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Appeals Court rejects ex-trooper's effort to revive lawsuit against former Nebraska State Patrol leader
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Appeals Court rejects ex-trooper's effort to revive lawsuit against former Nebraska State Patrol leader

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The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday refused to revive a former longtime Nebraska State Patrol trooper's lawsuit against former patrol leader Brad Rice.

Todd Steckelberg of Elkhorn, who was a trooper for more than 25 years before retiring, had alleged in the case that Rice had a grudge against him, kept him from promotions and forced him to spend a shift with a chaplain as part of a work-improvement plan.

In March, U.S. District Judge John Gerrard dismissed Steckelberg's complaints, finding the conclusions he had drawn about Rice's motivations were unsupported by facts.

An appeal followed, which led to oral arguments last month in Omaha, where the judges — Duane Benton, Bobby Shepherd and Jane Kelly — honed in on the fact that Steckelberg had been forced to do a ride-along with the chaplain.

Steckelberg's attorney, Joy Shiffermiller, told the judges there could be no other purpose than religious proselytizing for his supervisor to require him to do the ride-along and argued the lawsuit should be allowed to move forward to discovery.

Assistant Nebraska Attorney General David Lopez said an interaction with a chaplain was not, in itself, a violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause, prohibiting the free exercise of religion. There had to be a showing of coercion, he said, which wasn't alleged here.

In a single paragraph decision issued Tuesday, the panel unanimously concluded the dismissal was proper.

"As the district court ruled in its thorough and well-reasoned opinions, the complaints fail to state a claim under federal or Nebraska law," the opinion said. "Further discussion would have no precedential value."

Shiffermiller said Tuesday they are likely to seek a rehearing by the panel and by the circuit court as a whole.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger.

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Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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