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Eadie v. Leise Properties, LLC

Supreme Court of Nebraska

June 1, 2018

Rachel Eadie and Jeffrey Blount, individually and as parents and natural guardians of their minor children, jaden and zarah, appellants.
v.
Leise Properties, LLC, and Certified Properties Management, Inc., appellees.

         1. Motions to Dismiss: Appeal and Error. An appellate court reviews a district court's order granting a motion to dismiss de novo, accepting the allegations in the complaint as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.

         2. Negligence. The question whether a legal duty exists for actionable negligence is a question of law dependent on the facts in a particular situation.

         3. Judgments: Appeal and Error. When reviewing questions of law, an appellate court has an obligation to resolve the questions independently of the conclusion reached by the trial court.

         4. Pleadings: Appeal and Error. An appellate court reviews a district court's denial of a motion for leave to amend a complaint for an abuse of discretion. However, an appellate court reviews de novo an underlying legal conclusion that the proposed amendments would be futile.

         5. Actions: Pleadings: Notice. Civil actions are controlled by a liberal pleading regime; a party is only required to set forth a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and is not required to plead legal theories or cite appropriate statutes so long as the pleading gives fair notice of the claims asserted.

         6. Motions to Dismiss: Pleadings. To prevail against a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. In cases in which a plaintiff does not or cannot allege specific facts showing a necessary element, the factual allegations, taken as true, are nonetheless plausible if they suggest the existence of the element and [300 Neb. 142] raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the element or claim.

         7. Negligence: Damages: Proximate Cause. In order to prevail in a negligence action, a plaintiff must establish the defendant's duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, a failure to discharge that duty, and damages proximately caused by the failure to discharge that duty.

         8. Negligence. The threshold issue in any negligence action is whether the defendant owes a legal duty to the plaintiff.

         9. Pleadings. A district court's denial of leave to amend pleadings is appropriate only in those limited circumstances in which undue delay, bad faith on the part of the moving party, futility of the amendment, or unfair prejudice to the nonmoving party can be demonstrated.

         10. Motions to Dismiss: Limitations of Actions. A dismissal without prejudice means that another petition may be filed against the same parties upon the same facts as long as it is filed within the applicable statute of limitations.

         11. Motions to Dismiss: Claim Preclusion. A dismissal with prejudice operates as a rejection of the plaintiff's claims on the merits and claim preclusion bars further litigation.

         12. Motions to Dismiss: Pleadings. As a general rule, when a court grants a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a party should be given leave to amend absent undue delay, bad faith, unfair prejudice, or futility.

         13. Appeal and Error. An appellate court is not obligated to engage in an analysis which is not needed to adjudicate the controversy before it.

          Appeal from the District Court for Douglas County: Thomas A. Otepka, Judge. Reversed and remanded with direction.

          James Martin Davis, of Davis Law Office, for appellants.

          Stephen G. Olson II, Robert S. Keith, and Kristina J. Kamler, of Engles, Ketcham, Olson & Keith, P.C., for appellee Leise Properties, LLC.

          Patrick S. Cooper, David J. Stubstad, and Brandon J. Crainer, of Fraser Stryker, PC, L.L.O., for appellee Certified Property Management, Inc.

          Heavican, C.J., Miller-Lerman, Cassel, and Stacy, JJ., and Luther and O'Gorman, District Judges.

          [300 Neb. 143] PER CURIAM.

         INTRODUCTION

         A natural gas explosion at a rental house injured the next-door neighbors and destroyed the neighbors' house, and they sued based upon a negligence theory. Less than 5 months after the action commenced, without providing a postresponse opportunity to amend and based upon a no-duty-owed conclusion, the district court dismissed the neighbors' amended complaint with prejudice. Because amendment to state a claim was plausible, the district court abused its discretion in dismissing the complaint with prejudice. We reverse, and remand with direction.

         BACKGROUND

         The rental house next door to the house where Rachel Eadie and Jeffrey Blount and their children (collectively the neighbors) resided blew up on July 25, 2016. The neighbors sued the rental house's landowner, Leise Properties, LLC, and its property manager, Certified Property Management, Inc. The suit was filed on December 15, 2016. On January 27, 2017, before any response was filed, the neighbors filed an amended complaint, which we summarize.

         Amended Complaint

         The amended complaint was not a model of clarity, particularly regarding the allegations of negligence. But some of the basic allegations were clear. The rental house that blew up was located at 3858 North 68th Street in Omaha, Nebraska. The neighbors' address was 3862 North 65th Street, contiguous to the rental house property. The neighbors' house was destroyed, and they suffered personal injuries in the explosion.

         Sometime prior to the date of the explosion, the landowner and its property manager had evicted tenants from the rental house. The evicted tenants removed items from the rental house, including a gas clothes dryer that did not belong to the tenants. The tenants allegedly removed the dryer without properly terminating and blocking the gas connection, and natural [300 Neb. 144] gas was allowed to seep into and fill the rental house. On July 25, 2016, when an agent of the property manager entered the rental house, the gas ignited and the rental house exploded. The force of the explosion destroyed the neighbors' house and caused personal injuries to the neighbors.

         Regarding duty, the amended complaint alleged that the landowner delegated to the property manager "duties . . . of reasonable care." The amended complaint stated that the evicted tenants were "permitted to remove property and to disconnect the gas dryer without permission to do so without proper supervision and due diligence and care by failing to monitor, observe, and to prevent the gas leakage." Later, the complaint stated that the landowner and its property manager "acted in reckless disregard for the safety of neighbors . . . by failing to properly monitor the actions of the tenants who were permitted to re-enter the . . . rental home after eviction and to cause gas to escape." It also stated that the "seepage of gas is one duty that the [landowner and property manager] evaded and permitted to occur." The complaint next alleged a duty to "properly maintain and pursue ...


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