In re Estate of Mark Anthony Helms, deceased.
Gregory L. Turek et al., appellees. Christopher Helms, Personal Representative of the Estate of Mark Anthony Helms, deceased, appellant,
Summary Judgment: Appeal and Error. An
appellate court will affirm a lower court's grant of
summary judgment if the pleadings and admitted evidence show
that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts or as
to the ultimate inferences that may be drawn from those facts
and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter
In reviewing a summary judgment, an appellate court views the
evidence in the light most favorable to the party against
whom the judgment was granted and gives that party the
benefit of all reasonable inferences deducible from the
Judgments: Issue Preclusion: Appeal and
Error. The applicability of issue preclusion is a
question of law. On a question of law, an appellate court
reaches a conclusion independent of the court below.
Judgments: Issue Preclusion. Issue
preclusion applies where (1) an identical issue was decided
in a prior action, (2) the prior action resulted in a final
judgment on the merits, (3) the party against whom the
doctrine is to be applied was a party or was in privity with
a party to the prior action, and (4) there was an opportunity
to fully and fairly litigate the issue in the prior action.
Decedents' Estates: Venue. Under Neb.
Rev. Stat. § 30-2410(a) (Reissue 2016), venue for
probate is proper in the county where the decedent was
domiciled or, if the decedent was not domiciled in Nebraska,
in any county where property of the decedent was located at
the time of his or her death.
from the County Court for Butler County: C. Jo Petersen,
Neb. 358] Lindsay E. Pedersen and Katherine R. Hall for
Gregory M. Neuhaus and Joseph D. Neuhaus, of Neuhaus Law
Offices, for appellees.
Heavican, C.J., Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, Funke, Papik,
and Freudenberg, JJ.
after the tragic death of Mark Anthony Helms in a terrorist
bombing, his estate obtained a federal court wrongful death
judgment determining that Helms had been domiciled in North
Carolina and that damages would be shared according to that
state's law. After funds were collected on that judgment,
his estate applied to the county court for Butler County,
Nebraska, to distribute them instead under a Nebraska
wrongful death statute. The county court entered summary
judgment, declaring that the proceeds were to be distributed
equally to Helms' parents-being his heirs "as
existed at the time of his death." We conclude that
because of the binding effect of the federal court judgment,
the Nebraska wrongful death statute does not apply and the
county court properly ordered distribution pursuant to the
federal court judgment applying North Carolina law. We affirm
the court's entry of summary judgment.
Death and Judgment On October 23, 1983, the Islamic Republic
of Iran bombed a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. The
bombing killed 241 American servicemen, including Helms.
Helms, who died intestate, was survived by his parents and
Neb. 359] In 1996, an amendment to the Foreign Sovereign
Immunities Act of 1976 allowed victims of state-sponsored
terrorism to bring claims against foreign sovereigns that
would otherwise be immune from civil litigation. In 2001, a
claim for the wrongful death of Helms and other servicemen
was brought in a case filed in the U.S. District Court for
the District of Columbia. The federal court's subsequent
memorandum opinion does not name Helms' personal
representative, but recites that his estate was a party to
the wrongful death action in federal court. At no time did a
personal representative of Helms file an action for wrongful
death in Nebraska.
2007, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
rendered judgment against the Islamic Republic of
Iran.According to the court's opinion, of
the 128 deceased servicemen whose personal representatives
and estates brought wrongful death claims, 123 were domiciled
in North Carolina and none were domiciled in Nebraska.
federal court's opinion specifically stated: "[E]ach
of the deceased servicemen has made out a valid claim for
wrongful death under North Carolina law. Accordingly, those
valid heirs and beneficiaries under North Carolina's
intestate statute are entitled to share in the recovery of
the damages awarded as a result of each serviceman's
untimely death." The court allocated $1, 028, 509 of the
judgment to the wrongful death claim brought by the personal
representative of Helms' estate. Helms' mother died
approximately 5 months prior to the entry of this judgment.
2010, assets belonging to Iran that had been frozen by the
U.S. government were discovered. A federal court allowed
access to the assets, a decision which the U.S. Supreme Court
[302 Neb. 360] later affirmed. In 2016, distribution of the
assets commenced. The amount paid to the estate, after
payment of ...