Law School Case Brief
Spear T Ranch, Inc. v. Knaub - 269 Neb. 177, 691 N.W.2d 116 (2005)
A district court's grant of a motion to dismiss is reviewed de novo. Complaints should be liberally construed in the plaintiff's favor and should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can not prove any set of facts in support of the claim that would entitle him or her to relief. The federal courts have made it clear that a complaint should not be dismissed merely because it does not state with precision all elements that give rise to a legal basis for recovery. As a practical matter, dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) should be granted only in the unusual case in which a plaintiff includes allegations that show on the face of the complaint that there is some insuperable bar to relief.
Spear T Ranch, Inc. (“Spear T”), a surface water appropriator, appealed a district court order dismissing with prejudice its complaint seeking an injunction and damages for the loss of surface water from Pumpkin Creek. The appellees were ground water irrigators in the Pumpkin Creek basin.
On appeal, Spear T argued that it has stated a claim for conversion, injunction, or trespass. The appellees, however, argued that any common-law claims are abrogated by the Nebraska Ground Water Management and Protection Act (GWMPA), Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 46-656.01 through 46-656.67 (Reissue 1998 & ***. Supp. 2002) (now found at Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 46-701 through 46-753 (Reissue 2004)). In the alternative, they argued that the issues should be determined by the North Platte Natural Resources District under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction.
Did the district court err when it dismissed the complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim?
In reversing, the Supreme Court of Nebraska adopted a secondary source's rules regarding disputes between users of hydrologically connected ground water and surface water. Even though the appropriator did not precisely state a claim under this rule, it should have been given leave to amend. Further, the Court determined that the common-law claims were not abrogated by the Nebraska Ground Water Management and Protection Act (GWMPA), Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 46-656.01 through 46-656.67 (Reissue 1998 & Cum. Supp. 2002) (now found at Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 46-701 through 46-753 (Reissue 2004)). The Court rejected the irrigators' argument that the doctrine of primary jurisdiction applied. There was no statute allowing natural resources districts to award damages; they could have only entered a cease and desist order. Further, whether a common-law claim had been stated was a determination properly made by a court. Finally, the appropriator did not fail to join any necessary parties because each joint tortfeasor was liable for all damages to which his conduct had contributed.
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