Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
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This case concerned the Office of Children’s Services' (OCS) decision to take emergency custody of a baby who tested positive for drugs at birth, and the subsequent legal proceedings that ensued. Both parents initially expressed interest in voluntarily relinquishing their parental rights, but the court found that the relinquishments were not valid because the forms were not dated or signed by an OCS witness. The foster parents opposed OCS's plan to move the baby from their home to her maternal aunt’s home and were granted permission to intervene for a placement review hearing. After the hearing, the court concluded that OCS had abused its discretion in deciding to move the child and granted the mother's motion to withdraw her putative relinquishment. The foster parents then filed a motion to reconsider the order allowing the mother to withdraw her relinquishment. The court granted the foster parents’ motion and reversed its order withdrawing the relinquishment. The court then terminated the parental rights of both parents without holding an evidentiary hearing. OCS and both parents appealed the superior court’s decisions. The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska held that it was error to allow the foster parents’ continued intervention, to reinstate the relinquishments, and to terminate parental rights. The court vacated all the orders relating to those errors and remanded the case to the superior court for further proceedings. The court clarified that it was an abuse of discretion to permit the foster parents to continue to intervene regarding the validity of the parents’ relinquishments, to revisit the validity of the relinquishments, and to issue termination orders without providing the parties with notice and an opportunity to be heard, as well as a legal error to issue a termination order without making a best interests finding. View "Tara R. v. State of Alaska" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska challenged the State of Alaska's management of a commercial fishery, arguing that it harmed a subsistence fishery. The tribe argued that the state violated the subsistence priority statute and the common use and sustained yield clauses in the Alaska Constitution. The tribe also claimed that the state was misinterpreting a regulation controlling the fishery and sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from managing the fishery according to that interpretation during the upcoming season. The superior court denied the preliminary injunction.The tribe eventually won on its statutory and regulatory claim, but the superior court denied its constitutional claim and its request for attorney’s fees. The tribe appealed to the Supreme Court of Alaska.The Supreme Court of Alaska affirmed the superior court’s decisions. It held that the hard look doctrine, requiring agencies to consider all relevant information, already existed and there was no need to create a constitutional requirement not in the plain language of Article VIII, Section 4 of the Alaska Constitution. The court also declined to review the tribe’s motion for a preliminary injunction under the public interest exception, as the issue was moot and did not justify application of the public interest exception. Lastly, the court held that the superior court did not abuse its discretion by declining to award attorney’s fees as the tribe had not shown that the superior court's decision was arbitrary, capricious, manifestly unreasonable, or stemmed from an improper motive. View "Sitka Tribe of Alaska v. State of Alaska" on Justia Law

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In the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska, the case involved a self-represented prisoner who sued the Department of Corrections (DOC) for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The prisoner alleged that DOC held him in administrative segregation (solitary confinement) for 504 days and that corrections officers denied him any meaningful opportunity to appeal or be heard regarding his segregation. The prisoner contended that the corrections officers’ actions amounted to extreme and outrageous conduct that caused him severe emotional distress. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of DOC, reasoning that DOC’s conduct was not extreme and outrageous and that the prisoner’s distress was not severe enough to give rise to liability.On appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska concluded that the superior court abused its discretion in dismissing the prisoner's claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment in DOC’s favor as to the prisoner’s intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. The Supreme Court also vacated the superior court’s order approving the attorney general’s certification that individual corrections officers acted within the scope of their employment, reversed the court’s denial of the prisoner’s request to compel certain discovery, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this decision. However, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment with respect to the prisoner’s negligent infliction of emotional distress claim. View "Watkinson v. State of Alaska" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska dealt with an appeal against the termination of parental rights of two parents, Elena F. and Ronan F., by the State of Alaska, Department of Family & Community Services, Office of Children’s Services. The Office of Children’s Services (OCS) had removed the two Indian children from their parents' home due to reported domestic violence and later terminated both parents' rights after two years. The parents appealed, arguing that OCS failed to make active efforts to reunify the family.The court found that the OCS made active efforts to reunify Elena with her children even in light of her serious mental illness, substance abuse, and her increasingly violent threats and behavior. As such, the court affirmed the termination of Elena's parental rights.However, the court found that the OCS did not make active efforts to reunify Ronan with his children. The court noted that there was no evidence that two out of three caseworkers assigned to Ronan made any efforts toward his reunification with his children. Therefore, the court reversed the termination of Ronan's parental rights. View "Ronan F. v. State of Alaska" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska reversed the Superior Court's decision and held that the Department of Corrections' policy change regarding the definition of "firm release date" for prisoners was a regulation that required compliance with the rulemaking procedures of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The Department of Corrections had changed its interpretation of "firm release date" twice. Initially, a prisoner's release date on discretionary parole was not considered a "firm release date." In 2016, the Department changed this interpretation and considered a discretionary parole release date as a "firm release date." However, in 2019, the Department reverted to its initial interpretation. The plaintiff, Trevor Stefano, a prisoner, argued that this change in policy violated the APA because it amounted to revising a regulation without going through the APA’s rulemaking process. The Supreme Court agreed with Stefano, noting that the Department's actions were a changed interpretation of existing regulation that had to be adopted through rulemaking. Because the Department did not follow the rulemaking procedure, the Court reversed the Superior Court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Stefano v. State of Alaska, Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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In a dispute between the State of Alaska, Department of Health & Social Services and Jennifer D. White and John P. Shannon, D.C., the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska had to consider whether an adjudicative agency could refuse to consider a contested legal question because the legislature had given a different agency authority over the contested legal issue. In this particular case, the employer disputed its liability under the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act for an injured employee’s chiropractic care, alleging that the care provided was not compensable because it was outside the scope of the chiropractor’s license. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board decided it did not have jurisdiction to determine the chiropractor’s scope of practice because the legislature had granted that authority to the Alaska Board of Chiropractic Examiners. The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska affirmed the Commission’s decision, agreeing that the workers’ compensation agencies lacked jurisdiction to determine the boundaries of chiropractic practice in the context of this case. The court also agreed with the Commission’s discovery decision, concluding that the discovery was not relevant to issues within the Board’s jurisdiction. The court further affirmed the Commission’s decision that the treatments were compensable. View "State of Alaska, Department of Health & Social Services v. White" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska, the Attorney General for the State of Alaska, Treg R. Taylor, sued the Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency. The dispute arose from a disagreement between the executive and legislative branches over when an appropriations bill passed by the legislature would take effect, with potential implications for funding state government in the subsequent fiscal year. The Attorney General asked the court for a declaration that any expenditure of state funds without an effective appropriation was unlawful, unless the expenditure was necessary to meet constitutional obligations to maintain the health and safety of residents or federal obligations. The superior court dismissed the case, holding that the lawsuit was barred by a provision of the Alaska Constitution (article III, section 16) that prohibits the governor from suing the legislature. The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska affirmed that decision. The court held that, although the Attorney General brought the suit, it was in substance a suit brought by the Governor "in the name of the State" against the legislature. Therefore, it was barred by the Alaska Constitution. The Supreme Court also remanded the issue of attorney’s fees for further proceedings in the lower court. View "Treg R. Taylor, in his Official Capacity as Attorney General of the State of Alaska v. Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took emergency custody of a child within days of her birth. OCS then filed an emergency child in need of aid (CINA) petition seeking an order confirming probable cause to believe the child was in need of aid and granting OCS temporary custody of the child pending further proceedings. The superior court held an evidentiary hearing and concluded that OCS had not shown probable cause to believe the child was a child in need of aid, and dismissed the CINA case. The superior court later denied OCS’s reconsideration motion, and OCS then appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision in a short summary order (with an opinion to follow), remanding to reopen the CINA case and conduct further proceedings in the normal course. The Court explained its order in this opinion. View "Alaska, Department of Family & Community Services v. Karlie T." on Justia Law

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removed an Alaska Native child from his mother and placed him with a relative, the child experienced suicidal ideation and checked himself into a psychiatric facility. Following a period of seemingly voluntary care, OCS requested a hearing to place the child at an out-of-state secure residential psychiatric treatment facility. The child’s Tribe intervened and challenged the constitutionality of AS 47.10.087, the manner in which evidence was received, and alleged due process violations. The child joined in some of these objections. The superior court ordered the child placed at a secure residential psychiatric treatment facility per AS 47.10.087. The Tribe, but not the child, appealed the placement decision, contending primarily that the superior court erred in proceeding under AS 47.10.087 and in making its substantive findings, and plainly erred in authorizing placement pursuant to AS 47.10.087 without addressing the Indian Child Welfare Act’s (ICWA) placement preferences. The Alaska Supreme Court found no error in the court’s application of AS 47.10.087 or its substantive findings, and thus affirmed the superior court’s placement determination. The Court expressed concern that the trial court failed to make required inquiries and findings related to ICWA’s placement preferences. However, this did not amount to plain error. The Supreme Court did not reach the Tribe’s other arguments as the Tribe has either waived them or lacked standing to raise them. View "Tuluksak Native Community v. Dept. of Health & Soc. Srvs." on Justia Law

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Alaska, pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement with the Alaska State Employees Association (ASEA), a public sector union representing thousands of State employees, including union members and nonmembers, deducted union members’ dues from their paychecks and deducted from nonmembers’ paychecks a mandatory “agency fee” and transmitted the funds to ASEA. In June 2018 the United States Supreme Court held in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees, Council 31 (Janus) that charging union agency fees to nonmember public employees violated their First Amendment rights by “compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.” The State and ASEA modified their collective bargaining agreement to comply with Janus, and the State halted collecting agency fees from nonmembers. In 2019, after a change in executive branch administrations following the November 2018 election, the State took the position that Janus also required the State to take steps to protect union member employees’ First Amendment rights. The State contended that Janus required it to obtain union members’ clear and affirmative consent to union dues deductions, or else they too might be compelled to fund objectionable speech on issues of substantial public concern. The governor issued an administrative order directing the State to bypass ASEA and deal directly with individual union members to determine whether they wanted their dues deductions to continue and to immediately cease collecting dues upon request. Some union members expressed a desire to leave the union and requested to stop dues deductions; the State ceased collecting their union dues. The State then sued ASEA, seeking declaratory judgment that Janus compelled the State’s actions. ASEA countersued seeking to enjoin the State’s actions and recover damages for breach of the collective bargaining agreement and violations of several statutes. The superior court ruled in favor of ASEA, and the State appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s declaratory judgment in favor of ASEA because neither Janus nor the First Amendment required the State to alter the union member dues deduction practices set out in the collective bargaining agreement. And because the State’s actions were not compelled by Janus or the First Amendment, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s rulings that the State breached the collective bargaining agreement and violated relevant statutes. View "Alaska, et al. v. Alaska St. Emp. Ass'n, et al." on Justia Law