DES MOINES – An Iowa union chief and state legislators sued Governor Terry Branstad, contending the Governor’s item veto of appropriations for the mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda, Iowa, exceeded the scope of his constitutional authority but in the end, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld his veto.
The president of a public employee union and members of the general assembly filed a petition for injunctive relief and writ of mandamus challenging the Governor’s item veto of appropriations for the mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda. The parties both filed motions for summary judgment. The district court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the petition. The plaintiffs appealed.
During its 2015 session, the general assembly passed two bills intended to appropriate money from the state general fund for the operation of two mental health institutes operated by the state. House File 666 appropriated $1,810,000 to fund “the acute inpatient psychiatric mental health program and the geropsychiatric program” at the Clarinda Mental Health Institute for the period of July 1, 2015, through December 15, 2015. 2015 Iowa Acts ch. 142, § 12. Senate File 505 appropriated $6,424,880 and $3,212,440 to fund the operation of the Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute and its continued provision of “adult psychiatric services including inpatient acute care, inpatient substance abuse treatment, and inpatient dual diagnosis substance use disorder and mental illness treatment” for the periods of July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016, and July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017, respectively. Id. ch. 137, §§ 23, 143.
The Mount Pleasant and Clarinda Mental Health Institutes were closed on June 30, 2015, resulting in the layoffs of numerous state employees represented by the Iowa branch of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Two days later on July 2, the Governor signed House File 666 and Senate File 505 but vetoed the appropriations intended to fund the Mount Pleasant and Clarinda Mental Health Institutes. In his veto message, the Governor set forth a brief written explanation for his veto of the appropriations provisions in Senate File 505, noting he believed it was not in the best interests of patients, taxpayers, or the mental health system to continue operating the Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute. See id. ch. 137, veto statement. In a separate statement, the Governor addressed his veto of the appropriations provisions in House File 666, concluding the appropriation of funds to operate the Clarinda Mental Health Institute was “unnecessary” because he had already signed Senate File 505, which he described as closing the Clarinda Mental Health Institute on December 15. See id. ch. 142, veto statement.
On July 9, the AFSCME Iowa Council 61 president Danny Homan and twenty state legislators brought this suit against the Governor and the director of human services. The plaintiffs alleged actions taken by the Governor and the director associated with the closings of the Mount Pleasant and Clarinda Mental Health Institutes exceeded the scope of their state constitutional and statutory authority. As the basis for their claims, the plaintiffs asserted the Iowa Code mandates the existence of the Mount Pleasant and Clarinda Mental Health Institutes and their continued operation under the authority and control of the director of human services. See Iowa Code ch. 218 (2015)1; id. § 226.1. They sought (1) a temporary or permanent injunction barring the Governor from closing the Mount Pleasant and Clarinda Mental Health Institutes or taking any actions in furtherance thereof including the misappropriation or impounding of funds apportioned thereto, (2) a writ of mandamus commanding the Governor and the director to keep the institutions open or commanding the Governor to convene an extraordinary session of the general assembly to appropriate funds for their operation, and (3) all other or further relief the district court deemed appropriate.
The Governor filed a motion requesting the district court to dismiss the petition, asserting the political-question doctrine barred the action, the plaintiffs lacked standing, and the petition failed to state a claim upon which the court may grant relief.
Alternatively, the Governor requested the district court order the plaintiffs to recast their petition.
The district court denied the motion in part, concluding the political-question doctrine did not bar the action, the plaintiffs had standing, and the petition stated a cognizable challenge to the Governor’s exercise of his constitutional item veto authority for which the court could grant relief. However, the court granted the motion to dismiss as to the director of human services. The plaintiffs did not appeal that dismissal. The court also determined the basis for and nature of the claim asserted by the plaintiffs was clear, and it concluded there was no need to order the plaintiffs to recast their petition.
Immediately thereafter, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment and a joint statement of undisputed facts. On November3, the district court granted summary judgment to the Governor and dismissed the petition. The plaintiffs filed a timely motion to enlarge or amend the district court ruling. The district court denied the motion to enlarge or amend its order dismissing the case.
The plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal and a request for an expedited appeal, which we granted. On its own motion after the parties had submitted their briefs on the merits, we requested the parties to file statements addressing the possible mootness of this appeal, and assuming the case was moot, whether we should decide the appeal pursuant to the public-importance exception to the mootness doctrine or summarily dismiss it.
This case presents the following issues: (1) whether this appeal should be dismissed for a lack of jurisdiction because the plaintiffs’ rule 1.904(2) motion did not toll the time to take the appeal, (2) whether this appeal is moot because the general assembly did not appropriate funds for the operation of these institutions for fiscal year 2017, and (3)whether the Governor’s item veto of the appropriations for the Mount Pleasant and Clarinda Mental Health Institutes exceeded the scope of his constitutional authority.
The Iowa Supreme Court found the appeal was timely and the issue of the Governor’s veto was not moot. On the merits, the court found the Governor’s item veto of appropriations for the mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda did not exceed the scope of his constitutional authority. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing the petition.