Justia Nebraska Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Nebraska Supreme Court
Steffy v. Steffy
In 2008, the district court entered a decree of dissolution of Father and Mother’s marriage and granted legal custody of Jakob, the parties’ child, to Father. In 2010, Father filed a complaint to modify the decree of dissolution and the parenting plan, seeking to be allowed to move from Nebraska to Texas for better career opportunities. After a bench trial, the district court denied Father’s request, finding that Father failed to meet his burden of showing that he had a legitimate reason to relocate and that the relocation was in the best interests of Jakob. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the district court plainly erred on the removal issue, as there was a legitimate reason for removal, and the removal was in Jakob’s best interests. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court did not plainly err in determining that Father failed to prove that moving to Texas was in Jakob’s best interests. Remanded. View "Steffy v. Steffy" on Justia Law
Kuhnel v. BNSF Ry. Co.
Edwin Kuhnel, an employee of BNSF Railway Company, was injured during while working for BNSF. Kuhnel brought this action against BNSF under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), alleging that his injuries were caused by BNSF’s failure to provide him with a reasonably safe place to work and its failure to take other appropriate safety measures. Pursuant to the jury’s general verdict, the district court entered judgment for BNSF. The court of appeals reversed, concluding (1) the district court’s jury instructions erroneously permitted the jury to decide, as a factual determination, whether BNSF was under a duty to provide a reasonably safe place to work; and (2) the general verdict rule did not bar the court from overturning the jury’s verdict. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the jury instructions in this case did not rise to the level of plain error because the instructions implicitly recognized BNSF’s duty by requiring the jury to find that BNSF was negligent if it found that BNSF had failed to provide Kuhnel with a reasonably safe place to work. View "Kuhnel v. BNSF Ry. Co." on Justia Law
In re Marcella G.
On March 1, 2013, the juvenile court adjudicated Marcella G. for a misdemeanor law violation and committed Marcella to the Office of Juvenile Services (OJS), an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). On July 5, 2013, DHHS filed a motion seeking to transfer Marcella from a group-home to a youth rehabilitation and treatment center (YRTC) as a condition of intensive supervised probation (ISP). The juvenile court sustained the motion and approved the transfer of Marcella to a YRTC without making the transfer as a condition of ISP. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) under Neb. Rev. Stat. 435-247.02(2), on and after July 1, 2013, a juvenile court can commit a juvenile to OJS for placement at a YRTC only as part of an order of ISP; and (2) but because Marcella had already been committed to OJS for placement at a level less restrictive than a YRTC before July 1, 2013 and transferred to a YRTC after July 2, 2103, subsection (2) did not apply; and (3) therefore, the juvenile court acted within its authority when its transferred Marcella to the YRTC without making the placement as part of an order of ISP. View "In re Marcella G." on Justia Law
Hess v. State
In 1985, Appellant was found guilty of second degree murder. The Supreme Court later decided State v. Myers, which held that if malice was an essential element of the crime of second degree murder and the jury was not so instructed, reversal of the conviction was required. In accordance with Myers, Appellant’s conviction was vacated and a retrial ordered. Before Myers was decided, however, Appellant was charged in Lancaster County with several felonies. Appellant was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. The second degree murder charges against Appellant were eventually dismissed. In 2009, Appellant unsuccessfully filed a claim asking for compensation under the Nebraska Claims for Wrongful Conviction and Imprisonment Act (Act). Appellant then filed suit against the State, alleging that he was entitled to damages for his wrongful conviction for second degree murder. After a trial, the district court found that Appellant had not shown he was innocent of the murder, as required by the Act, and dismissed Appellant’s petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in (1) requiring Appellant to prove his innocence and not finding Appellant innocent under the Act; (2) denying Appellant’s motion for counsel; and (3) considering Appellant’s Lancaster County convictions. View "Hess v. State" on Justia Law
Bruno v. Metro. Utils. Dist.
Metropolitan Utilities District (MUD) distributes water and natural gas to businesses and residents in the Omaha metropolitan area. MUD contracts with Northern Natural Gas Company (Northern) to provide natural gas pipelines transportation services. In November 2012, MUD and Northern entered into an amendment to a contract providing that Northern would provide interstate natural gas transportation service to MUD for twenty years. Jason Bruno, an Omaha ratepayer and taxpayer who obtained gas and water services from MUD, sought a declaratory judgment that the 2012 amendment to the contract between MUD and Northern was void or voidable on the grounds that Neb. Rev. Stat. 14-2121 requires MUD to seek competitive bids for all contracts for work not performed by MUD employees. The district court determined that the statute does not require competitive bidding, but rather, grants MUD the discretion whether or not to go through the bidding process. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly determined that there was no statutory competitive bidding requirement with respect to the contract at issue. View "Bruno v. Metro. Utils. Dist." on Justia Law
State v. Schuller
The lead investigator for a law enforcement agency applied for and received a search warrant to search three computers Defendant owned for child pornography. Defendant admitted to the investigator to downloading and viewing child pornography and subsequently deleting the child pornography computer files. However, a forensic examination revealed remnants on Defendant’s hard drive. After a bench trial, Defendant was found guilty of knowingly possessing child pornography. Defendant appealed the denial of his motion to suppress the evidence resulting from the earlier search and seizure. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, holding (1) the investigator’s failure to explain in his affidavit that dynamic Internet Protocol (IP) addresses can change did not affect the probable cause determination; and (2) the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction. View "State v. Schuller" on Justia Law
State v. Pratt
In 1975, Appellant was convicted of sodomy, forcible rape, and robbery. In 2004, Appellant moved for testing under the DNA Testing Act (“Act”) of the biological evidence pertinent to his conviction. The district court granted the motion. The next year, DNA testing revealed that at least one stain of biological material was from a male who was not Appellant. The district court denied Appellant’s subsequent motion to vacate his convictions or grant a new trial, holding that the DNA test results were neither exonerating nor exculpatory because, among other things, the testing could not distinguish between semen and epithelial cells in older materials. In 2011, Appellant filed a second motion for DNA testing of the biological materials on the victims’ shirts, alleging that new more accurate testing techniques could lead to exonerating or exculpatory evidence, particularly because restesting could distinguish between semen and epithelial cells on the materials. The district court denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court erred in denying Appellant’s motion for resting under the Act, as, “[i]ndisputably, the requested retesting ‘may’ lead to exculpatory evidence.” View "State v. Pratt" on Justia Law
State v. Dragon
In 2006, Appellant pled guilty to second degree murder. The district court sentenced Appellant to a term of imprisonment of fifty years to life. In 2012, Appellant filed a pro se petition for postconviction relief, alleging that his sentence was excessive and that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel in connection with his sentencing. The district court dismissed the motion without an evidentiary hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err when it determined that Appellant’s motion for postconviction relief did not allege facts which constituted a denial of his constitutional rights, and that as to certain matters, the record refuted Appellant’s claims. View "State v. Dragon" on Justia Law
State v. Alfredson
After a jury trial, Appellant was convicted of first degree sexual assault and second degree false imprisonment. Appellant’s convictions and sentences were affirmed on direct appeal. Appellant subsequently filed a petition for postconviction relief. The district court dismissed all but one of Appellant’s claims without an evidentiary hearing. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied Appellant’s remaining claim regarding trial counsel’s failure to disclose an alleged plea offer. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) as a general rule, defense counsel has the duty to communicate to the defendant all formal offers from the prosecution to accept a plea on terms and conditions that may be favorable to the defendant; and (2) the district court did not clearly err in finding that the State made a formal offer, and therefore, trial counsel could not have been deficient in failing to disclose it to Appellant. View "State v. Alfredson" on Justia Law
Doe v. Firemen’s Fund Ins. Co.
Plaintiff obtained a default judgment against Red Willow Dairy, LLC, and Jim and Ann Huffman. The day before the order granting the default judgment was signed and file stamped, Red Willow Dairy and the Huffmans filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy. Plaintiff settled her claim in return for an assignment of rights to any causes of action Red Willow Dairy and the Huffmans might have against Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company with respect to the underlying lawsuit. Plaintiff then sued Fireman’s for breach of its duty to defend Red Willow Dairy and Huffmans. The district court found that the filing of the default judgment violated the automatic stay of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and therefore granted summary judgment in favor of Fireman’s. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding the the filing of the bankruptcy stayed any further proceedings in the underlying action, preventing the rendition and entry of the default judgment. View "Doe v. Firemen's Fund Ins. Co." on Justia Law