On Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court issued a decision that strengthens the authority of juvenile courts in Nebraska to hold HHS in contempt when the Department willfully fails to comply with orders designed to serve the best interests of children. The case involved an order by the Cheyenne County Court, sitting as a juvenile court, requiring HHS to place a juvenile in a placement that included counseling for the child at least three times per week. When such counseling did not occur, HHS was ordered to pay $400 per day until it provided written verification that the juvenile was receiving counseling as previously ordered. HHS complied with the order shortly after being found in contempt. However, HHS appealed the contempt order arguing that HHS was immune from such orders.
In its decision, the Nebraska Supreme Court reiterated that, “[the Nebraska juvenile code] has been read to grant broad authority to juvenile courts to make orders which are in the best interests of juveniles under their jurisdiction” and held in this case that “the juvenile court had authority to find DHHS in contempt of its properly issued placement order.” The appeal in this case was ultimately dismissed because the Supreme Court determined the juvenile court’s order was not specific enough and did not give DHHS the necessary notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard. The Supreme Court also determined that a second order requiring DHHS to provide the court with proof of payment for the juvenile’s placement did not interfere with the state’s right to contract and therefore was not an appealable order. The Nebraska Supreme Court’s dismissal of this case was based on the technical aspects of this particular case, and does not limit the broader conclusion regarding the authority of the juvenile court generally.
Nebraska Appleseed is pleased that this decision by the Nebraska Supreme Court recognized the ability of the juvenile courts to insure that court orders promoting the best interests of children will be followed. The Supreme Court’s decision made clear that the juvenile court can hold DHHS accountable if they fail to follow a court order, just as any other party in a court proceeding would be held accountable for willful failure to comply with a court order.