Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
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A national political organization engaged an Alaska media consultant to reserve over $1 million worth of television advertising time prior to the 2018 gubernatorial primary race. The national organization did not register with the Alaska Public Office Commission, and did not report the reservations to the agency. The Commission concluded that this conduct violated a statute requiring all entities to register before making any “expenditures,” including promises or agreements to transfer something of value, to influence an election. The superior court affirmed the Commission’s decision on appeal. The national organization appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, arguing that the Commission defined “expenditures” too broadly. The Supreme Court concluded the Commission reasonably interpreted the campaign finance statute to include agreements to purchase television advertising, even when these agreements were not legally binding. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision affirming the Commission’s order. View "Republican Governors Association v. Alaska Public Offices Commission" on Justia Law

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After the Department of Corrections (DOC) investigated an allegation that a probation officer was providing special treatment in return for sexual favors and found it to be unsubstantiated, the probation officer sought the investigation records. DOC denied his request and the probation officer appealed to the superior court, which reversed the denial and ordered the records released because the allegation had not been substantiated. DOC appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s order because the records were shielded from disclosure by the invasion of privacy exemption to the Public Records Act. View "Alaska Department of Corrections v. Porche" on Justia Law

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An Alaska State Commission for Human Rights (State) employee with preexisting medical conditions was involved in a work-related motor vehicle accident in January 2017. The employee consulted with Dr. Teresa Bormann two days after the accident; Dr. Bormann referred the employee to chiropractic treatment. After several month of treatment, Dr. Bormann referred the employee to physical therapy at United Physical Therapy (UPT) for chronic neck pain and headache. After an evaluation UPT recommended eight weeks of twice weekly physical therapy. Dr. Bormann endorsed the treatment plan, and the employee’s symptoms improved enough that she reduced her physical therapy visits to once a week beginning in mid-January. She saw UPT three times in February 2018. Payment for these February visits became the main dispute before the Board. The State arranged an employer’s medical evaluation (EME) with a neurologist and an orthopedist. The EME doctors diagnosed the employee with a cervical strain caused by the accident as well as several conditions they considered preexisting or unrelated to the work injury. After the State filed a retroactive controversion of medical treatment, the employee’s healthcare provider filed a workers’ compensation claim seeking payment for services it provided before the controversion was filed. The State disputed its liability for payment, and after several prehearing conferences, the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board set a hearing on the merits of the provider’s claim. The Board ordered the State to pay the provider approximately $510.00 for the services. The State appealed, disputing several procedural aspects of the decision, and the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decision. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the Commission’s decision. View "Alaska, Department of Health and Social Services v. Thomas et al." on Justia Law

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Homer, Alaska's Advisory Planning Commission (the Commission) approved a conditional use permit for the owners of a bicycle shop seeking to expand their entryway and install a covered porch. An objecting Homer resident appealed a superior court’s decision to affirm the permit approval, raising numerous procedural, legal, and factual issues. His main contentions were grouped into five general categories: (1) the Commission should have used a variance and not a conditional use permit; (2) the approval process violated various constitutional rights; (3) the Commission erred in its findings supporting the project; (4) the City Planner’s participation in the appeal was inappropriate; and (5) the judge was biased against him. The Alaska Supreme Court determined none of his arguments had merit. The Supreme Court concluded the Homer City Council, in an appropriate use of its legislative discretion, chose the conditional permitted use process to grant certain setback reductions. The Commission’s approval process and findings complied with applicable city code requirements and adequately protected the objecting resident’s rights. The City Planner’s participation in the appeals process was appropriate, and the judge displayed no disqualifying bias. Therefore, the decision to uphold the Commission’s approval of the conditional use permit was affirmed. View "Griswold v. Homer Advisory Planning Commission" on Justia Law

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For years, a municipality issued, and sought reimbursement for, construction bonds that did not satisfy the equal payments requirement of Alaska's school debt reimbursement program, and the Department of Education and Early Development reimbursed the municipality. But when the municipality, after a several year absence, sought reimbursement for additional bonds that did not comply with the equal payments requirement, the Department denied the reimbursement. The municipality sought administrative review, and the Department’s commissioner upheld the decision. The municipality then appealed to the superior court and requested a trial de novo. The superior court denied the request for a trial de novo and affirmed the Department’s decision. The municipality then appealed both the Department’s and superior court’s decisions. Because neither the Department nor the superior court erred, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed their decisions. View "North Slope Borough v. Alaska Dept. of Education & Early Devel." on Justia Law

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The Alaska Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took custody of three Indian children after reports of substance abuse and domestic violence in their mother’s home. For two years OCS was unable to contact the children’s father, who also struggled with substance abuse issues. Once OCS did contact the father, both he and the mother consented to temporarily place the children with a guardian. OCS then reduced its efforts to reunify the children with their father. Then the children’s mother died. The father was incarcerated for several months; he completed classes and substance abuse treatment. After he was released, he maintained his sobriety and began limited contact with OCS and with his children. Approximately four years after taking custody of the children, OCS moved to terminate the father’s parental rights. After the superior court terminated his rights, the father appealed, arguing OCS failed to make active efforts to reunify him with his children as required by ICWA. To this the Alaska Supreme Court concurred, and reversed the termination of his parental rights. View "C.J. (Father) v. Alaska, DHSS, OCS" on Justia Law

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The State of Alaska claimed the right under Revised Statute 2477 (RS 2477) to clear land and permit the use of boat launches, camping sites, and day use sites within an alleged 100-foot right of way centered on a road on land belonging to an Alaska Native corporation, Ahtna, Inc. Ahtna sued, arguing that its prior aboriginal title prevented the federal government from conveying a right of way to the State or, alternatively, if the right of way existed, that construction of boat launches, camping sites, and day use sites exceeded its scope. After years of litigation and motion practice the superior court issued two partial summary judgment orders: (1) holding as a matter of law that any preexisting aboriginal title did not disturb the State’s right of way over the land; and (2) holding as a matter of law that the right of way was limited to ingress and egress. To these orders, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err, therefore affirming both grants of partial summary judgment. View "Ahtna, Inc. v. Alaska, Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, et al." on Justia Law

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A project developer that used state-allocated federal tax credits for a low-income housing project sued the state housing authority, asserting an option to eliminate a contractual obligation to maintain the project as low-income housing for 15 years beyond the initial 15-year qualifying period. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the housing authority, and the developer appealed several aspects of the court’s ruling. After review of the superior court record, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that court correctly interpreted the relevant statutes and contract documents, and correctly determined there were no material disputed facts about the formation of the parties’ agreements. View "Creekside Limited Partnership, et al. v. Alaska Housing Finance Corporation" on Justia Law

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Walker E. (father) and Astrid S. had five children together. Before moving to Alaska in 2014, the family had interactions with a protective services agency in Oklahoma following rumors of neglect and abuse. In Alaska, OCS became involved with the family in 2016 when their four-year-old tested positive at birth for oxycodone, cannabinoids, and an opiate; after Walker successfully participated in a random urinalysis (UA) program, OCS closed the case. In 2018, OCS took custody of the children following a hospital visit when most of them has MRSA sores and tested positive for methamphetamine. OCE referred father to many services, but he failed to engage with them. Father appealed the superior court’s termination of parental rights to his five Indian children. He argued: (1) the court violated the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) by erroneously finding that the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) made active efforts to reunify his family and that returning the children to his custody would likely seriously harm them; (2) OCS’s proffered expert witness was not qualified under ICWA; and (3) the court erred by determining termination of his rights to be in the children’s best interests without discussing their Native heritage or mother’s recent death, although these factors are mentioned nowhere in the relevant statute. Finding the superior court’s findings satisfied statutory requirements, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed its termination of parental rights. View "Walker E. v. Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Kelley Maves was convicted of two sexual assaults in Colorado. He moved to Alaska in 2015, where the Department of Public Safety required him to register for life as a sex offender under the Alaska Sex Offenders Registration Act (ASORA). Maves appealed the Department’s decision to the superior court, arguing that one of the two convictions could not be used as the basis for a lifetime registration requirement because it had been set aside; with one conviction he would be required to register for only 15 years. His argument on appeal included a challenge to a 1995 departmental regulation that defined “conviction” as including those that had been set aside. The superior court affirmed the Department’s decision requiring the Maves to register for life. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the 1994 version of ASORA was not plainly intended to apply to offenders whose convictions have been set aside, and that the 1995 regulation extending the Act’s reach to those convictions was not necessary to carry out the Act’s purposes. The Court therefore reversed the superior court’s decision upholding the requirement that Maves register under ASORA for life. View "Maves v. Department of Public Safety" on Justia Law