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State v. Coble

Supreme Court of Nebraska

March 23, 2018

State of Nebraska, appellee,
Kaitlyn N. Coble, appellant.

          1. Judgments: Jurisdiction: 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. 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.

         3. Courts: Final Orders: Appeal and Error. Final orders and judgments issued by a county court may be appealed to district court.

         4. Courts: Final Orders: Jurisdiction: Appeal and Error. A district court order affirming, reversing, or remanding an order or judgment of the county court is itself a final order that an appellate court has jurisdiction to review.

         5. Judgments. An order affecting a substantial right that is issued upon a summary application in an action after judgment under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-1902 (Reissue 2016) is an order ruling on a postjudgment motion in an action.

         6. Words and Phrases. A substantial right is an essential legal right, not a mere technical right.

         7. Criminal Law: Judgments. An order regarding the statutory right to remove criminal record history information from the public record pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-3523 (Reissue 2016) affects a substantial right for purposes of Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-1902 (Reissue 2016).

         8. Jurisdiction: Appeal and Error. Where a lower court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the merits of a claim, issue, or question, an appellate court also lacks the power to determine the merits of the claim, issue, or question presented to the lower court.

         9. __:__. When an appellate court is without jurisdiction to act, the appeal must be dismissed. However, an appellate court has the power to [299 Neb. 435] determine whether it lacks jurisdiction over an appeal because the lower court lacked jurisdiction to enter the order; to vacate a void order; and, if necessary, to remand the cause with appropriate directions.

         10. Pleadings: Words and Phrases. In a legal action, the function of a motion is not to initiate new litigation, but to bring before the court for ruling some material but incidental matter arising in the progress of the case in which the motion is filed.

         11. Jurisdiction. Jurisdiction over a motion is dependent upon the court's having jurisdiction over the case in which the motion is filed.

         12. __ . A court has jurisdiction to issue orders on motions pertaining to incidental matters within the scope of the action over which the court has jurisdiction.

         13. Actions: Jurisdiction. A court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear motions that seek an order granting relief beyond the scope of the action at hand unless the motion is authorized by statute. A litigant must file a new action when seeking such relief.

         14. Actions: Words and Phrases. An action is a distinct and separate court proceeding, governed by separate pleadings and requiring a separate process.

         15. Courts: Appeal and Error. A higher court is not bound by a precedent of an inferior court under the doctrine of stare decisis.

         16. __: __ . The doctrine of stare decisis does not require a court to blindly perpetuate its prior interpretation of the law if it concludes the prior interpretation was clearly incorrect.

         17. Statutes: Judicial Construction: Legislature: Presumptions: Intent. Where a statute has been judicially construed and that construction has not evoked an amendment, it will be presumed that the Legislature has acquiesced in the court's determination of the Legislature's intent.

         18. Statutes: Judicial Construction: Legislature: Intent. The doctrine of legislative acquiescence applies only when there is a statutory provision to interpret.

         19. __:__: __:__. A court's holding is not protected by the doctrine of legislative acquiescence, if it does not purport to interpret the statutory text.

          Appeal from the District Court for Lancaster County, John A. Colborn, Judge, on appeal thereto from the County Court for Lancaster County, Matthew L. Acton, Judge. Vacated and dismissed.

          Jennifer Gaughan and Marian G. Heaney, of Legal Aid of Nebraska, for appellant.

         [299 Neb. 436] Marcee A. Brownlee, Assistant Lincoln City Attorney, for appellee.

          Christopher L. Eickholt, of Eickholt Law, L.L.C., and Amy A. Miller, of American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Nebraska, for amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska.

          Ryan P. Sullivan, for amicus curiae University of Nebraska Civil Clinical Law Program.

          Heavican, C.J., Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, and Funke, JJ.

          FUNKE, J.


         Kaitlyn N. Coble filed a motion to seal the record of her citation for two misdemeanors which were subsequently dismissed. The county court overruled Coble's motion, and the district court affirmed. We conclude that Coble's motion was not authorized by statute and that thus, the county court lacked jurisdiction to consider the motion. As a result, the district court and this court lack jurisdiction to review the merits of the county court's order. We do not reach the merits of whether Coble would be entitled to have her record sealed were she to use a proper procedure. We vacate the county court and district court orders and dismiss this appeal.


         In 2013, Coble, who was 18 years of age at the time, was issued a uniform complaint and citation for two misdemeanors. After completing a diversion program, the charges were dismissed on the city attorney's motion.

         In 2017, Coble filed a motion in the county court for Lancaster County, under the same case number as her criminal case, captioned as "Motion to Seal Records." It requested that the court issue an "[o]rder making all the records [299 Neb. 437] associated with this case 'non-public' pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-3523." The county court issued an order overruling Coble's motion.

         In doing so, the county court concluded that the procedure utilized by Coble (filing a motion to seal in the criminal case), in spite of having no basis in Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-3523 (Reissue 2016), was authorized by the Nebraska Court of Appeals' opinion in State v. Blair[1]

         The court then concluded that Coble was seeking retroactive application of a recent statutory amendment to § 29-3523, but the court refused to apply it retroactively because it deemed the amendment to be a substantive change. The court then determined that under the version of the statute in effect at the time of the dismissal of Coble's charges, the statute applied only to a "notation of arrest, "[2] not to records of citations. Thus, the court concluded that Coble was not entitled to the relief she sought.

         Coble appealed to the district court, which generally agreed with the county court's analysis and affirmed.


         Coble's two assignments of error, restated and summarized, claim that the district court erred by affirming the county ...

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