Iowa Reports

RASMUSSEN v. RASMUSSEN, 4-131/03-1206 (Iowa App. 5-14-2004)
Defendant-Appellee. No. 4-131/03-1206 Court of Appeals of
Iowa. Filed May 14, 2004

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dallas County, Dale
B. Hagen, Judge.

Cristie Rasmussen appeals the dismissal of her petition
for relief from domestic abuse and the quashing of a
protective order. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

Carrie O’Connor of Iowa Legal Aid, Des Moines, for

Beverly Wild of Beverly Wild Law Office, P.C., Guthrie
Center, for appellee.

Heard by Mahan, P.J., and Zimmer and Eisenhauer, JJ.


Cristie Rasmussen appeals the dismissal of her petition
for relief from domestic abuse and the quashing of a
protective order. She claims the district court abused its
discretion. We reverse and remand

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

A petition for relief from domestic abuse was filed by
Cristie Rasmussen on November 8, 2002. A temporary
protective order against Gary Rasmussen was entered and
hearing was set for November 19, 2002. On that date, the
hearing was continued until May 16, 2003, with the
temporary protective order remaining in effect.

May 16, 2003, was a court service day. The attorneys for
Cristie and Gary agreed the limited amount of time available
on this date was not sufficient to fully try their case. A
written motion to continue was filed by Cristie asserting
the time constraints of a court service day were too
restrictive for a hearing. The motion to continue was
neither based upon the availability of the parties, nor
predicated upon a need of more time for preparation.

The district court issued a calendar entry order sustaining
the motion to continue. The hearing for the protective
order was continued to June 27, 2003, which was another
court service day. In addition, the order limited the
hearing to one-half hour in length. Each party was allowed
to testify and call one witness on his or her behalf.

At the hearing on June 27, 2003, Cristie orally renewed
her motion to continue to a non-court service day. Again,
her grounds for continuance were a lack of adequate time to
present her case. The motion was overruled. At the
conclusion of the hearing, a calendar entry order dismissed
the petition and quashed the temporary protective order.

II. Standard of Review.

The standard of review for denial of a motion for
continuance is an abuse of discretion. Bell v. Iowa Dist.
Court, 494 N.W.2d 729, 731 (Iowa Ct.App. 1992). A court
abuses its discretion when its decision is made on grounds
or for reasons which are clearly untenable or to an extent
clearly unreasonable. State v. Bayles, 551 N.W.2d 600, 604
(Iowa 1996).

III. Abuse of Discretion.

Cristie claims the district court erred in refusing to
continue the hearing to a non-court service day, in
limiting the number of witnesses, and in originally
restricting the hearing to one-half hour.[fn1] We agree.

Generally, the course and conduct of a trial are not
regulated by statute or rule, but are instead within the
discretion of the trial judge. In re Marriage of Ihle, 577
N.W.2d 64, 67 (Iowa Ct. App. 1998). No explicit rule
creates such authority; rather, it is recognized as an
inherent power of a judge. Id. Trial judges are authorized
to impose reasonable time limits on a trial. Id. (citing
United States v. Hildebrand, 928 F. Supp. 841, 844-845
(N.D. Iowa 1996)). Yet, in the midst of such judicial
autonomy, a trial court should impose time limits only when
necessary. In re Marriage of Ihle, 577 N.W.2d at 68 (citing
Duquesne Light Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 66 F.3d
604, 610 (3d Cir. 1995)).

Due process principles constrain the discretion of trial
judges to manage trials. In re Marriage of Ihle, 577 N.W.2d
at 67. Litigants are required to be given a fair
opportunity to resolve their disputes. Id. The degree of
constraint a trial court may exercise is dependent upon
principles of due process which include the consideration
of the public and private interests involved, the
administrative burden implicated, the risk of erroneous
decision due to the nature of the hearing involved and the
value of any additional safeguards. Id. (citing In re
Marriage of Seyler, 559 N.W.2d 7, 9 (Iowa 1997)); see
United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 677, 100 S.Ct.
2406, 2413, 65 L.Ed.2d 424, 434 (1980).

The public and private interest in protecting people from
domestic abuse is substantial. See Bartsch v. Bartsch, 636
N.W.2d 3, 9 (Iowa 2001) (noting the state’s interest in
protecting against domestic abuse is equal to, if not
greater than, its interest in actions determining child
custody or terminating parental rights). We conclude there
is a public and private interest to be served in a proper
resolution of this dispute.

The administrative burden to the trial court depends on
the nature of the proceedings. In re Marriage of Ihle, 577
N.W.2d at 67. The increased burdens on our courts vary from
district to district and even from judge to judge. Id. The
problem of administrative burden “cannot be painted with a
brush so broad as to support the imposition of time limits
as a matter of course.” Id. The administrative history
involved in a particular case is a significant
consideration. Id. Both parties to this matter agreed the
hearing needed to be continued to a date that allowed a
greater amount of time to resolve the issue. The
administrative burden to the trial court to reschedule the
hearing for a non-court service day was minimal.

The risk of erroneous decision making based on stringent
time limitations is also a significant consideration.
Arbitrary and inflexible time limits are a serious threat
to due process principles. Id. at 68. “Thus, judges must
not sacrifice their primary goal of justice by rigidly
adhering to time limits in the name of efficiency.” Id.
(citing General Signal Corp. v. MCI Telecomm. Corp., 66
F.3d 1500, 1509 (9th Cir. 1995)). In this case, upon the
written motion of the plaintiff, the judge continued the
May 16, 2003, hearing to July 27, 2003. The court was aware
that both parties believed they needed more time. With its
decision to continue the matter to another court service
day, the court did not place the parties in a better
position. Instead, the court merely delayed the hearing. A
time limit of one-half hour was originally imposed, and the
parties were limited to one additional witness each. The
quality of decision making suffers when important evidence
has been excluded from consideration as the result of time
limits. In re Mariage of Ihle, 577 N.W.2d at 68.

The value of additional safeguards in hearings constrained
by time limits is a final consideration. Essential and
relevant evidence is considered by balancing the probative
value against the possibility of prejudice. Iowa R. Evid.
5.403. “The reason for this balancing process helps explain
the disfavor courts often express towards the imposition of
rigid time limits.” In re Marriage of Ihle, 577 N.W.2d at
68 (citing Duquesne Light Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp.,
66 F.3d 604, 610 (3d Cir. 1995)). Time limits must be
applied with sufficient flexibility to ensure a fair trial.
In re Marriage of Ihle, 577 N.W.2d at 68. The order setting
the hearing for one-half hour provided insufficient time
for both parties to adequately present their respective
cases. This time restriction allowed Cristie only fifteen
minutes to present her evidence in a contested domestic
abuse case. This amounted to seven and one-half minutes per
witness. Our conclusion is not changed by the fact the
actual hearing lasted approximately one hour. The attorneys
were still working within and burdened by the original time

In summary, arbitrary and inflexible time limits are
disfavored. Id. (citing General Signal Corp. v. MCI
Telecomm. Corp., 66 F.3d 1500, 1508 (9th Cir. 1995)).
Accordingly, the application of such standards will support
a finding of abuse of discretion, and will require a new
trial. In re Marriage of Ihle, 577 N.W.2d at 68 (citing
McKnight v. General Motors Corp., 908 F.2d 104, 115 (7th
Cir. 1990)). We conclude that continuing this case to
another crowed court service day, originally limiting this
contested domestic abuse hearing to one-half hour, and
limiting the number of additional witnesses to one per
party was an abuse of discretion on the part of the
district court. We therefore reverse the decision of the
district court and remand for a full hearing on this


Eisenhauer, J., concurs; Zimmer, J., dissents.

[fn1] The actual hearing lasted approximately one hour.

ZIMMER, J. (dissenting)

I respectfully dissent from the majority opinion because I
do not believe the district court abused its broad
discretion by failing to continue this case.

On the date that Cristie filed her petition for relief
from domestic abuse, the district court issued a temporary
protective order and scheduled a hearing to determine if a
permanent order should be entered for November 19, 2002. On
the 19th, the parties apparently agreed to continue the
hearing for six months. As a result, the district court
scheduled what it described as a status hearing for May 16,
2003. (Emphasis added.) The record does not reveal how much
time, if any, was allotted for the hearing which was to be
held on May 16.

On May 16, 2003, the appellant’s counsel filed a motion to
continue the hearing. The motion stated that the time
allotted for the hearing would “not be sufficient for a
full hearing on the matter.” The district court granted the
motion to continue and reset the hearing to June 27, 2003.
The court limited the hearing to one-half hour in length
and provided that each party would be allowed to testify
and call one additional witness. Between the date of this
order and June 27, 2003, the court file shows that neither
party objected to the date set, the time allocated for the
hearing, or the limitation on witnesses. I find nothing in
the record on appeal which shows the district court was
informed of any impending difficulty in complying with the
limitations contained in its order for continuance until
the matter came before the court for hearing on June 27.

Just before the hearing was to commence on June 27,
appellant’s counsel orally moved to continue the hearing.
Counsel stated:

My client is unable to fully put on her case with the
time and witness restrictions imposed by the Court’s order
of May 16 and we would ask that the hearing be continued
to a non-court service day to allow her to more fully put
on her case.

The oral motion to continue did not disclose the nature of
any testimony which counsel believed would be excluded or
its importance to the issues in this case. The oral motion
to continue is the first reference in the record regarding
a request to have the hearing moved to a “non-court service

The district court denied the oral motion. However, the
court did not rigidly enforce the time limitation included
in its order for continuance. As the majority acknowledges,
the record reflects that the one-half hour time limit set
in the order for continuance was actually extended to
nearly an hour. The record further reveals the
circumstances surrounding the incident which gave rise to
plaintiff’s petition were adequately explored. When the
hearing concluded, neither party requested the opportunity
to present additional evidence and no record was made
indicating that any additional evidence was required. I am
unconvinced that the record before us on appeal establishes
that the district court acted arbitrarily or inflexibly in
this case.

I am also unconvinced that Christie has met her burden to
show that she suffered prejudice. It is incumbent on the
party seeking additional time to present evidence to
establish prejudice. See Iowa R. Evid. 5.103(a) (error may
not be predicated on the exclusion of evidence unless a
substantial right of a party is affected and an offer of
proof was made or the substance of the excluded evidence
was otherwise identified); McKnight v. General Motors Corp.
908 F.2d 104, 115 (7th Cir. 1990) (prejudice required to
reverse on account of rigid time limits) (rev’d on other
grounds); Henkel v. R & S Bottling Co. 323 N.W.2d 185, 193
(Iowa 1982) (ruling excluding evidence will not be reversed
unless discretion clearly abused to the prejudice of the
complaining party); In re Marriage of Ihle, 577 N.W.2d 64,
67 (Iowa Ct.App. 1998) (we will not presume prejudice when
evidence is excluded from trial). On the date the hearing
commenced, Cristie’s counsel merely stated she was unable
to fully put on her client’s case because of the time and
witness limits imposed. She failed to identify the nature
and importance of any evidence which would be excluded, and
did not explain how she would be prejudiced as a result. I
believe the record falls far short of showing any of the
appellant’s substantial rights were affected or that she
suffered prejudice as the result of the district court’s
decision to deny her motion to continue.