Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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The superior court terminated a father’s parental rights to his son, finding that the child was in need of aid because of abandonment, neglect, and the father’s incarceration and that the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) had satisfied its statutory obligation to make reasonable efforts to reunify parent and child. The father appealed, arguing these findings were unsupported by the evidence. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the father: the record showed he initiated efforts to visit the child, who was already in OCS custody, as soon as he learned of his possible paternity; that during the father’s subsequent incarceration he had visitation as often as OCS was able to provide it; and that OCS never created a case plan to direct the father’s efforts toward reunification. The Supreme Court concluded it was clear error to find that the child was in need of aid and that OCS made reasonable efforts toward reunification, and reversed the termination decision. View "Duke S. v. Alaska, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

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Steven Levi appealed a superior court decision affirming a Department of Labor and Workforce Development order requiring him to repay several months of unemployment insurance benefits plus interest and penalties because he under-reported his weekly income while receiving benefits. Based on a Department handbook, Levi argued he was not required to report his wages unless he earned more than $50 per day. The Alaska Supreme Court determined Levi’s reading of the handbook was unreasonable. Nonetheless, the governing statute required a reduction in benefits whenever a claimant’s wages were more than $50 per week. Levi made other arguments, but the Court found no merit to any of them. The Court affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Levi v. State, Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development" on Justia Law

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Kevin Patterson has been incarcerated since 2013, having been convicted after a bench trial of seven counts of possession of child pornography. In May 2015 Patterson filed a 121-page civil complaint in superior court in Juneau. The complaint named as defendants the governor and his predecessor, the Alaska Legislature, a state senator, the then-current and two former attorneys general, an assistant attorney general, an attorney with the Office of Public Advocacy, and the State of Alaska. The complaint alleged that these state officials and entities had “directly harmed . . . Patterson in numerous ways and [had] violated his Constitutional Rights over and over.” It sought damages for Patterson’s incarceration, violence and emotional distress he allegedly suffered while in prison, and the alleged denial of medical care. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of Patterson’s complaint, holding a civil suit for damages allegedly caused by a criminal conviction or sentence may not be maintained if judgment for the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of the conviction or sentence, unless the conviction or sentence has first been set aside in the course of the criminal proceedings. The Court also rejected Patterson’s claim that the superior court demonstrated an unfair bias against him. View "Patterson v. Walker" on Justia Law

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Appellant Ronda Marcy, resident of Matanuska-Susitna Borough, filed suit against the borough and citizens who had sponsored a borough ballot initiative prohibiting commercial marijuana businesses. The suit, filed 32 days before the borough election, sought declaratory and injunctive relief that the initiative was unconstitutional and unlawful and should be removed from the election ballot. Given the imminent election, the superior court ordered the case held in abeyance pending the initiative vote’s outcome. After borough voters rejected the initiative, the court dismissed the case as moot. Marcy appealed, arguing the merits of her declaratory judgment claim should have been heard under the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine and that the superior court issued procedurally defective orders, violated her due process rights, and erroneously awarded attorney’s fees against her. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court because it did not abuse its discretion in its procedural decisions; the resident’s due process rights were not violated; the Court declined to invoke the public interest exception to address the moot claims; and the resident failed to properly bring her attorney’s fees appeal. View "Marcy v. Matanuska-Susitna Borough" on Justia Law

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The Lum family sued two police officers and the North Slope Borough for trespass and invasion of privacy after an allegedly unlawful entry into the Lums’ home. The superior court dismissed both claims on summary judgment, reasoning that the officers were protected by qualified immunity under state law because the Lums had not produced sufficient evidence that the officers acted in bad faith. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision because there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether they acted in bad faith. View "Lum v. Koles" on Justia Law

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A taxi driver injured in an accident while working filed a report with the Alaska Workers' Compensation Board. The nature of the relationship between the taxi company and the driver was disputed. The driver retained an attorney for a lawsuit against the other driver, and settled that claim with the other driver's insurance company without his taxi company's approval. Because the taxi company did not have workers' compensation insurance, the Alaska Workers' Compensation Benefits Guaranty Fund assumed responsibility for adjusting the workers' compensation claim. The Fund asked the Board to dismiss the taxi driver's claim because of the unapproved settlement. The Board dismissed the claim, and the Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission ultimately affirmed the Board's decision. The taxi driver appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the Commission's decision. View "Atkins v. Inlet Transportation & Taxi Service, Inc." on Justia Law

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After an involuntary commitment trial, the superior court issued an order committing respondent Darren M. to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) for 90 days. He appealed, arguing the jury was incorrectly instructed on the unanimity requirement relating to a finding of grave disability. He also argued the court erred in finding there was sufficient evidence that his condition would improve with treatment to support an involuntary commitment order. On the second issue, respondent's appeal raised questions regarding the applicable legal standard. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded any error in the jury instructions was invited error, that the superior court applied the correct legal standard regarding respondent’s chance of improvement, and that the court’s finding on that issue was supported by the record and not clearly erroneous. View "In Re Darren M." on Justia Law

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Frank Griswold submitted public records requests to the City of Homer, seeking all records of communications between members of the Homer Board of Adjustment, City employees, and attorneys for the City leading up to the Board’s decision in a separate case involving Griswold. He also requested attorney invoices to the City for a six-month period. Citing various privileges, the City Manager refused to provide any records of communications surrounding the Board’s decision; the Manager provided some complete invoices but provided only redacted versions of some invoices and completely withheld some invoices. Griswold appealed the partial denial of his records request to the City Council; the Council affirmed, and Griswold appealed to the superior court. The superior court substantially affirmed. Griswold then turned to the Alaska Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed with respect to the communications relating to the Board’s decision, but vacated and remanded the attorney invoices issue for further analysis. View "Griswold v. Homer City Council" on Justia Law

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In 2016, a recount was ordered to settle a very close Alaska Democratic Party primary election for House District 40. Dean Westlake was declared the victor by eight votes. The defeated candidate, Benjamin Nageak, brought two legal challenges to the primary results. He and four others contested the election in the superior court pursuant to AS 15.20.540. He also filed a direct appeal of the recount with the Alaska Supreme Court pursuant to AS 15.20.510. The Supreme Court stayed the direct appeal and, after a trial, the superior court granted relief on the election contest. The court found that election officials in Shungnak, who gave ballots for both the Alaska Democratic Party and Alaska Republican Party primaries to every voter, had committed malconduct that changed the outcome of the election. The court ordered the Director of the Division of Elections to certify Nageak as the winner after proportionately reducing the votes from Shungnak. The Division and Westlake appealed the superior court’s rulings against them. Nageak cross-appealed the court’s rulings against him. The Supreme Court consolidated the appeal from the superior court in the election contest with the recount appeal from the Division, and reversed the superior court’s decision and reinstated the Director’s certification of Westlake as the winner of the election. View "Nageak v. Mallott" on Justia Law

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An oil and gas lessee conducted drilling activity on the last day of the lease term; the lease provided that such activity would extend the term. Two days later, however, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sent the lessee a notice that his lease had expired. The lessee suspended drilling activities and asked DNR to reconsider its decision and reinstate the lease. DNR reinstated the lease several weeks later. The lessee contended that the reinstatement letter added new and unacceptable conditions to the lease, and pursued administrative appeals. Six months later DNR terminated the lease on grounds that the lessee had failed to diligently pursue drilling following the lease’s reinstatement. The superior court reversed DNR’s termination decision, finding DNR had materially breached the lease by reinstating it with new conditions. Both DNR and the lessee appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. The Supreme Court concluded that although DNR breached the lease in its notice of expiration, it cured the breach through reinstatement. And DNR’s subsequent decision to terminate the lease was supported by substantial evidence that the lessee failed to diligently pursue drilling activities following reinstatement. Further, the Court concluded neither DNR nor the superior court erred in failing to address the lessee’s damages claim. The Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision reinstating the lease and affirmed DNR’s termination decision. View "Alaska, Dept. of Natural Resources v. Alaskan Crude Corporation" on Justia Law