Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
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In August 2015, Kiel Cavitt was working for D&D Services, repairing a motor home’s windshield, when he fell from a scaffold onto concrete and fractured his right elbow. He suffered what was known as a “terrible triad” fracture, which had three components: dislocation of the elbow (which can result in ligament injury), fracture of the radial head, and fracture of the ulnar coronoid process. Cavitt had surgery which included an implanted prosthesis for the radial head. The surgeon testified that "typical" complications following terrible triad fracture surgery include pain, decreased range of motion, infection and the "need for further surgery." Cavitt appeared to recover from the surgery, but several months later, he began to experience "shooting electrical pain" in his elbow. Doctors could not determine specifically what was causing the pain, and attempted to manage the pain with medication. Cavitt was unable to return to his former work as a glazier because of restrictions on his use of the arm, and he started a new job delivering pizza. Cavitt sought an order from the Alaska Workers' Compensation Board requiring his employer to pay for medical care for the ongoing elbow issues for the rest of his life. The Board ordered only that the employer “pay future medical costs in accordance with the [Alaska Workers’ Compensation] Act,” and the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decision. The Alaska Supreme Court construed the Commission’s decision as requiring the employer to provide periodic surveillance examinations until another cause displaces the work injury as the substantial cause of the need for this continuing treatment, and with that construction - consistent with the medical testimony - the Court affirmed. View "Cavitt v. D&D Services, LLC d/b/a Novus Auto Glass" on Justia Law

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Joseph Traugott suffered from with diabetes and a related foot condition, and developed an infection in his foot while working at a remote site. He required extensive medical treatment for his foot and did not work since developing the infection. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board decided the worker’s disability and need for medical treatment were compensable based on an expert opinion that work was the sole cause of the condition’s acceleration even if work was not the most significant cause of the worker’s overall condition. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission reversed, because in its' view, the Board had asked the expert misleading questions. The Commission then concluded, based on a different opinion by the same expert, that the worker had not provided sufficient evidence to support his claim. Traugott appealed, raising issues about the interpretation of the new causation standard adopted in the 2005 amendments to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act (Act) and its application to his case. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the Commission’s decision and remanded for reinstatement of the Board’s award. View "Traugott v ARCTEC Alaska" on Justia Law

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A police officer applied for a Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) for several years when he was not eligible to receive one. Following an investigation, the Executive Director of the Alaska Police Standards Council petitioned the Council to revoke the officer’s police certificate on the ground that he lacked good moral character. An administrative law judge recommended against revoking the certificate, finding that the officer’s mistakes were not sufficient to demonstrate dishonesty or a lack of respect for the law. The Council, however, concluded that the officer’s hearing testimony - that he would fill out the applications in the same way if he had to do it over again - showed dishonesty and a lack of respect for the law, and it therefore revoked his certificate. The superior court agreed with the administrative law judge’s analysis of the evidence and the law and reversed the Council’s decision. The Council appeals. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the evidence disproportionately supported the finding of the administrative law judge that the police officer’s PFD applications and hearing testimony, while mistaken about the law, were not sufficient to raise substantial doubts about the officer’s good moral character. The Court affirmed the superior court's decision reversing the Council's revocation of the police certificate. View "Alaska Police Standards Council v. Maxwell" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from the State’s action limiting the people's constitutional right to legislate directly by initiative. A proposed initiative instituting three substantive changes to Alaska's election laws was submitted to the lieutenant governor for review, certification and printing signature booklets. Determining the initiative violated a constitutional requirement that proposed initiative bills be confined to one subject, the lieutenant governor denied certification. The initiative's sponsors filed an action in superior court to challenge that decision. The superior court concluded, contrary to the lieutenant governor, that the initiative's various provisions were confined to the single subject of "election reform" and it accordingly should have been certified. The Court directed the State distribute petition booklets for the sponsors to collect signatures for placing the initiative on a future election ballot. The lieutenant governor and State elections officials appealed the superior court decision. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the superior court correctly adhered to the Supreme Court's prior interpretation of the relevant provisions of the constitution. Furthermore, the Court rejected the request to reverse precedent that the people's power to initiate laws generally was equivalent to that of the legislature. View "Meyer v. Alaskans for Better Elections" on Justia Law

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Gregory Weaver worked at remote sites for ARCTEC Alaska1 off and on for several years as a relief station mechanic. His job involved heavy labor, and he filed several reports of injury during the times he worked for ARCTEC. He reported in December 2010 that he had “pulled something in the lower spinal area” while adjusting tire chains on a dump truck. He filed another injury report related to his back in early 2012, after he experienced back pain while installing garage door panels. Weaver passed “fit for duty” physical examinations after both of these injuries. In 2013, however, he woke up one morning with back pain that made it hard for him to walk. He said his back pain “had been building up for several months,” but he could not identify a specific task related to the onset of pain. He said “the majority of the heavy lifting” he did that summer had been at Indian Mountain, but he described work at Barter Island as including significant shoveling and pushing wheelbarrows of rocks over difficult surfaces. He thought the camp bed provided inadequate back support. He asked to be flown out because of his back pain and has not worked since. Weaver began receiving About six months later his employer controverted all benefits based on a medical opinion that the work caused only workers’ compensation benefits after experiencing severe low back pain at a remote job site. About six months later his employer controverted all benefits based on a medical opinion that the work caused only a temporary aggravation of a preexisting condition. Weaver the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board to join a prior back injury claim against the same employer. Following a lengthy and complex administrative process, the Board denied the worker’s claim for additional benefits, and the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decision. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the Board's and Commission's decisions. View "Weaver v. ASRC Federal Holding Co." on Justia Law

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In August 2013 the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT) entered into a contract with Osborne Construction Company to upgrade the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting building at the Fairbanks International Airport to withstand damage in the event of an earthquake. The DOT appealed a superior court decision reversing the agency's decision in an administrative appeal. The agency denied a contractor’s claim for additional compensation because the claim was filed outside the filing period allowed by the contract. After applying its independent judgment to interpret the contract, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the DOT that the contractor failed to file its claim within the period allowed. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the superior court’s decision and reinstated the agency’s. View "Alaska, Dept. of Transportation & Public Facilities v. Osborne Construction Co." on Justia Law

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In early December 2018, Jan K. gave birth to Ada K. in Anchorage. Within a few days the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took emergency custody of Ada and filed an emergency petition to adjudicate her as a child in need of aid. OCS identified Ralph W. As Ada's father. Jan had reported that Ralph was the "biological father" and that he "had intended to be at the hospital for the birth." Jan and Ralph did not live together, but both lived in Wasilla. According to OCS, Ralph said he had known Jan for “approximately one year”; Ralph “was aware of the pregnancy and was certain that he was the father and wanted the child to be placed with him.” OCS also asserted that Ralph said he had been present at all of Jan’s prenatal appointments and they planned to marry. According to OCS, Ralph explained he had not been present at the birth because Jan had been unable to call him, and no one else had called him. OCS noted that Ralph took a paternity test that day. While the parties concurred Ada should have been placed with Ralph, OCS declined until paternity test results were received. At the time of the hearing, the results were not in. The parties nonetheless stipulated, subject to the pending paternity test results, that Ada be placed with Ralph and that “if it turns out that [Ralph] is not the father, [OCS] will have the authority to immediately remove [Ada].” The Office of Public Advocacy petitioned for the Alaska Supreme Court's review of the trial court's appointment order. Within a week, the paternity test results excluded Ralph as Ada's father, and an order disestablishing paternity was entered. Despite the issue being moot, the Supreme Court granted OPA's petition for review to clarify the appointment of counsel in this context. The primary issue for review reduced to whether a putative father’s parentage could be judicially established by “sufficient evidence” presented to the superior court — or must be established by scientific, genetic testing — to allow appointment of public agency counsel to the putative father in a CINA proceeding. The Court concluded that a judicial determination of paternity did not necessarily need underlying scientific, genetic testing in this context, and affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Office of Public Advocacy v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The respondent in an involuntary commitment proceeding, "Meredith B.," appealed the ex parte order authorizing her hospitalization for evaluation and the subsequent 30-day commitment order. Respondent argued that the screening investigation was inadequate because she was not interviewed. She asserted that, as a result, both the order hospitalizing her for evaluation and the 30-day commitment order should have been reversed and vacated. Further, she challenged the 30-day commitment order finding she was (1) "gravely disabled" and there (2) was a reasonable expectation she could improve with treatment. After review of the order at issue, the Alaska Supreme Court found the superior court's decision was supported by clear and convincing evidence. "If there was an error during the screening investigation, the error was harmless, because the respondent had the opportunity to testify at the 30-day commitment hearing." View "In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of M.B." on Justia Law

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The plaintiff in this case, M.M, was incapacitated, and in July 2014, a superior court appointed the Alaska Office of Public Advocacy (OPA) as guardian. Plaintiff raised several issues in a complaint filed on his behalf by a next friend - issues regarding the caseloads of OPA workers, the lack of standards of practice for OPA workers, and OPA not visiting its wards quarterly as required by statute. Plaintiff requested class certification, a declaratory judgment, and injunctive relief. The superior court granted summary judgment against plaintiff on all issues except one, and the parties proceeded with discovery and briefing on the issue whether OPA had met its statutory requirement to visit plaintiff on a quarterly basis. After the parties stipulated to a set of facts, the superior court granted OPA’s motion for summary judgment on the remaining issue. OPA moved for attorney’s fees, which the court granted but reduced, and the court entered final judgment in favor of OPA. Plaintiff appealed, arguing the superior court improperly interpreted the statutes addressing to whom OPA may delegate duties, erred by awarding attorney’s fees, and erred by holding the plaintiff’s next friend personally liable for fees. Because the superior court properly interpreted the statutes at issue, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed its ruling that OPA could contract with service providers to help satisfy its statutory visitation duty. As to the attorney’s fees award, the Supreme Court concluded it was error to hold plaintiff’s next friend personally liable for fees. The matter was remanded for the superior court to reconsider whether to impose fees on plaintiff, given that the next friend was no longer personally liable. View "M.M. v. Alaska Dept. of Admin." on Justia Law

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Several Alaska Department of Corrections inmates challenged the DOC's policy to charge for local telephone calls, arguing the rates they and call recipients had to pay for calls violated their constitutional right to rehabilitation, their statutory right to reasonable telephone access, and DOC’s contractual obligations under a prior settlement and consent decree. In addition, one of the prisoners challenged DOC officers’ decision to deny him access to a computer programming book he ordered from outside the prison. He contended that DOC placed a content-specific restriction on the educational materials and publications prisoners were allowed, violating the Alaska Constitution’s free speech provisions as well as prisoners’ right to reformation. Each of these challenges reached the Alaska Supreme Court after inmates exhausted the administrative process from prison. Inmates then appealed to the superior court, which denied relief. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the superior court record did not provide enough evidence for it to meaningfully determine the reasonableness of the rates charged inmates for local telephone calls; therefore the Court reversed denial of relief and remanded for further fact-finding by the trial court. The Court concluded that the facility's restrictions on programming-related books were rationally related to a legitimate interest, and because they did not infringe on the right to rehabilitation, it affirmed denial of a prisoner's motion to enforce his claimed right to a particular text about computer programming. View "Antenor v. Alaska, Department of Corrections" on Justia Law