Rush v. Ray

332 N.W.2d 325 (Iowa 1983)



Mootness is not a question of power but rather one of restraint. The Supreme Court of Iowa has delineated a "public interest" exception to the mootness doctrine to allow consideration if certain conditions are present. Under the exception, moot questions might be considered when (1) they are of great public importance and (2) are likely to recur. The first part of the two-prong test (that the question be of great public importance) has sometimes been divided in two, making a three-prong test. The Supreme Court of Iowa has stated three criteria: (1) the public or private nature of the question presented, (2) desirability of an authoritative adjudication for future guidance of public officials, and (3) likelihood of future recurrence of the same or similar problem. The court sees the first and second of these three criteria as being ingredients of the first of the two prongs (great public importance). The three criteria test, though not different, is more illustrative and should be preferred to the two-prong test.


Appellant senator sought a declaration judgment action against appellee governor who had acted illegally by exercising his gubernatorial item veto power to veto the portions of five appropriations bills that prohibited the transfer of the appropriated funds between departments of state government. The trial court determined that the case should be dismissed as moot because all money affected by the vetoed portions of the bills was either spent or reverted to the state's general fund before the question was presented in district court. The trial court declined to decide whether the case should survive because of public importance in the belief that the question of public importance should be decided by thestate supreme court. The state supreme court reversed the judgment and remanded for further proceedings.


Did the trial court err in dismissing the declaratory judgment action of appellant state senator against appellee governor on grounds of mootness despite the public importance exception?




The question fell under the public interest exception. It was a matter of great public interest, and it seemed probable that the vetoed language, or language calling for the suspension of the operation of some other statute, might be similarly placed in another appropriations bill. The trial court should not have declined to address the public importance of the question presented. To defer to the court on that issue caused unnecessary delay.

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