In re Interest of Nathaniel M.

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In re Interest of Nathaniel M.

Caselaw No.
Filed on
Friday, November 7, 2014

Summary: The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ (NDHHS) appeal of the Madison County order committing a 13-year old male to the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center (YRTC) was moot since the youth was discharged from the YRTC during the pendency of the appeal and the public interest exception to mootness did not apply.

Nathaniel was born in May 2000 and this appeal consolidated all three of his juvenile court cases. The first case was filed June 12, 2012, the second May 8, 2013 and the third on September 19, 2013. Nathaniel was placed into the custody of the Office of Juvenile Services (OJS) on August 30, 2012, prior to the passage of LB 561. On November 12, 2013, the Madison County Court heard a motion for higher level of placement on the two earlier dockets, and Nathaniel admitted to the third docket. All parties stipulated to placement at the YRTC in Kearney and the court placed Nathaniel at YRTC on intensive supervised probation under all three dockets. Nathaniel was 13 years old.

Two days later, the prosecutor filed a motion for change of disposition on all three dockets, citing NDHHS refusal to accept Nathaniel based on his age. The court refused the request citing Neb. Rev. Stat. 43-285(1)(b)(i) and stating that since Nathaniel was placed in OJS custody prior to July 1, 2013, the prohibition against placing youth under the age of 14 to a YRTC did not apply. NDHHS then appealed on December 9, 2013.

During the pendency of the appeal, Nathaniel was discharged from the YRTC and a reentry hearing was held on January 9, 2014. It is unclear from the order if it was a reentry hearing on all three dockets. NDHHS requested the Court apply the public policy exception to the mootness doctrine, which requires a consideration of three factors: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 similar problem. Focusing on the third factor, the Court reasoned that since the case involved a youth who was committed to OJS prior to July 1, 2013 and that population will continue to decrease, the public policy exception did not apply. OJS contended that it was a large population, but did not provide the court with any actual numbers of youth affected.