Justia Nebraska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The case involves the defendant, Michael C. Hoehn, who was convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) after a motion to suppress evidence from his stop and arrest was denied by the county court. The arresting officer, Officer Matt Rockwell of the Minatare Police Department, had left his primary jurisdiction after receiving a report of a white pickup driving erratically. Rockwell observed the pickup straddling the centerline and trash coming from the driver’s-side window. After the pickup turned into oncoming traffic and down into the grass median, Rockwell stopped the vehicle and identified the driver as Hoehn. Rockwell observed Hoehn had slurred speech, bloodshot, watery eyes, and detected a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from the vehicle. Rockwell administered a preliminary breath test and other field sobriety tests, which Hoehn failed, leading to his arrest for DUI.Hoehn appealed to the district court, arguing that Rockwell did not have jurisdictional authority to perform the traffic stop. The district court affirmed the conviction, interpreting Nebraska Revised Statute § 29-215(3)(c) to mean that when probable cause exists, officers have authority to perform stops and arrests outside of their primary jurisdiction that are solely related to enforcing laws that concern a person operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.Hoehn then appealed to the Nebraska Court of Appeals, which disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of § 29-215(3)(c) and found that Rockwell lacked jurisdictional authority to make the stop and arrest. However, the Court of Appeals held that under the good faith exception to the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule, Hoehn’s conviction, based on the evidence from his stop and arrest, did not violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and article I, § 7, of the Nebraska Constitution. Both Hoehn and the State petitioned for further review by the Nebraska Supreme Court.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, albeit on different grounds. The court held that a law enforcement officer’s jurisdictional power and authority to make a stop or arrest is irrelevant to the admissibility, under the Fourth Amendment and article I, § 7, of the Nebraska Constitution, of the evidence obtained from the stop or arrest. Therefore, the county court did not err in denying Hoehn’s motion to suppress brought under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and article I, § 7, of the Nebraska Constitution. View "State v. Hoehn" on Justia Law

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The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the State of Nebraska and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are immune from a lawsuit brought by three siblings who were physically and sexually abused in a foster home. The siblings, Joshua M., Sydnie M., and Abigail S., were placed in the foster home by DHHS in 1996. They alleged that DHHS was negligent in recommending and supervising their placement and in failing to remove them from the home when DHHS knew or should have known they were being abused. The court found that the siblings' claims fell within the State Tort Claims Act's exemption for claims arising out of assault or battery, and thus were barred by the State's sovereign immunity. The court also found that DHHS did not breach its duty of care to the siblings. The court affirmed the judgment in favor of DHHS and remanded the case with directions to dismiss the claims against DHHS. The court also affirmed a judgment against the siblings' former foster parent in the amount of $2.9 million. View "Joshua M. v. State" on Justia Law

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The case involves RaySean Barber, an inmate in the custody of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (DCS), who was diagnosed with a mental illness. Barber refused treatment with antipsychotic medications, leading DCS medical staff to apply for a series of involuntary medication orders (IMOs) authorizing monthly injections of the antipsychotic medication Haldol against his will. Barber filed a lawsuit against the State of Nebraska under the State Tort Claims Act (STCA), alleging that DCS employees were negligent in applying for, ordering the initiation and continuation of, and upholding the IMOs.The State moved to dismiss Barber's complaint, arguing that the claim was barred by the STCA’s exemption for any claim arising out of battery. The district court agreed and dismissed the complaint, reasoning that the unconsented and involuntary injection is the cause of Barber’s alleged injury—a battery.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that Barber's claim—that DCS staff negligently subjected him to an IMO and injected him with Haldol against his will—is a claim that arises out of a battery. The court held that because Barber's claim arose out of a battery, it is barred by the exemption in the STCA. View "Barber v. State" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the lower court's denial of summary judgment, determining that the Lincoln Public Schools (LPS), a political subdivision, retained immunity from an employee's wrongful discharge claim under the discretionary function exemption of the Political Subdivisions Tort Claims Act (PSTCA). The plaintiff, Lynne Simpson, claimed LPS wrongfully terminated her in retaliation for her filing a workers' compensation claim. LPS asserted sovereign immunity and immunity under the PSTCA, arguing that its decision to terminate Simpson's employment was a discretionary act.The Nebraska Supreme Court held that employment and termination decisions generally involve a judgment of the kind that the discretionary function exemption is designed to shield. The court found that LPS's decision to terminate Simpson's employment involved an element of judgment, as LPS had to balance information about Simpson's performance against information about her criminal history and honesty issues. Therefore, the court concluded that LPS was entitled to immunity under the discretionary function exemption and remanded the case with directions to dismiss. The court did not rule on LPS's claim that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction due to the exclusivity provisions of the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act, as it had already found that LPS was immune from suit. View "Simpson v. Lincoln Public Schools" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between developers of rent-restricted housing projects and the Lancaster County Board of Equalization. The Board sought permission from the Tax Equalization and Review Commission to use a different methodology than the statutorily provided income approach for assessing the value of the housing projects. The Board argued that the income approach did not result in actual value and sought to use a different, professionally accepted mass appraisal method. The developers appealed the Commission's decision to grant the Board's request.The Nebraska Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the Commission's decision was a "final decision" subject to appeal. The court concluded that the Commission's decision was not final because it did not approve a specific alternate methodology and did not determine the valuation of the properties. The court further reasoned that the decision could be rendered moot by future developments in the litigation, such as the Board's refusal to approve the County Assessor's proposed valuations. The court held that, because the developers' rights had not been substantially affected by the Commission's decision, it lacked appellate jurisdiction and dismissed the appeal. View "A & P II, LLC v. Lancaster Cty. Bd. of Equal." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Nebraska recently ruled on a dispute between the Nebraska Journalism Trust (NJT) and the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) over the cost of providing public records. NJT had requested email records from NDEE relating to certain environmental topics, and was given an estimated cost of $44,103.11, mainly for the time spent by non-attorney staff to review the requested records. NJT filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, arguing that the cost estimate included charges unauthorized by Nebraska law.The court ruled that a requester of public records who is provided with a fee estimate that contains unauthorized charges may indeed file for a writ of mandamus. The court also clarified that the party seeking a writ of mandamus has the burden of proving that the fee estimate includes unauthorized charges, after which the public body must show that the fees charged are authorized by law.However, the court found that the plain language of Nebraska law permits a public body to charge a fee for time spent by non-attorney employees, in excess of four cumulative hours, reviewing requested public records. The court thus concluded that the district court had erred in its interpretation of the law, vacated its writ of mandamus and its order awarding attorney fees and costs, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Nebraska Journalism Trust v. Dept. of Envt. & Energy" on Justia Law

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The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed a decision made by the Commission of Industrial Relations (CIR) that included corrections unit case managers within the protective service bargaining unit (PSBU), represented by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #88 (FOP 88). The case arose from a petition filed by FOP 88 to the CIR to clarify or amend the PSBU to include corrections unit case managers. The State of Nebraska appealed the CIR's decision, arguing that corrections unit case managers were supervisors and, hence, should not be in the same bargaining unit as their subordinates. The court deemed the CIR had erred in giving preclusive effect to its 2018 order, which certified FOP 88 as the bargaining representative for the PSBU. The court held that the issue of whether corrections unit case managers were part of the PSBU was not precluded by the 2018 order. The court remanded the matter back to the CIR to again determine whether the PSBU includes corrections unit case managers based on the existing record, with instructions to provide an explanation forming the basis for its ruling. View "Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #88 v. State" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Melvin Lear, was charged with a felony offense by the State of Nebraska. Lear requested a continuance in order to conduct additional discovery, which was granted by the court. However, the continuance extended the trial date beyond the statutory six-month period. Lear then filed a motion for absolute discharge on statutory speedy trial grounds. The district court denied the motion, finding that Lear had waived his statutory right to a speedy trial by requesting a continuance that extended the trial date beyond the statutory limit. Lear appealed the decision, arguing that the waiver provision in Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-1207(4)(b) only applies to a continuance granted at the sole request of the defendant, not a request joined in by the State. The Nebraska Supreme Court rejected Lear's argument, interpreting the waiver provision to apply to a continuance granted at the request of the defendant or his or her counsel, regardless of whether the State joins the request, when the period of delay resulting from the continuance extends a trial date beyond the statutory six-month period. The court therefore affirmed the district court's decision to deny Lear's motion for absolute discharge. View "State v. Lear" on Justia Law

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This case involves two consolidated appeals related to Sanitary and Improvement District No. 596 of Douglas County, Nebraska (SID 596) and THG Development, L.L.C. (THG), a real estate owner whose property adjoins but is outside of SID 596's boundaries. The first appeal is from a condemnation action in which SID 596 sought to condemn part of THG's property for public use and the second appeal is from a separate action in which SID 596 sought to levy a special assessment on THG's property, which is outside of SID 596's boundaries, alleging that the property received special benefits from improvements made by SID 596.On the first appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's judgment, finding no merit in THG's claims that the lower court erred in allowing the mention of "special benefits" and in permitting certain expert testimony. The Supreme Court also found no merit in the claim that the trial court erred in denying THG's motion for a new trial based on alleged improper conduct by SID 596's counsel during closing argument.In the second appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's judgment granting THG's motion for summary judgment and dismissing SID 596's complaint. The court interpreted the relevant statute, § 31-752, as not authorizing an SID to levy a special assessment on property located outside of the SID's boundaries. As such, the court concluded that SID 596's complaint seeking to levy a special assessment on THG's property was without merit. The court also found no merit in THG's cross-appeal arguing that the lower court erred in denying its motion for attorney fees. View "SID No. 596 v. THG Development" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Nebraska Supreme Court, Kathryn Wright was employed as a customer service agent for Southwest Airlines Co. (Southwest). In her volunteer role on a workplace social committee, she was found to have not kept adequate records of expenditures and to have spent committee funds for personal purposes. Consequently, Southwest terminated her employment. Wright then applied for unemployment insurance benefits, which were initially granted by the Nebraska Department of Labor (DOL) adjudicator. However, this decision was overturned by the DOL appeal tribunal, disqualifying her from receiving unemployment benefits for the week of the discharge and the 14 weeks thereafter. The district court affirmed this decision and Wright appealed.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision, holding that Wright had committed misconduct connected with her work under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 48-628.10 (Reissue 2021). The court found that Wright's failure to keep a ledger and maintain supporting documentation for all committee expenses was misconduct connected with her work, regardless of the fact that her work on the committee was volunteer and separate from her paid job duties. The court also disagreed with Wright's argument that the committee funds were not Southwest's but her coworkers'. The court reasoned that the funds were contributed to the committee organized, promoted, supported, and regulated by Southwest, which had an interest in ensuring that the funds were spent appropriately. Therefore, Wright's failure to follow the rules harmed Southwest and was misconduct connected with her work. View "Wright v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law