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Hawley v. Skradski

Supreme Court of Nebraska

November 15, 2019

Kim Hawley, appellant,
v.
John Skradski, appellee.

         1. Judgments: Jurisdiction: Appeal and Error. When a jurisdictional issue does not involve a factual dispute, determination of a jurisdictional issue is a matter of law which requires an appellate court to reach a conclusion independent from the trial court's; however, when a determination rests on factual findings, a trial court's decision on the issue will be upheld unless the factual findings concerning jurisdiction are clearly incorrect.

         2. Actions: Parties: Standing. Whether a party who commences an action has standing and is therefore the real party in interest presents a jurisdictional issue.

         3. Jurisdiction: Standing. Because the requirement of standing is fundamental to a court's exercise of subject matter jurisdiction, either a litigant or a court can raise the question of standing at any time.

         4. Standing. The stage of the litigation in which a party claims that its opponent lacks standing affects how a court should dispose of the claim.

         5. Standing: Pleadings: Words and Phrases. If a motion challenging standing is made at the pleadings stage, it is considered a "facial challenge" and a court will review the pleadings to determine whether there are sufficient allegations to establish the plaintiff's standing.

         6. Standing: Jurisdiction: Pleadings: Evidence: Proof: Words and Phrases. If a motion challenging standing, and thus the court's subject matter jurisdiction, is raised after the pleadings stage and the court holds an evidentiary hearing and reviews evidence outside the pleadings, it is considered a "factual challenge" and the party opposing the challenge must offer evidence to support its burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction.

         7. Jurisdiction: Pleadings: Appeal and Error. Where the trial court's decision on a question of subject matter jurisdiction is based on a factual [304 Neb. 489] challenge, the court's factual findings are reviewed under the clearly erroneous standard. But aside from any factual findings, the trial court's ruling on subject matter jurisdiction is reviewed de novo, because it presents a question of law.

         8. Actions: Parties. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-301 (Reissue 2016) establishes an absolute requirement that all actions be brought in the name of the real party in interest, and the only allowable exceptions to this rule are set forth in Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-304 (Reissue 2016).

         9.___:___. Construed together, Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-304 (Reissue 2016) and Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-302 (Reissue 2016) permit an assignee of a chose in action to maintain an action thereon in the assignee's own name when the assignment being sued upon is in writing.

         10. Jurisdiction. Whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction is a threshold issue that should be resolved prior to an examination of the merits.

         11. Actions: Parties: Standing. Because Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-304 (Reissue 2016) allows assignees of choses in action to "sue on any claim assigned in writing," evidence of an oral assignment of a chose in action is insufficient as a matter of law to confer standing to sue on the assignee.

         12. Jurisdiction: Appeal and Error. When a lower court does not gain jurisdiction over the case before it, an appellate court also lacks the jurisdiction to review the merits of the claim.

          Appeal from the District Court for Douglas County: James T. Gleason, Judge.

          Scott A. Lautenbaugh, of Law Offices of Scott Lautenbaugh, for appellant.

          Michael J. O'Bradovich, PC, for appellee.

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

          STACY, J.

         Kim Hawley brought this civil action against John Skradski for breach of contract, conversion, and tortious interference with a business relationship or expectation. A jury trial was held, and at the close of Hawley's case in chief, the district court granted Skradski's motion for a directed verdict. Hawley appeals. Because we find Hawley lacked standing to bring the action in his own name, we vacate the district court's judgment and dismiss the appeal.

         [304 Neb. 490] BACKGROUND

         Hawley's Complaint

         Hawley filed this lawsuit against Skradski in the district court for Douglas County on October 28, 2015. Hawley is the only named plaintiff. Hawley's complaint alleged he purchased a heating and air conditioning (HVAC) business from an entity affiliated with Skradski in 2008 and operated that HVAC business on premises leased from Skradski. The complaint alleged that in July 2011, Hawley ceased operating the HVAC business and vacated the leased premises. It further alleged that thereafter, Skradski "took possession of the premises" and "[u]nbeknownst to [Hawley] and without his authorization, [Skradski] began operating the business he had sold to [Hawley]" using the same premises. Hawley alleged that Skradski converted "payments, work orders, business lists, contacts, contracts and the like, and converted various other assets of the business to his use" and that this "caused the value of the business to decrease." Hawley sought to recover damages in an unspecified amount, relying on theories of breach of contract, conversion, and tortious interference with a business relationship or expectation.

         Skradski's Answer

         Skradski's answer generally denied the allegations of the complaint and specifically denied having sold the HVAC business to Hawley individually. Instead, Skradski's answer alleged that in 2008, he sold the HVAC business to KNR Capital Corp. (KNR) and leased the business premises to the same corporate entity. In addition, Skradski's answer alleged that Hawley's complaint ...


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