Official State of Iowa Website

Iowa Case Law

Courts in Iowa

In the Iowa judicial system, cases generally start in the District Court for the county where the property lies, the events happened, or the parties live.   Iowa does not publish District Court decisions.  For recent cases, check Iowa Courts Online to figure out what documents were filed.  If you need records or documents from an Iowa District Court case, please talk to your attorney or contact the Clerk of Court for that county.   

Iowa has two levels of appellate courts but parties send all appeals directly to the Iowa Supreme Court.  The Iowa Supreme Court then chooses whether to reject the appeal and let the lower court decision stand, to refer the appeal to the Iowa Court of Appeals, or to decide the appeal itself.  If the Iowa Court of Appeals issues a decision, parties can request further review from the Iowa Supreme Court.  Here is a chart of the judicial process in Iowa: 

  Graphic depicting Iowa's court system structure, which includes district courts, the Iowa Appellate Court, and the Iowa Supreme Court

Source: Iowa Judicial Branch, Courts at a Glance

When researching Iowa legal issues, you want to find cases from the Iowa appellate courts.  The Iowa Supreme Court has the final say on how Iowa laws are interpreted and applied.  Although federal courts may issue decisions that involve Iowa law, the federal courts must look to Iowa appellate cases to try to decide how the Iowa courts would decide that issue.  This is true, even if the federal court is the U.S. Supreme Court.  For example, both the U.S. Constitution and the Iowa Constitution have a provision for freedom of speech.  The U.S. Supreme Court has the final say on interpreting the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution but must consult and cite Iowa appellate cases when interpreting Iowa Const. art. I, §7

To learn more about Iowa courts, visit the Iowa Judicial Branch’s website

Finding Iowa Cases  

How they are published

You can find recent Iowa Supreme Court and Iowa Court of Appeals opinions through the Iowa Courts’ webpage, but the cases are arranged by date to allow the public and lawyers to see the latest cases.  When published, Iowa cases are also arranged by date in several sets of case reporters: 

  • Iowa Reports (abbreviated as Iowa in citations from 1855-1969)  

  • West’s North Western Reporter (abbreviated as N.W. in citations from 1879-1942) 

  • West’s North Western Reporter, 2d series, (abbreviated as N.W.2d in citations from 1942-present). 

Even when you retrieve the cases online, you will still use citations for these reporters to tell others where they can find the case. 

Searching for Iowa cases using Google Scholar 

Google Scholar allows you to find cases from all state appellate courts since 1950.  To find earlier cases, you will want to contact or visit a law library and ask for assistance.   

On Google Scholar, begin by selecting “Case law” under the search bar.  Google Scholar will then offer you three choices, “Federal courts”, one state’s courts, based on your location, and “Select courts . . .”.  Choose “Iowa courts” if you see that option.  If not, choose “Select courts...,” choose “Iowa” in the “State courts” column on the next page, then scroll to the bottom of the page, and click “Done.” 

  • Have a case name or citation? 

  • Type the citation or case name into the search bar. 

  • Need to search by subject? 

  • Type your keywords into the search bar.  For best results, give Google Scholar three or more words that describe your issue to help it find the best cases for you. 

  • Need to find cases that discuss a specific Iowa Code or Iowa Administrative Code section? 

  • Use the citation as a phrase search.   

  • For example, Iowa Code section 562A.15 requires that Landlords keep “fit premises” for tenants.  To find cases that cite that section, type “562A.15” in the search bar. 

When looking at the list of results, you will see a linked case name with a citation, the state and court, and the date below the case name.   

Google Scholar result for the case De Stefano v Apts Downtown Inc., 879 NW 2d 155, showing it has been cited 30 times

You will also see some of the words around your search terms to help you decide if you want to look at this case.  Below each result, you will see links that can help you find other similar cases.  The “Cited by . . .” link lets you see a list of other cases and articles that cited the case.  The “How cited” link will let you see the words around the citation in those documents.