Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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Yong Kang lived in North Pole and rented a house from her son Benjamin. She once owned the house, but she sold it to Benjamin about nine months before the events underlying this dispute, because, as she explained, she was getting old and did not know how much longer she would be around. Kang lived in the house with her business partner, Chong Sik Kim. The two operated a massage business in the house called Lee’s Massage, and both had business licenses under that name. Kang asked a neighbor for help with major home repairs in exchange for a used pickup truck. The neighbor injured his wrist while working on the house. A few days later the two had a dispute and terminated their arrangement; Kang paid her neighbor $500 for his work. The neighbor later sought medical treatment for his wrist; he also filed a report of injury and a workers’ compensation claim with the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board. Kang denied liability on several grounds, but the Board decided, after a hearing, that Kang was her neighbor’s employer for purposes of the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act. Kang appealed to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission, which affirmed the Board’s decisions. The Alaska Supreme Court held, however, that the evidence did not support a finding that the woman was her neighbor’s employer, and therefore reversed the Commission’s decision. View "Kang v. Mullins" on Justia Law

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The biological father of three children validly consented to their adoption in the face of parental rights termination proceedings. Five months later he sought to withdraw his consent. The superior court determined that withdrawal of the father’s consent to adoption would not be in the children’s best interests and denied the father permission to withdraw his consent. The father appealed, arguing the superior court clearly erred in finding that withdrawal of his consent was not in his children’s best interests. Because the superior court did not clearly err in this factual determination, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "Dean S. v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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Abigail Caudle was a 26-year-old apprentice electrician when she was electrocuted on the job while working for Raven Electric, Inc. Her mother sought workers’ compensation death benefits or other damages related to her daughter’s death. Acting on the advice of attorneys but representing herself, she brought a claim before the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board, arguing in part that the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act was unconstitutional because it inadequately compensated for her daughter’s life, particularly given the circumstances of her daughter’s death, and because it failed to consider her future dependency on her daughter. The Board denied her claim, and the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decision. The Commission also ordered the mother to pay the employer’s attorney’s fees and costs. The Alaska Supreme Court held that the mother’s constitutional rights are not violated by the Act. However, the Court reversed the Commission’s award of attorney’s fees. View "Burke v. Raven Electric, Inc." on Justia Law

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The City of Juneau kept a campground open through the winter to accommodate the local homeless population. A campground resident was shot and severely injured. He sued the municipality for damages, arguing primarily that the municipality did not do enough to prevent alcohol-related violence at the campground. He also argued that the campground’s caretaker performed his duties negligently, that this negligence precipitated the shooting, and that the municipality was vicariously liable for the caretaker’s actions. The superior court granted summary judgment for the municipality on all claims, concluding the municipality could not, under the doctrine of discretionary function immunity, be liable for any decision requiring “deliberation” and “judgment.” It also concluded that the municipality was not vicariously liable for the caretaker’s alleged negligence because his challenged actions were outside the scope of his employment. The shooting victim appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the application of discretionary function immunity to bar some of his claims was error, as they related to “operational” rather than “planning” decisions. Furthermore, the Court found genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment on the shooting victim’s claims for negligent supervision and vicarious liability. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s judgment in part, reversed it in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Lane v. City & Borough of Juneau" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) found an inmate guilty of making a false statement to a staff member about work he was supposed to do. The inmate was ordered to pay in restitution half the amount of his wages for that work. The inmate appealed, arguing that DOC violated his due process rights by refusing to allow him to call witnesses at his disciplinary hearing. The Alaska Supreme Court recognized prisoners have a constitutional right to call witnesses at a disciplinary hearing and that the hearing officer’s failure to call the inmate's requested witnesses was prejudicial. The disciplinary decision was reversed and the matter remanded for a new hearing. View "Walker v. Alaska Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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An association representing naturopathic physicians challenged a new Alaska regulation that effectively forbade naturopaths from using and prescribing injectable vitamins and minerals. The association argued the statutory definition of naturopathy included the use of dietetics, that dietetics included injectable vitamins and minerals obtained by pharmaceutical prescription, and that the statutory restrictions on the practice of naturopathy prohibited the use of only prescription drugs, not all prescription medicines. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the statutory text, the larger statutory context, and the legislative history together suggest that the legislature did not intend to grant prescriptive authority to naturopaths. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s decision to grant summary judgment against the association on this issue. View "Alaska Association of Naturopathic Physicians v. Alaska Division of Corporations, Business & Professional Licensing" on Justia Law

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Parents appealed a superior court’s order that found the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) had satisfied the Indian Child Welfare Act’s (ICWA) requirements authorizing the removal of their daughter, an Indian child, from their custody. OCS took emergency custody of “Mary” and her older brother Claude in March 2014. It acted following a December 2013 report that Claude had been medivaced out of the family’s village due to alcohol poisoning and that his parents had been too intoxicated to accompany him, and a March 2014 report that Diego and Catharine were intoxicated and fighting in their home. OCS alleged in its emergency petition that the court should make child in need of aid (CINA) findings. At the custody hearing Diego and Catharine stipulated to probable cause that their children were in need of aid under AS 47.10.011, without admitting any of the facts alleged in the petition, and to temporary OCS custody pending an adjudication hearing. The superior court held a disposition hearing over two days in December and January. OCS argued for an order authorizing it to remove the children from their parents’ home; the parents urged the court to grant OCS only the authority to supervise the family. Because the Alaska Supreme Court found the trial court relied on information that was not in evidence to make the required ICWA removal findings, it vacated the order authorizing removal. View "Diego K. v. Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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The Alaska state professional licensing division brought an accusation of professional misconduct against a doctor, alleging that he acted incompetently when he prescribed phentermine and thyroid hormone for one of his patients. The division sought disciplinary sanctions against the doctor. After a hearing, an administrative law judge issued a proposed decision concluding that the division had failed to show that the doctor’s conduct fell below the standard of care in his field of practice and that no disciplinary sanctions were warranted. But the Medical Board instead adopted as its decision the proposal for action submitted by the division and revoked the doctor’s medical license. On appeal to the superior court, the case was remanded to the Board for consideration of the doctor’s own late-filed proposal for action. The Board reaffirmed its decision to revoke the doctor’s medical license, and the superior court affirmed that decision. The doctor appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. Because the Medical Board’s decision to revoke the doctor’s medical license was not supported by substantial evidence, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s affirmance of that decision. View "Odom v. Alaska Division of Corporations, Business & Professional Licensing" on Justia Law

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The superior court dismissed a Child in Need of Aid (CINA) petition because it believed it no longer had jurisdiction over the case after the disposition order granting the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) custody of the child had expired. Before dismissing the CINA petition, the superior court entered removal findings based only on a motion filed by OCS. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded this was error because the removal order was not supported by sufficient evidence and did not comply with the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Court determined jurisdiction over a CINA case was distinct from the grant of custody or supervision to OCS in a disposition order and that it derives from the child’s status as a child in need of aid. The Court reversed the superior court’s order dismissing the petition and remanded for further proceedings. View "Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Services v. Michelle P" on Justia Law

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Kaleb Basey was the subject of a joint criminal investigation conducted by the Alaska State Troopers (AST) and the Fort Wainwright Criminal Investigation Division. He was a party to two federal cases stemming from that investigation. First, Basey was indicted by a federal grand jury in December 2014 and was the defendant in a federal criminal case. Second, Basey brought a federal civil rights lawsuit in January 2016 against more than a dozen named individuals, including AST officers, based on their alleged actions during the investigation and his arrest. Basey filed two public records requests with AST seeking records related to his specific investigation, records related to AST’s use of military search authorizations, and disciplinary and training certification records for two AST investigators who were defendants in the civil case. About a week later AST denied Basey’s requests on the basis that all of the information he requested pertained to pending litigation. Basey appealed to the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety; the Commissioner denied the appeal. The denial letter stated that the requested records “pertain to a matter that is currently the subject of civil and/or criminal litigation to which [Basey is] a party” and that pursuant to AS 40.25.122 the records “continue to be unavailable through [a public records request] and must be obtained in accordance with court rules.” Basey subsequently filed a complaint to compel AST to produce the records. The State filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that two statutory exceptions justified the denial of Basey’s requests. On appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court, Basey argued AST had to comply with his requests for the records he requested. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the State could not establish disclosure of these records “could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings” or that either of these pending actions “involv[es] a public agency” as required by the statutory exceptions the State cited. View "Basey v. Alaska Dept. of Public Safety, Division of Alaska State Troopers" on Justia Law