Articles Posted in Nebraska Supreme Court

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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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Plaintiff was the surface owner of land in Sioux County. Plaintiff sued the owners of severed mineral interests in that land under Nebraska's dormant mineral statutes to reacquire their allegedly abandoned interests. Mineral interests are deemed abandoned unless the "record owner" has taken certain steps to publicly exercise his ownership rights during the twenty-three years preceding the surface owner's suit. This appeal involved one defendant (Defendant), who asserted that she was the "record owner" of the mineral interests through the will of Decedent. The register of deeds still listed Decedent as the owner of the disputed mineral interests. The district court vested title to the disputed mineral interests in Plaintiff, concluding that Defendant was not a "record owner" of the mineral interests because the term "record owner" under the dormant mineral statutes meant only the person listed in the register of deeds in the county where the property was located. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, for the reasons set forth in Gibbs Cattle Co. v. Bixler, the "record owner" of mineral interests includes an individual identified by probate records in the county where the interests are located. View "WTJ Skavdahl Land LLC v. Elliott " on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was the surface owner of various tracts of land. Plaintiff sued the owners of several mineral interests in those tracts under Nebraska's dormant mineral statutes to reacquire their allegedly abandoned interests. Mineral interests are deemed abandoned unless the "record owner" has taken certain steps to publicly exercise her ownership rights during the twenty-three years preceding the surface owner's suit. This appeal involved two Defendants. The district court vested title to the disputed mineral interests in Plaintiff. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the "record owner" of mineral interests includes an individual identified by probate records in the county where the interests are located and need not be determined only from the register of deeds in the county where the interests are located; and (2) an amended complaint that adds, rather than changes, a new party defendant does not relate back to the original complaint. View "Gibbs Cattle Co. v. Bixler" on Justia Law

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Butler County Diary, LLC (BCD) requested a permit to install a liquid livestock manure pipeline under a public road. Read Township and Butler County cited two regulations it had adopted governing livestock confinement facilities in denying BCD's request. BCD challenged the regulations, alleging that the regulations were invalid and unenforceable. The district court ruled that the Township had the statutory authority to enact the regulations and that they were not preempted by the Livestock Waste Management Act or Nebraska's Department of Environmental Quality livestock waste control regulations. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Township had the statutory authority to enact the pertinent regulations and the regulations were not preempted by state statute or regulation. View "Butler County Dairy, LLC v. Butler County" on Justia Law

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Junior river water appropriators Jack Bond and Joe McClaren Ranch filed a request for a hearing before the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (Department), challenging the validity of the Department's administration of water in response to a call for administration placed by the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD). The Department joined the matter as a party litigant against the junior appropriators. Following a hearing, the director of the Department determined that the water administration was proper and denied the junior appropriators' challenge to the sufficiency of the closing notices issued to upstream junior appropriators. The junior appropriators appealed. At issue on appeal was whether the issues of nonuse and abandonment alleged by the junior appropriators were properly before the Department. The Supreme Court reversed the order, holding that the Department erred in refusing to determine the junior appropriators' challenge to the validity of NPPD's appropriations. Remanded with directions to determine whether NPPD's appropriations had been abandoned or statutorily forfeited in whole or in part. View "Bond v. Neb. Pub. Power Dist." on Justia Law

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A public power and irrigation district (District) filed an action against a development and other sublessees (collectively, Development) to quiet title to land owned by District and leased by Development. Development filed motions to dismiss the complaint, arguing that District's complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be grante. The district court sustained the motions and overruled Development's motion for attorney fees. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court erred in granting Development's motions to dismiss because (1) the allegations in District's complaint, taken as true, were plausible and thus were sufficient to suggest that District had presented a justiciable controversy, and (2) the motions to dismiss filed in this case provided no notice that Development was asserting the affirmative defenses of judicial estoppel, collateral estoppel and res judicata. Remanded. View "Central Neb. Pub. Power v. Jeffrey Lake Dev." on Justia Law

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Appellees, record owners of surface property, brought an equitable action pursuant to Nebraska's dormant mineral statutes, claiming the property's severed mineral interests had been abandoned pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. 57-229 and seeking an order vesting title to all several mineral rights in them. The district court entered an order finding Appellants, the owners of the severed mineral rights, had abandoned the mineral interests under section 57-229 because for more than twenty-three years preceding the filing of the complaint, Appellants had not publicly exercised rights of ownership. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Nebraska's dormant mineral statutes were not applied retroactively to Appellants and the district court did not err in determining that those interests had been abandoned under the provisions of section 57-229.

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This case involved a constitutional challenge to an occupation tax levied pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. 2-3226.05. Appellant landowners, who were residents and taxpayers of natural resources districts in the Republican River basin, brought an action for declaratory and injunctive relief seeking to have the occupation tax declared unconstitutional and its levy and collection enjoined. The district court upheld the constitutionality of the occupation tax, determining that it did not violate the Nebraska Constitution as (1) the occupation tax was not a property tax but, rather, an excise tax levied upon the activity of irrigation; (2) the occupation tax did not result in a commutation of taxes; and (3) section 2-3226.05 was not special legislation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the judgment in Garey v. Nebraska Department of Natural Resources did not bar this action under the doctrine of res judicata; and (2) the landowners did not meet their burden of establishing that the occupation tax was unconstitutional.

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An irrigation district (FCID) petitioned the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to reevaluate a portion of the Republican River Basin according to the criteria in Neb. Rev. Stat. 46-713 and to determine whether the basin met the criteria to be considered "overappropriated" rather than "fully appropriated." If the status of the basin was changed to "overappropriated," the DNR could assert more authority over the basin. The DNR denied FCID's petition, finding the statute allowed the DNR to declare a river basin overappropriated only if it was subject to an interstate cooperative agreement. Because the basin was subject to an interstate compact, the DNR declared it did not have the authority to change the status as an interstate compact was not the equivalent of an interstate cooperative agreement. The FCID appealed. The DNR cross-appealed, alleging that FCID failed to demonstrate an injury in fact for standing purposes. The Supreme Court found the FCID failed to plead an injury in fact and therefore did not have standing. The Court dismissed the cause for lack of jurisdiction and did not reach the merits of the litigation.