The Supreme Court of Iowa rendered an interesting opinion in December 2021 in Askvig v. Snap-on Logistics. It is a poignant reminder of the challenges of timeliness, and the challenges of a pandemic.
Essentially, an injured worker's application for rehearing was "deemed denied," and thereafter the worker's "attorney failed to file a petition for judicial review within thirty days." This was "during the early months of the COVID pandemic." The attorney was alerted by receipt of a letter from the employer's attorney, and immediately "filed a petition for judicial review." The inevitable motion to dismiss was met by the Claimant with two "supervisory orders tolling
statutes of limitations, statutes of repose, and 'similar deadline[s] for
commencing an action in district court.'”
The trial court concluded that the "thirty day deadline for petitioning" was not a “statute of limitations, statute of repose, or similar
deadline," and thus was not suspended by the Court's emergency orders related to the pandemic. Instead, the Court reminded, "it is fundamentally different. It is an appellate deadline." In this regard, similarly see Sections 440.25(5)(a), 440.271 and Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure Rule 9.180(b)(3). If an appeal in Florida is not filed within 30 days, then the court lacks jurisdiction to review a matter.
The Court concluded that there are "practical reasons" why such an appellate deadline would be treated "differently from original deadlines", for the filing or service initiating a case. It noted that the record in the review or appeal situation is "already complete," and that the attorney/client relationship is "pre-existing," which suggests that there is minimized or no "person-to-person contact" necessary for the review or appeal. The Court explained that avoiding such contact was "the fundamental concern" that led to the administrative orders of the Court "tolling statutes of limitations, statutes of repose, and 'similar deadline[s] for commencing an action in district court.'”
While that is undoubtedly true, it seems plausible that another concern was the work environment, office presence, lock-downs, etc. Iowa's Governor issued an emergency order in March 2020, and a reiteration of constraints in April. In short, schools were closed, businesses restricted, and life became tumultuous in a very rapid manner. Though the Court recognized that turmoil in one respect, the filing of new cases and related deadlines, it seems to acknowledge the general disruption of live and livelihood less.
The Court explained the timing of the administrative decision awarding some benefits in this particular case, and the Claimant's request for rehearing. As in Florida, the rehearing request did not stay the commission order. That is a challenge for many lawyers, a mistake I have seen repeatedly over the years. The time for filing an appeal just keeps ticking while a motion for rehearing is pending. It is important to seek rehearing. Always allow the trial judge to correct any error when practical. This minimizes the necessity for appellate involvement. In fact, in Florida, failing to ask for rehearing may result in denial of relief by the appellate court, which may conclude that absent a rehearing request issues are not appropriately preserved for appeal.
In Iowa, the rehearing was "was deemed denied," because it was not acted upon. The outcome in Florida is similar, with Rule 60Q6.122 deeming such an order denied if it is not ruled upon within 10 days of service. In Florida, the thirty days to appeal begins to run upon issuance of the order. In Iowa, the situation was a bit more forgiving, with the appellate deadline of thirty days beginning upon that deemed denial of the rehearing.
Unfortunately for the attorney and Claimant, that time began to run in mid-March 2020 just as the scourge of Sars-CoV-2 was upon us and efforts began for the "short pause" we were all told was expected to "flatten the curve" before we all returned to normal. In retrospect those promises themselves were a bit flat and uninformed. The Claimant's attorney pled those challenges, the fact that the attorney's staff was "working from
remote locations," and how the pandemic challenged law practice. The Court was not persuaded.
The Court explained that the review statute is "different from a statute of limitations or a statute
of repose in that it is an appellate deadline." It noted that "the party petitioning for judicial review is not 'commencing an action,'" but is "continuing the action." Therefore, it noted that there is "often less tolerance for equitable modification
of appellate deadlines." The Court perceived "real obstacles to filing and
serving original actions" in COVID. It noted the challenges of meeting with clients, service of process, and the pandemic. However, it concluded that "these
concerns do not apply to judicial review cases."
The Court also seemed persuaded by math and impact. It noted that extending a statute of limitations, which are typically calculated in years," by 76 days would be different than extending an appellate deadline that was only 30 days. Increasing a two-year statute by 76 days is a 10% increase; increasing the appellate deadline of 30 days by 76 days is a 250% increase. That may seems to some an argument of impact rather than logic. More importantly, perhaps, is the Court's reminder that the appellate deadline in Iowa, as in Florida, "is jurisdictional." Thus, it explained, the deadline "is not subject to equitable tolling doctrines like
estoppel." Before COVID, the Court had previously concluded that courts "cannot expand their judicial review jurisdiction by
allowing" late filed appeals. While the math might provide solace, it is this second explanation that more likely supports the Court's conclusion and decision.
The Court was also critical of the Claimant's expressed reasons for delay. It noted that the Claimant did not assert "reliance on the Court's" tolling orders. Though Claimant argued those orders should afford her relief, she did not expressly rely upon them in consciously electing not to proceed in a timely manner. Claimant's counsel's arguments instead were related to deadlines "overlooked," the changes in workload, work assignment, and the more generalized challenges that COVID presented to the working world, such as shut-downs and sheltering.
The Court found those representations of challenges believable and credible, and noted that they "could have justified the extension of any deadline." However, it noted that extension of deadlines is not what the Court had done in the two "supervisory orders." that it issued in April 2020 and beyond. It responded to the Claimant's assertion that despite not being a "statutes of limitations, (or) statutes of repose," that the Courts' additional language "'similar deadline' must mean
something." Therefore, that "it must include appellate deadlines." The Court reiterated that this was an appellate deadline, and that Iowa law includes various other deadlines "that are more akin to statutes of limitations or repose." Thus, the meaning for "similar deadline" could be seen elsewhere in the law and therefore not specifically focused only upon the appellate deadline that would provide Claimant relief in this instance.
The impact of the analysis is of course critical in Iowa. However, it is worthy of consideration by those in other jurisdictions. Certainly, one hopes to never face the challenges of another pandemic. However, the fact is many of us face the potential of similar challenges from things as mundane as weather emergencies. See Weather, Allegations, and Comp (April 2022). Would the Florida courts similarly view time extension and the jurisdictional nature of the 30 days for appeal? Undoubtedly, that may well depend upon the language used in any such tolling orders and the nature of such emergencies. That could also depend, as it apparently did in Iowa, on any argument of "reliance" upon such an order.
In short, the best answer is "it depends." The fact is that the pandemic, particularly its onset, was stressful, distracting, and challenging in many ways. Similarly, so might be a hurricane, flood, or any number of similar situations or events. The Iowa decision reminds all that nonetheless timely filing may be necessary for the protection of a client's interest, and therefore attorneys and parties must remain focused even in the most challenging of times. In the era of electronic filing, such action is facilitated. Notably, perhaps such timelines should be among the attorney's primary concerns when disasters and challenges threaten.