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Heiden v. Norris

Supreme Court of Nebraska

June 8, 2018

Frederick Heiden and Ann Heiden, Husband and Wife, Appellees,
v.
Tracy J. Norris, Appellant.

         1. Visitation: Appeal and Error. Determinations concerning grandparent visitation are initially entrusted to the discretion of the trial court, whose determinations on appeal will be reviewed de novo on the record and affirmed in the absence of an abuse of the trial court's discretion.

         2. Standing. Under the doctrine of standing, a court may decline to determine the merits of a legal claim because the party advancing it is not properly situated to be entitled to its judicial determination.

         3. Statutes. Statutory interpretation presents a question of law.

         4. Statutes: Appeal and Error. Statutory language is to be given its plain and ordinary meaning, and an appellate court will not resort to interpretation to ascertain the meaning of words which are plain, direct, and unambiguous.

         5. Statutes: Legislature: Intent. In discerning the meaning of a statute, a court determines and gives effect to the purpose and intent of the Legislature as ascertained from the entire language considered in its plain, ordinary, and popular sense.

         6. Statutes. A court must attempt to give effect to all parts of a statute, and if it can be avoided, no word, clause, or sentence will be rejected as superfluous or meaningless.

         7. ___. The whole and every part of a statute must be considered in fixing the meaning of any of its parts.

         8. Statutes: Intent. In construing a statute, a court looks to the statutory objective to be accomplished, the evils and mischiefs sought to be remedied, and the purpose to be served. A court must then reasonably or liberally construe the statute to achieve the statute's purpose, rather than construing it in a manner that defeats the statutory purpose.

         9. Statutes: Courts. Generally, statutes in derogation of the common law are to be strictly construed.

         [300 Neb. 172] 10. Visitation: Statutes: Courts. Grandparent visitation did not exist at common law, and thus should be strictly limited to the definition provided by law.

          Appeal from the District Court for Hamilton County: Rachel A. Daugherty, Judge.

          James M. Buchanan, P.C., L.L.O., for appellant.

          Scott D. Grafton, of Grafton Law Office, P.C., L.L.O., for appellees.

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

          HEAVICAN, C.J.

         INTRODUCTION

         Frederick Heiden and Ann Heiden filed a complaint to establish grandparent visitation. Visitation was granted. Tracy J. Norris, the biological father of the children impacted by the order, has appealed. The primary issue on appeal is whether the Heidens are grandparents for purposes of the grandparent visitation statutes, Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 43-1801 to 43-1803 (Reissue 2016). We vacate the order of visitation and remand the cause with directions to dismiss.

         BACKGROUND

         Tracy and Katherine Norris were divorced in 2016 in Hamilton County, Nebraska. The couple had three children together. Katherine died on July 14, 2016. Since that time, the children have resided with Tracy in Fort Collins, Colorado; the Heidens live in Hampton, Nebraska. The record includes a partial transcript from Tracy and Katherine's divorce proceeding in which the Heidens acknowledge that they were not Katherine's legal (adoptive or biological) parents, but had raised Katherine since she was 3 years of age.

         On October 21, 2016, the Heidens sought grandparent visitation, alleging that they were

[300 Neb. 173] grandparents of the minor children as the context requires as they have acted as the grandparents of the minor children during their entire lives. Prior to the death of the minor children's mother, a significant beneficial relationship existed between the minor children and the [Heidens] as they resided together from approximately November of 2013 to July 14th, 2016 and ...

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