Iowa Supreme Court makes two rulings limiting authority of state DOT officers

December 2018/January 2019

Tyson Fisher


The high court says IDOT officers illegally issued nearly 13,000 tickets and wrongfully arrested a driver with a revoked license

The Iowa Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Enforcement division had a rough day in October. The state Supreme Court published opinions on two separate cases, both ruling that MVE officers illegally issued thousands of speeding tickets and illegally arrested a motorist.

On Oct. 19, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the plaintiffs suing IDOT over citations they say the department had no business issuing. The court relied on two statutes that pertain to IDOT’s enforcement authority: Iowa Code sections 321.477 and 804.9.

At the time of the citations in question, section 321.477 regulated IDOT peace officers by stating the following:

“The department may designate by resolution certain of its employees upon each of whom there is hereby conferred the authority of a peace officer to control and direct traffic and weigh vehicles, and to make arrests for violations of the motor vehicle laws relating to the operating authority, registration, size, weight, and load of motor vehicles and trailers and registration of a motor carrier’s interstate transportation service with the department.”

The Supreme Court interpreted this to mean the statute did not provide authority for arrests relating to other traffic violations.

Section 804.9 deals with arrests by private persons, which states a private person can make an arrest “for a public offense committed or attempted in the person’s presence.” However, the statute does not extend to individuals who are not private citizens, including DOT officers. Even if it did, it does not give authority to issue citations.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court ruled that IDOT never had the authority to issue traffic citations not related to operating authority, registration, size, weight and load of motor vehicles and trailers.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed by two people who were cited by an IDOT MVE officer in September 2016. Both were driving on Interstate 35 southbound when pulled over and issued a ticket for speeding in a work zone.

The lawsuit claims that IDOT motor vehicle enforcement employees issued more than 12,840 citations unrelated to their authority between August 2014 and August 2016. In fact, IDOT officers wrote more of those tickets than tickets related to their job. Within the same time frame, IDOT officers issued only 9,400 citations relating to operating authority, registration, size, weight and load.

Later that same day, the Supreme Court applied the above ruling to a case alleging a motor vehicle enforcement officer illegally arrested a motorist for driving with a revoked license.

In August 2016, MVE officer Ryan Glade was on patrol in Iowa City when he pulled over a black BMW going eastbound on Interstate 80 for traveling 72 mph in a 55 mph construction zone.

Jeremey Werner, the driver of the BMW, told Glade he did not have a driver’s license due to it being revoked. Glade cited Werner for speeding and arrested him for driving without a license, subsequently transporting him to the Iowa County Jail.

Werner challenged the arrest in court, arguing that Glade had no authority to arrest him in the first place. The district court disagreed, stating that Glade was considered a peace officer within the meaning of Iowa Code sections 321.1(50) and 801.4(11).

Section 321.1(50) defines a peace officer as “every officer authorized to direct or regulate traffic or to make arrests for violations of traffic regulations in addition to its meaning in section 801.4.”

Section 801.4 breaks down who is considered a peace officer or law enforcement officer, which includes “such employees of the department of transportation as are designated ‘peace officers’ by resolution of the department under section 321.477.”

Applying the rulings from the preceding case to Werner’s, the Supreme Court reversed the district court’s decision and ordered the lower court to hold further proceedings consistent with its opinion. LL


Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.