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Woodward v. Lahm

Supreme Court of Nebraska

February 3, 2017

Joel D. Woodward, appellant,
v.
Rhonda K. Lahm, director, Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles, appellee.

         1. Jurisdiction: Judgments: Appeal and Error. Determination of a jurisdictional issue which does not involve a factual dispute is a matter of law which requires an appellate court to reach its conclusions independent from a trial court.

         2. Statutes: Appeal and Error. Statutory interpretation is a question of law that an appellate court resolves independently of the trial court.

         3. Jurisdiction: Appeal and Error. Before reaching the legal issues presented for review, it is the duty of an appellate court to determine whether it has jurisdiction over the matter before it.

         4. ___: ___. When a lower court does not have jurisdiction over the case before it, an appellate court also lacks jurisdiction to review the merits of the claim.

         Appeal from the District Court for Buffalo County: John P. Icenogle, Judge. Appeal dismissed.

          David W. Jorgensen, of Nye, Hervert, Jorgensen & Watson. PC, for appellant.

          Douglas J. Peterson, Attorney General, and Milissa D. Johnson-Wiles for appellee.

          Heavican, C.J., Wright, Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, Kelch, and Funke, JJ. [295 Neb. 699]

          STACY, J.

         SUMMARY

         Joel D. Woodward asked the director of the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to reinstate his commercial driver's license (CDL). The director refused, and Woodward filed an appeal pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. § 60-4, 105 (Reissue 2010). The district court dismissed the appeal on several grounds, including that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the appeal was not from a "final decision or order."[1] We agree with the district court and dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

         FACTS

         In 2010, Woodward was convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) and sentenced to probation. He was convicted of DUI a second time in 2013, and again was sentenced to probation.

         After Woodward's second DUI, the DMV issued an order revoking his CDL for life. The lifetime revocation was imposed pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 60-4, 168(3)(a) (Cum. Supp. 2012) and 60-4, 169 (Reissue 2010). Section 60-4, 169 requires the director to "summarily revoke . . . the [CDL] and privilege ... to operate a commercial motor vehicle" whenever it comes to the director's attention that the person has "committed an offense for which disqualification is required." Section 60-4, 168(3) provides: "A person shall be disqualified from driving a commercial motor vehicle for life if ... he or she: (a) Is convicted of ... a second or subsequent violation of any of the offenses described in subsection (1) . . . ." DUI is among the offenses listed in subsection (1). One may appeal from a lifetime revocation, [2] but Woodward did not do so.

         After Woodward completed both terms of probation, he filed motions asking the sentencing court to set aside both DUI [295 Neb. 700] convictions pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-2264 (Reissue 2016). Section 29-2264 allows a sentencing court to set aside a conviction if it finds doing so is in the best interest of the offender and consistent with the public welfare. Section 29-2264(4) provides that an order setting aside a conviction shall: "(a) Nullify the conviction; and (b) Remove all civil disabilities and disqualifications imposed as a result of the conviction." The sentencing court set aside both DUI convictions in separate orders entered January 8, 2015.

         On March 30, 2015, Woodward's attorney wrote a letter to the director of the DMV, advising that Woodward's DUI convictions had been set aside and asking either that his CDL be "reinstated" or that he be deemed eligible to reapply for a CDL. Woodward explained the basis for his request as follows:

Woodward's position is that if a conviction is set aside and nullified and that all civil disabilities and disqualifications resulting from the conviction are removed, that conviction cannot be counted for purposes of a life time disqualification [under ยง 60-4, 168]. The Director's action in entering the life time disqualification of . . . Woodward's CDL is of course a civil action. Thus, at this time, [Woodward] has only a single [administrative] adjudication which will affect his [CDL] ...

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