947 N.W.2d 302 (Neb. 2020), S-19-849, GEM City Bone and Joint, P.C. v. Meister

Docket NºS-19-849.
Citation947 N.W.2d 302, 306 Neb. 710
Opinion JudgeFreudenberg, J.
Party NameGEM CITY BONE AND JOINT, P.C., appellee, v. Michael W. MEISTER and Michael W. Meister, Attorney at Law, P.C., L.L.O., appellants.
AttorneyMichael W. Meister, Scottsbluff, for appellants. Andrew W. Snyder, of Chaloupka, Holyoke, Snyder, Chaloupka & Longoria, P.C., L.L.O., Scottsbluff, for appellee.
Judge PanelHeavican, C.J., Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, Funke, Papik, and Freudenberg, JJ.
Case DateAugust 07, 2020
CourtSupreme Court of Nebraska

Page 302

947 N.W.2d 302 (Neb. 2020)

306 Neb. 710

GEM CITY BONE AND JOINT, P.C., appellee,

v.

Michael W. MEISTER and Michael W. Meister, Attorney at Law, P.C., L.L.O., appellants.

No. S-19-849.

Supreme Court of Nebraska.

August 7, 2020.

Page 303

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1.

Judgments: Jurisdiction: Appeal and Error. A jurisdictional question that does not involve a factual dispute is determined by an appellate court as a matter of law, which requires the appellate court to reach a conclusion independent of the lower court's decision.

2.

Jurisdiction: Appeal and Error. Before reaching the legal issues presented for review, it is the duty of an appellate court to determine whether it has jurisdiction over the matter before it.

3.

Jurisdiction: Final Orders: Appeal and Error. For an appellate court to acquire jurisdiction over an appeal, there must be a final order or final judgment entered by the court from which the appeal is taken.

4.

Judgments: Final Orders: Words and Phrases. A judgment is the final determination of the rights of the parties in an action.

5. __: __: __.A final judgment is one that disposes of the case by dismissing it either before hearing is had upon the merits or after trial by rendition of judgment for the plaintiff or defendant. Conversely, every direction of a court or judge, made or entered in writing and not included in a judgment, is an order.

6.

Judgments. An order on "summary application in an action after judgment" under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-1902 (Supp. 2019) is an order ruling on a postjudgment motion in an action.

7.

Final Orders: Words and Phrases. A "substantial right" is an essential legal right, not a mere technical right.

8.

Final Orders. A substantial right is affected if the order affects the subject matter of the litigation, such as diminishing a claim or defense that was available to an appellant prior to the order from which an appeal is taken.

[306 Neb. 711] 9. __. It is not enough that the right itself be substantial; the effect of the order on that right must also be substantial.

10. __. Whether the effect of an order is substantial depends on whether it affects with finality the rights of the parties in the subject matter.

11.

Final Orders: Appeal and Error. Most fundamentally, an order affects a substantial right when the right would be significantly undermined or irrevocably lost by postponing appellate review.

12. Foreign Judgments: Jurisdiction: Collateral Attack: Presumptions. While it is presumed that a foreign court rendering a judgment had jurisdiction over the parties, a foreign judgment can be collaterally attacked by evidence that the rendering court was without such jurisdiction, so long as the attack is timely done within the framework of the Nebraska Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act.

Appeal from the District Court for Scotts Bluff County: Derek C. Weimer, Judge.

Michael W. Meister, Scottsbluff, for appellants.

Andrew W. Snyder, of Chaloupka, Holyoke, Snyder, Chaloupka & Longoria, P.C., L.L.O., Scottsbluff, for appellee.

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

Freudenberg, J.

NATURE OF CASE

Michael W. Meister and his professional corporation, Michael W. Meister, Attorney at Law, P.C., L.L.O. (individually and collectively Meister), appeal from the denial of his motion to quash and vacate in a garnishment action, which sought to collaterally attack a Wyoming judgment obtained by Gem City Bone and Joint, P.C. (Gem City), against Meister. Earlier in the registration and enforcement process, Meister and his professional corporation challenged the foreign judgment, claiming the Wyoming court lacked personal jurisdiction to enter a judgment against either his professional corporation or himself, personally. The district court rejected their argument and permitted the registration of the foreign order. Meister and his professional corporation failed [306 Neb. 712] to timely appeal the district court's decision. Gem City then requested a garnishment to enforce the registered judgment against Meister individually, which prompted Meister to file a motion to quash the garnishment and to vacate the Wyoming judgment. The district court denied Meister's motion to quash and vacate. Meister appeals.

BACKGROUND

Meister, an attorney in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, represented Alejandra Garza (Alejandra), a minor, in a personal injury matter. During the course of that representation, it was determined that Alejandra needed surgery. The doctor treating Alejandra recommended that the surgery be performed by Gem City in Laramie, Wyoming. Alejandra's father signed an authorization for treatment and an assignment from any potential settlement proceeds to ensure payment of Alejandra's surgery.

Following the surgery, but before settlement occurred, Alejandra's father passed away and Alejandra obtained the age of majority. Upon settlement, Gem City requested the full amount billed for the treatment, $15,337. Meister disputed this billing, claiming that Gem City should have billed Medicaid and that Nebraska law did not permit Gem City to charge above the Medicaid reimbursement rate of $5,112.33.

A settlement was not reached, and Gem City pursued, in Wyoming, a breach of contract action against Meister and his professional corporation to recover the portion of the settlement assigned to them. Meister entered an appearance in Wyoming, filing a "Rule 12" motion to dismiss for (1) lack of subject matter jurisdiction, (2) lack of personal jurisdiction, (3) improper venue, and (4) failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Before the motion was ruled upon, Meister withdrew the lack of venue and subject matter claims.

Gem City's jurisdictional allegations are contained in the pleadings of the original Wyoming action. Such allegations asserted that the assignment to Gem City has Meister's name listed as the attorney of record. The signature block contains [306 Neb. 713] a stamp for "Michael Meister," and the assignment was faxed from Meister's professional corporation's office in Scottsbluff to Gem City. It is further asserted that after receiving the settlement money on the original claim, Meister sent emails to negotiate payment with Gem City. Gem City claims that Meister and his professional corporation's involvement in the assignment and the negotiation emails qualify as directed activities and that Meister and his professional corporation should have expected to be sued in Wyoming in the event of a

Page 307

breach. In addition, Gem City pleads that personal jurisdiction over Meister and his professional corporation was proper because Meister acted in both a personal and professional capacity in representing his client.

There was a hearing on the jurisdiction issue in Wyoming, but the record does not show that any evidence was produced. The district court in Wyoming denied Meister and his professional corporation's motion and proceeded to trial. Neither Meister nor his professional corporation appeared, and the Wyoming court entered default judgment against Meister and his professional corporation, jointly and severally. The Wyoming judgment was not appealed.

Gem City submitted the Wyoming judgment for filing in the district court for Scotts Bluff County pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-1587.03 (Reissue 2016) of the Nebraska Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (NUEFJA).1 Meister and his professional corporation first responded by making a motion to dismiss, claiming that the applicant is not an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Nebraska and that the foreign judgment creditor is a professional corporation. This motion was overruled. Shortly thereafter, Meister and his professional corporation filed a pleading entitled "Response to Foreign Judgment," where they again raised the issue of personal jurisdiction. They claimed that Meister and his professional corporation lacked sufficient contacts with the State [306 Neb. 714] of Wyoming and that "the court lacked jurisdiction, such to offend the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment." The pleading sought the vacation of the foreign judgment.

Following a hearing in which both parties presented evidence, the district court rejected Meister and his professional corporation's argument and found that they had failed to rebut the presumption that the Wyoming court had personal jurisdiction.2 The district court entered an order overruling Meister and his professional corporation's request to vacate, which the court referred to as "overruling their motion to dismiss," and permitted the registration of the Wyoming judgment on March 25, 2019. In the order, the district court made no distinctions between Meister as an individual and Meister's professional corporation.

An appeal was filed on April 25, 2019. However, the Nebraska Court of Appeals determined that the appeal was untimely and dismissed it pursuant to Neb. Ct. R. App. P. § 2-107(A)(2) (rev. 2017).

After registering the judgment, the district court ordered garnishment against Meister personally. There is nothing in the record showing Gem City pursued collection efforts against Meister's professional corporation following the registration of the Wyoming judgment. Meister moved to quash the garnishment and vacate the "judgment registered in the above captioned matter." Once again, Meister raised the argument that the Wyoming court did not have personal jurisdiction over him. Meister also argued that because he had legitimate defenses to the default judgment in Wyoming, the court should vacate the entry of the foreign judgment and allow him to raise his...

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