Justia Nebraska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Father appealed from a decree dissolving his marriage to Mother, contesting the award of custody of the parties’ two children to Mother, the order that Father pay child support, and the classification of lump-sum disability benefit payment from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as marital property. The Supreme Court modified the decree to exclude the payment’s proceeds, holding (1) federal law prevents a state court from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over VA disability benefits, and therefore a state court cannot include the amount of military retirement pay that a veteran waives in order to receive such benefits as divisible marital property; and (2) the remainder of the district court’s rulings were not in error. View "Donald v. Donald" on Justia Law
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When he was seventeen years old, Defendant pled guilty to first degree murder. Defendant was sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment. Pursuant to Miller v. Alabama, Defendant’s sentence was vacated. After a hearing, Defendant was resentenced to ninety years to life imprisonment. Defendant appealed, alleging, inter alia, that his sentence violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and the principles set forth in Miller and Graham v. Florida. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant’s sentence did not violate Miller; (2) Defendant’s sentence was not disproportionate; and (3) the district court adequately considered Defendant’s age and age-related characteristics and used adequate procedural safeguards when sentencing Defendant. View "State v. Nollen" on Justia Law

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Western Ethanol Co., LLC obtained a judgment lien on Midwest Renewable Energy, LLC’s Lincoln County real property. Western Ethanol then dissolved and transferred its assets to its members. Douglas Vind, the managing member of Western Ethanol, claimed that Western Ethanol transferred the Midwest Renewable judgment to him. Thereafter, Midwest Renewable filed a quiet title action against several entities and all known and unknown parties claiming an interest in its Lincoln County property, including Western Ethanol. After a trial, the court ruled that Western Ethanol’s judgment had been assigned to Vind, who was never made a party to the litigation, and that the judgment lien against the real estate owned by Midwest Renewable was still valid and subsisting. The court subsequently dismissed with prejudice Midwest Renewable’s action regarding Western Ethanol. The Supreme Court vacated the court’s opinion and judgment, holding (1) Western Ethanol was amenable to suit; and (2) the trial court erred in not making Vind a party to the action sua sponte because he was an indispensable party to the controversies decided by the court. Remanded with direction to make Vind a party. View "Midwest Renewable Energy, LLC v. American Engineering Testing, Inc." on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first degree murder, use of a firearm to commit a felony, and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. The trial court sentenced Defendant to life sentence for first degree murder. The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s three convictions and his life sentence for first degree murder but vacated Defendant’s sentence for the use conviction and for the possession conviction, holding (1) the trial court did not commit reversible error when it refused Defendant’s proposed jury instructions; (2) there was sufficient evidence to support Defendant’s conviction for first degree murder; but (3) the district court erred when it ordered Defendant’s sentence for the use conviction to be served concurrently with his sentence for the possession conviction. View "State v. McCurry" on Justia Law
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Defendant was convicted of first degree murder, attempted first degree murder, and two counts of use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony. Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment on the murder conviction. After the denial of Defendant’s first motion for postconviction relief, Defendant filed a second motion for postconviction relief, alleging numerous claims. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in determining that (1) Defendant's claims that certain jury instructions given at trial were reversible error were procedurally barred; (2) Defendant's claim that appellate counsel had a conflict of interest was procedurally barred; and (3) Defendant was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his claim of evidence tampering and outrageous governmental conduct. View "State v. Jackson" on Justia Law
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In 2013 and 2014, the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued orders and closing notices to holders of surface water permits for natural flow and storage in the Republic River Basin. Several appropriators, on behalf of themselves and a class of farmers who irrigate with water delivered by the Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District, subject to Nebraska’s allocation of water under the Republican River Compact, brought these actions alleging regulatory takings claims against the State and the DNR. The district court consolidated the claims and granted the State and the DNR’s motions to dismiss both of the appropriators’ causes of action. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the DNR’s streamflow administration did not result in a taking under the Nebraska Constitution because the Compact, as federal law, supersedes the appropriators’ property interests; and (2) the alleged failure of DNR to regulate ground water pumping did not amount to a taking because DNR does not have a duty to regulate ground water. View "Hill v. State" on Justia Law

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Medicine Creek LLC filed a request for a variance from the Middle Republican Natural Resources District’s (MRNRD) moratorium on new well drilling. MRNRD voted to deny the variance. Medicine Creek sought judicial review pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. 46-750 and the Administrative Procedure Act. The district court reversed, concluding that MRNRD’s decision was not supported by the evidence, did not conform to the law, and was therefore arbitrary. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the order denying Medicine Creek’s request for a variance was judicial in nature and was appealable to the district court; and (2) the district court committed plain error by applying the wrong standard of review rather than the de novo standard. Remanded. View "Medicine Creek LLC v. Middle Republican Natural Resources District" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first degree murder, use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony, and tampering with a witness. The Supreme Court affirmed on appeal. Defendant subsequently filed a fourth amended motion for postconviction relief, alleging, in part, that trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance. The district court denied postconviction relief on all grounds. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err by not finding trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective; and (2) the district court did not err in not finding Defendant’s constitutional rights were violated because he was allegedly unable to understand one of the court interpreters during trial. View "State v. Alarcon-Chavez" on Justia Law

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Landlord leased commercial real estate to Tenant, a third party. The lease agreement provided on option to purchase with a condition precedent. At the time Tenant assigned this purchase option to Assignees, Tenant had fully performed all obligations under the lease. When Assignees attempted to exercise the purchase option, Landlord denied the attempt, arguing that because of certain rental underpayments, which were later paid in full, Tenant had failed to satisfy the condition precedent. Assignees filed a complaint seeking specific performance of the purchase option. Landlord later moved for specific performance of the terms and provisions of the purchase option. The district court sustained Landlord’s motion, and Assignees purchased the property. The district court then entered judgment in Assignees’ favor and awarded equitable monetary relief for lost rentals. Landlord appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding (1) Landlord was judicially estopped from asserting the condition precedent in avoidance of equitable monetary relief; and (2) Landlord was entitled to offset the monetary award with the interest on the unpaid purchase price. View "O'Connor v. Kearny Junction, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendant pled guilty to kidnapping, a crime he committed when he was sixteen years old. Defendant was initially sentenced to life imprisonment. After the U.S. Supreme Court decided Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama, Defendant filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus. The district court determined that Defendant was entitled to relief under Graham and vacated his life sentence. Thereafter, Defendant was resentenced to ninety years to life imprisonment. Defendant appealed that sentence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the sentence was not excessive, nor did it violate the 8th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution or the principles set forth in Graham. View "State v. Smith" on Justia Law