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Chase County v. City of Imperial

Supreme Court of Nebraska

March 8, 2019

Chase County, a political subdivision of the State of Nebraska, appellee,
v.
City of Imperial, a political subdivision of the State of Nebraska, appellant.

         1. Summary Judgment: Appeal and Error. In reviewing a summary judgment, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the judgment was granted and gives such party the benefit of all reasonable inferences deducible from the evidence.

         2. Declaratory Judgments: Appeal and Error. In an appeal from a declaratory judgment, an appellate court, regarding questions of law, has an obligation to reach its conclusion independently of the conclusion reached by the court below.

         3. Administrative Law: Statutes: Appeal and Error. The interpretation of statutes and regulations presents questions of law, in connection with which an appellate court has an obligation to reach an independent conclusion irrespective of the decision made by the court below.

         4. Declaratory Judgments: Justiciable Issues. Declaratory judgments are available when a present actual controversy exists, all interested persons are parties to the proceedings, and a justiciable issue exists for resolution.

         5. Justiciable Issues. A justiciable issue requires a present, substantial controversy between parties having adverse legal interests susceptible to immediate resolution and capable of present judicial enforcement.

         6. Declaratory Judgments: Justiciable Issues. At the time that the declaration is sought, there must be an actual justiciable issue from which the court can declare law as it applies to a given set of facts.

         7. Declaratory Judgments. A declaratory judgment action can afford no relief to one who has failed to pursue a full, adequate, and exclusive statutory remedy.

          [302 Neb. 396] Petition for further review from the Court of Appeals. Pirtle, Riedmann, and Bishop, Judges, on appeal thereto from the District Court for Chase County, David W. Urbom, Judge.

          Joshua J. Wendell, of McQuillan & Wendell, PC, L.L.O., for appellant.

          Arlan G. Wine, Chase County Attorney, for appellee.

          Andre R. Barry and Nathan D. Clark, of Cline, Williams, Wright, Johnson & Oldfather, L.L.P, for amicus curiae League of Nebraska Municipalities.

          Katharine L. Gatewood, Deputy Sarpy County Attorney, for amicus curiae Sarpy County.

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

          Funke, J.

         The issue presented is which governmental agency, under Nebraska's statutory scheme, is financially responsible for medical services received by a person who is arrested, detained, taken into custody, or incarcerated. The district court found that the City of Imperial, Nebraska (Imperial), was responsible for the payment of $436 in medical costs incurred by an arrestee. The Nebraska Court of Appeals reversed the district court's decision and determined Chase County, Nebraska (Chase), to be the responsible party. Upon further review, we determine that declaratory judgment is not available, because the record does not show the existence of a justiciable controversy. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed with directions to reverse and vacate the judgment of the district court.

         BACKGROUND

         At approximately 10:30 p.m. on December 24, 2016, an Imperial police officer arrested an individual for disturbing [302 Neb. 397] the peace and transported him to the Chase County jail for booking. Because the arrestee was heavily intoxicated and belligerent and was unable to answer questions during the booking process, the jail personnel requested that the arrestee be medically cleared before he was admitted into the jail facility. The arresting officer transported the arrestee to the Chase County hospital for a physical examination, which indicated that the arrestee had no medical conditions that would endanger another person or himself if placed in the jail. Shortly after midnight, the arresting officer returned the arrestee to the jail with a medical authorization form, the arrestee cooperated with the booking process, the agencies completed a custody authorization form, and the admission process was finalized.

         Following these events, the hospital submitted a medical bill in the amount of $436 to Chase, and later to Imperial. Each party declined payment and contended that the other party was responsible for the payment.

         District Court

         Chase filed an action for declaratory judgment in district court and moved for summary judgment, seeking a determination that Imperial was solely responsible for the medical charges. The district court granted the motion based on its interpretation of Nebraska's statutory scheme governing the payment of medical services for persons who are arrested, detained, taken into custody, or incarcerated.[1] The court also based its decision on the "Standards for Jail Facilities'' regulations.[2]

         The court's order laid out the relevant statutory provisions, beginning with § 47-701(1), which provides: "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, sections 47-701 to 47-705 shall govern responsibility for payment of the costs of medical services for any person ill, wounded, injured, or otherwise in need [302 Neb. 398] of such services at the time such person is arrested, detained, taken into custody, or incarcerated." Section 47-702 sets forth that the recipient of the medical services, or the individual's insurer or another available source, is primarily responsible for the payment of medical services. Upon a showing that the recipient or its insurer cannot pay the medical provider in whole or in part, § 47-703(1) provides that "the costs of medical services shall be paid by the appropriate governmental agency." The district court proceeded to determine whether Chase or Imperial was "the appropriate governmental agency" to be held responsible for the medical costs.

         The first sentence of § 47-703(2) provides that medical services necessitated by injuries or wounds suffered during the course of apprehension or arrest shall be paid by "the apprehending or arresting agency and not the agency responsible for operation of the institution or facility in which the recipient of the services is lodged." The second sentence of § 47-703(2) provides that "[i]n all other cases, the appropriate governmental agency shall be the agency responsible for operation of the institution or facility in which the recipient of the services is lodged"

         The court determined that the medical charges were not for injuries suffered during the arrest and were not for medical services required for an individual confined in jail. The court articulated that "[t]he determining factor to transfer the obligation from the arresting agency to the ...


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