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Payne v. Nebraska Department of Correctional Services

Court of Appeals of Nebraska

May 3, 2016

Christopher M. Payne, appellant.
v.
Nebraska Department of Correctional Services et al., appellees.

1. Right to Counsel. In civil cases, there is no constitutional or statutory right to appointed counsel.

2. Constitutional Law: Courts: States. The question of when federal law should displace state law in state court proceedings under the Supremacy Clause is governed by the reverse-Ene doctrine set out in Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938).

3. Federal Acts: Courts: States. State courts hearing federal law claims may generally utilize their own procedural rules so long as they do not infringe upon the substantive federal law at issue.

4. ___:___:___. When a state court hears a claim based on federal law, the state's procedural rules may be preempted by federal law if they fail to protect substantive federal rights.

5. Constitutional Law: Federal Acts: Courts: States. The Supremacy Clause imposes on state courts a constitutional duty to proceed in such manner that all the substantial rights of the parties under controlling federal law are protected.

6. Federal Acts: Courts: States. Where a claim heard in state court is based upon a federal statute and that statute does not dictate procedure, the state court conducts a preemption analysis to determine whether a particular state procedure is preempted by federal law. This preemption analysis considers the federal interest of uniformity in adjudicating federal rights and the countervailing state interest in administering its courts.

7. Public Officers and Employees: Immunity: Liability. Qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established [24 Neb.App. 2] statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.

8. ___:___: ___ . Qualified immunity consists of two inquiries: (1) whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged make out a violation of a constitutional right and (2) whether the right at issue was clearly established at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct.

9. ___:___: ___ The protection of qualified immunity applies regardless of whether the government official's error is a mistake of law, a mistake of fact, or a mistake based on mixed questions of law and fact.

10.___:___: ___ Qualified immunity gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments and protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.

11. _: _: _ . The dispositive inquiry for qualified immunity is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer in the agent's position that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.

12. Rules of Evidence: Other Acts. Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that he or she acted in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.

13. Trial: Evidence: Appeal and Error. A trial court has the discretion to determine the relevancy and admissibility of evidence, and such determinations will not be disturbed on appeal unless they constitute an abuse of that discretion.

14. Judgments: Words and Phrases. A judicial abuse of discretion requires that the reasons or rulings of a trial judge be clearly untenable, unfairly depriving a litigant of a substantial right and a just result.

15. Appeal and Error. An appellate court is not obligated to engage in an analysis that is not necessary to adjudicate the case and controversy before it.

Appeal from the District Court for Lancaster County: Jodi Nelson, Judge. Affirmed.

Christopher M. Payne, pro se.

Douglas J. Peterson, Attorney General, and Bijan Koohmaraie for appellee.

Inbody, Pirtle, and Riedmann, Judges.[24 Neb.App. 3]

RLEDMANN, JUDGE

INTRODUCTION

Christopher M. Payne is an inmate housed at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution (TSCI) in Tecumseh, Nebraska. He filed suit against the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (the Department) and several of its employees in their individual and official capacities after being prevented from corresponding with a person housed in a secure treatment facility. After pretrial motions and orders disposed of Payne's case against the Department and the State employees in their official capacities, he tried his remaining claims against the State employees in their individual capacities under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 (2012) before a jury. Following Payne's case ...


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