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Bramble v. Bramble

Supreme Court of Nebraska

June 21, 2019

James D. Bramble, appellee,
v.
Lori A. Bramble, appellant.

          1. Judgments: Justiciable Issues. Justiciability issues that do not involve a factual dispute present a question of law.

         2. Moot Question: Jurisdiction: Appeal and Error. Although mootness does not prevent appellate jurisdiction, it is a justiciability doctrine that can prevent courts from exercising jurisdiction.

         3. 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.

         4. Moot Question. Mootness refers to events occurring after the filing of a suit which eradicate the requisite personal interest in the resolution of the dispute that existed at the beginning of the litigation.

         5. Moot Question: Words and Phrases. A moot case is one which seeks to determine a question that no longer rests upon existing facts or rights-i.e., a case in which the issues presented are no longer alive.

         6. Moot Question. As a general rule, a moot case is subject to summary dismissal.

         7. Contempt: Moot Question: Appeal and Error. An appeal challenging a finding of civil contempt is rendered moot once the contemnor voluntarily purges the contempt.

         8. Contempt: Appeal and Error. In a civil contempt proceeding, the contemnor has a choice once he or she is found to be in willful contempt of court and a sanction and purge plan is put in place: The contemnor can either seek a stay of the sanction pending an appeal or comply with the purge plan and thereby purge the finding of contempt and end the matter.

         9. Moot Question: Appeal and Error. An appellate court may choose to review an otherwise moot case under the public interest exception if it [303 Neb. 381] involves a matter affecting the public interest or when other rights or liabilities may be affected by its determination.

         10. Moot Question: Words and Phrases. The public interest exception to the mootness doctrine requires consideration of the public or private nature of the question presented, the desirability of an authoritative adjudication for future guidance of public officials, and the likelihood of future recurrence of the same or a similar problem.

         11. Moot Question: Appeal and Error. Application of the public interest exception is inappropriate where the issues presented on appeal do not inherently evade appellate review.

          Appeal from the District Court for Douglas County: W. Russell Bowie III, Judge. Appeal dismissed.

          C.G. (Dooley) Jolly and Travis M. Jacott, of Adams & Sullivan, P.C., L.L.O., for appellant.

          Elizabeth Stuht Borchers and Steven J. Riekes, of Marks, Clare & Richards, L.L.C., for appellee.

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

          STACY, J.

         This appeal stems from civil contempt proceedings in a dissolution action. The primary question presented is whether a contemnor's full compliance with a purge plan renders moot a subsequent appeal of the finding of contempt. We conclude it does, and we dismiss the appeal.

         BACKGROUND

         In January 2016, after a trial, the district court for Douglas County entered a decree dissolving the marriage of James D. Bramble and Lori A. Bramble. Both parties moved to alter or amend the decree, and the court thereafter entered an amended decree on February 22, 2016.

         As relevant to the issues on appeal, the amended decree awarded the parties joint legal custody of their two minor [303 Neb. 382] children, and Lori was awarded primary physical custody. Regarding the marital home, the amended decree provided:

The real estate is awarded to [James] as is. The parties have stipulated that the value of the house is $169, 000. There is $47, 500 of marital equity. [James] shall refinance the house within 60 days of the entry of the Amended Decree to remove [Lori]'s name from the mortgage, and pay [Lori] her share of the equity of $23, 750.00. [Lori] shall have until February 29, 2016, to vacate the residence. [Lori] shall leave the house in good condition, and not remove any fixtures or major appliances (except that [Lori] may remove either the clothes washer or the clothes dryer), on her departure. [James] has been paying the mortgage and all expenses since moving out of the marital home, and shall continue to do so until after he takes possession.
[Lori] shall execute a Quitclaim Deed to [James] releasing her interest in the marital residence, whether said interest is marital, legal, equitable, contractual or otherwise, to be held by her attorney, who shall release the deed to the title company or lending institution to be held in escrow pending the refinancing and payment of the marital equity.

         Contempt Proceedings

         On March 14, 2016, James filed an application for an order to show cause. As relevant to this appeal, James alleged Lori improperly removed several fixtures and items of personal property from the residence. A show cause order was issued, and Lori entered a voluntary appearance.

         After a continuance to permit mediation, the contempt application was taken up on October 24, 2016, with both parties represented by counsel. Evidence was adduced, and the matter was continued to January 10, 2017, so additional evidence could be offered. On January 13, the court entered an order [303 Neb. 383] finding that Lori had willfully violated the provisions of the amended decree in the following respects:

[U]pon her departure, [Lori] removed both the clothes washer and dryer, and replaced the dryer with another unit. Further [Lori] admits to removing the ceiling fans, the dishwasher, range, refrigerator and microwave upon her departure, a direct violation of the Amended Decree, and [Lori] is in [willful] contumacious contempt of this provision.

         The January 13 order established a purge plan, but did not impose a sanction for the contempt. The pertinent portions of the order provided:

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that [Lori] is in [willful] contempt of court for violation [of] paragraph 9(f) of the Amended Decree, and shall appear in Douglas County District Court #504 ... on Monday, March 13, 2017, at 10:30 a.m. for sentencing.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that [Lori] may purge herself of contempt by paying the sum of $3, 573.00 to [James] no later than March 10, 2017.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that [Lori] shall pay to the Clerk of the District Court of Douglas County, Nebraska, the sum of $1, 500.00 as an . . . attorney's fee for [James'] attorney, no later than March 10, 2017.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the parties shall inform the court by the close of business March 10, 2017, whether the sentencing hearing is necessary so that the Douglas County ...

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