Additionally, the filer may provide additional information for the chief judge to consider when ruling on the motion.
Time Limitations to Transfer Cases to the Business Court
There are no prescribed time limits for opting into the business court by joint consent. Upon submission of the Joint Consent form, the State Court Administrator will determine if the case meets the requirements of section E of the Amended Memorandum of Operations and whether the status of the case allows for efficiencies to be gained through transfer to the business court docket.
Motion to Transfer Case
A Motion to Transfer, however, does have prescribed time limits. A Motion to Transfer must be filed within 120 days of filing the petition or thereafter within 30 days of the service of an amended petition that adds claims or new parties. Once the motion is fully submitted, the chief judge of the judicial district in which the case is filed will determine whether the case meets the basic requirements of section E of the Amended Memorandum and accomplishes the purposes of section B.
Process After a Request to Transfer Is Made
Once the Joint Consent form is submitted to the State Court Administrator, the administrator will determine if the case may be transferred to the business court docket. Upon approval, the State Court Administrator will assign one of the business court judges to the case.
Motion to Transfer Case
If a party files a Motion to Transfer, any other party may file a resistance to the motion within 10 days after the motion has been served or within 20 days after the service of the motion, original notice, and petition upon the party if the motion is filed with the petition. The chief judge of the judicial district in which the case is filed will then rule on the motion with or without hearing. The chief judge will enter an order with the court’s ruling and, if the motion is granted, notify the State Court Administrator, who will assign one of the business court judges to the case.
Business Court Judges
There are five Iowa District Court judges serving as business court judges. The judges are:
- Judge Lawrence P. McLellan, Des Moines, District Court Judge for the Fifth Judicial District of Iowa.
- Judge Sarah E. Crane, Des Moines, District Court Judge for the Fifth Judicial District of Iowa.
- Judge John D. Telleen, LeClaire, District Court Judge for the Seventh Judicial District of Iowa.
- Judge Jeffrey D. Bert, Bettendorf, District Court Judge for the Seventh Judicial District of Iowa.
- Judge David Nelmark, Des Moines, District Court Judge for the Fifth Judicial District of Iowa.
The Iowa Supreme Court appoints business court judges based on their educational background, experience in the adjudication of complex commercial cases, and their desire to participate in the business court. While serving on the business court, the judges also retain their normal district court dockets.
Assignment of Judges to the Business Court
The State Court Administrator will assign an Iowa Business Specialty Court judge to the business court case. Parties may not request a specific business court judge.
Returning a Case to the Standard Docket
Paragraph F(3) of the Amended Memorandum of Operation provides as follows:
Returning cases to the regular court docket. Any party in an Iowa Business Specialty Court case may move to transfer the case from the business court docket to the regular court docket of the judicial district where it is filed. The presiding business court judge will determine with or without hearing whether, upon a showing of good cause and lack of unfair prejudice to any other party, the case will be transferred back to the regular docket. This decision is not subject to review or appeal.
Venue for Business Court Cases
Cases transferred to the business court docket will be heard in the county where they are filed and venued under current Iowa Rules of Civil Procedure.
Evaluations of the Business Court
During the three-year pilot phase of the Iowa Business Specialty Court, state court administration prepared and released annual evaluation reports. Reports are available for calendar years 2014 (PDF), 2015 (PDF), and 2016 (PDF).
Starting in 2023, the business court will be evaluated by state court administration every two years to ensure the court continues to achieve its mission and to identify opportunities to enhance operations. The first two-year report will evaluate the court for calendar years 2021 and 2022. The report will be prepared in July 2023. Subsequent reports will be prepared every two years.