Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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In this divorce matter, the parties agreed to divide the husband’s retirement benefit based on its present value and implemented the division with a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). In 2014, after the husband received an updated benefit projection that calculated the wife’s share of the benefit using his salary at retirement instead of at divorce, he sought to modify the QDRO. He asked the court to require that her benefit be based upon the same salary data used in a 2006 calculation. The superior court denied the motion. Because the settlement did not contain clear language establishing the use of the earlier salary the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's judgment. View "Thomson v. Thomson" on Justia Law

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Providence Alaska Medical Center terminated Dr. Michael Brandner’s hospital privileges without an opportunity to be heard after determining he had violated hospital policy by failing to report an Alaska State Medical Board order requiring him to undergo an evaluation of his fitness to practice medicine. Brandner unsuccessfully challenged this action through the hospital's hearing and appeal procedures. Brandner thereafter took his cause to court, seeking reinstatement and damages for the alleged due process violations both in the procedures used and in the substantive standard applied in his termination. The superior court found no such violations and that he was not entitled to reinstatement. Brandner appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding that Brandner was not entitled to reinstatement or post-termination-hearing damages. However, the doctor's due process rights were violated when he was not given a hearing following termination of his hospital privileges. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Brandner v. Providence Health & Services" on Justia Law

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Lisa Reasner suffered years of sexual abuse while in foster care and after the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) approved her adoption. Years later, Reasner sued OCS after discovering that OCS might have played a role in allowing her abuse. The superior court concluded that Reasner’s claims were untimely and granted summary judgment in favor of OCS. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The Court found the superior court erred in granting summary judgment to OCS based on the statute of limitations because it found a genuine issue of material facts existed as to when Reasner's claims accrued. The Court found Reasner's remaining claims could have withstood summary judgment. View "Reasner v. Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Richard Mattox sued the Department of Corrections (DOC) for injuries arising from an assault by another prisoner. Mattox alleged that DOC was negligent in failing to accommodate his requests for transfer to a different housing module prior to the assault and that DOC was negligent in permitting the correctional officer on duty to leave the module during the time the assault occurred. The superior court granted DOC’s motion for partial summary judgment regarding classification and housing assignments and then granted DOC’s motion for summary judgment on all other causes of action. The Alaska Supreme Court remanded because there was a material question of fact regarding the foreseeability of the assault. Mattox moved for a new trial on the grounds that the jury erroneously applied the doctrine of discretionary function immunity in reaching its verdict when that question should have been decided by the court before trial. The court denied that motion and Mattox appealed. The Supreme Court concluded Mattox waived any challenge to the jury’s application of the doctrine, and the superior court committed no reversible error by allowing the jury to apply the doctrine rather than applying the doctrine itself sua sponte. View "Mattox v. Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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In this divorce matter, at the conclusion of trial, the wife physically assaulted husband's attorney. The incident led to criminal charges, and the judge presiding over the divorce testified in the criminal case as a witness. The judge still presided over the divorce matter when wife made motions to reopen the case and redistribute the marital property. She appealed when the superior court denied these motions, arguing the judge should have recused herself after witnessing the assault in the courtroom and later testifying about it. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not abuse its discretion in any of the challenged rulings and affirmed. View "Johnson v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The superior court found no inconsistency in the jury verdict, and denied appellant Todeschi’s motion for a new trial. Finding no error in the superior court judgement, the Supreme Court affirmed. Appellee, a mine supervisor, suffered back injuries over the course of his career and required several surgeries. His employer terminated his employment following his request for an accommodation and his renewed pursuit of a three-year-old workers’ compensation claim. The supervisor sued, alleging breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and unlawful discrimination based both on a disability and on his assertion of the workers’ compensation claim. The employer defended on grounds that the supervisor could no longer perform the essential functions of his job and had declined an offered accommodation; it also asserted that it was not liable for the workers’ compensation claim. A jury returned a special verdict finding the employer liable for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and awarding the supervisor $215,000 in past lost income, but finding in the employer’s favor on the supervisor’s other claims. The supervisor appealed, arguing the superior court erred when it: (1) denied his motion for a directed verdict on whether he has a disability; (2) denied his motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict due to an inconsistency between the jury’s decisions of two of his claims; (3) declined to give a burden-shifting or adverse inference instruction based on alleged spoliation of evidence; and (4) raised a statute of limitations defense by way of a jury instruction. The employer cross-appealed, arguing that the superior court erred in excluding one of its witnesses. View "Todeschi v. Sumitomo Metal Mining Pogo, LLC" on Justia Law

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The superior court ordered a guardianship based in part on expert testimony that the father could not yet be left alone with his daughter, given the state of his progress with sex offender treatment, and in part because his probation conditions prohibited unsupervised contact with anyone under 18. A father appealed a superior court order granting long-term guardianship of his daughter to maternal relatives in another state. The father had a history of inappropriate sexual relationships, and during four years of the child’s life was incarcerated following a federal conviction for transportation of child pornography. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court had the statutory authority to establish a guardianship under these circumstances. But the court’s finding that the daughter was likely to suffer serious emotional or physical harm if returned to her father’s care was based in part on findings that lack the required basis in the expert testimony. The Court remanded for the superior court to consider whether the remaining findings were sufficient to support the guardianship order. View "Jude M. v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Svcs." on Justia Law
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State employee Shirley Shea suffered from chronic pain and has been unable to work. She applied for occupational disability benefits, claiming that prolonged sitting at work aggravated a preexisting medical condition. The Division of Retirement and Benefits denied the claim. An administrative law judge affirmed that decision, determining that employment was not a substantial factor in causing Shea's disability. On appeal, the superior court reversed the administrative law judge’s decision. Because the administrative law judge’s decision was supported by substantial evidence, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision and affirmed the administrative law judge. View "Alaska Dept. of Administration, Division of Retirement & Benefits v. Shea" on Justia Law

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In a 2008 divorce decree based on a settlement agreement, an ex-husband was ordered to sell the marital home and pay his ex-wife her share of the estate. But by 2015, he had not yet done so. The superior court ordered the ex-husband to sell the home in 90 days and entered judgment against him after the deadline passed. The ex-husband appealed on due process and equity grounds, and the ex-wife appealed seeking prejudgment interest, attorney’s fees, and costs. Because both parties’ arguments lacked merit, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s order. View "Easley v. Easley" on Justia Law
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Tok Hwang owned a lessee interest in, and related improvements on, a commercial lot (the leasehold) near the Denali National Park entrance. Hwang leased the lot from a third party for $20,000 annually. Hwang subleased the leasehold to Alaska Fur Gallery, Inc. in April 2012. The sublease (the lease) provided that Alaska Fur would pay $55,000 annual rent for a three-summer term. The disputed provision stated, in full: “Lease includes an option to purchase premises with lease amount to be applied to negotiated purchase price.” When the sublessee attempted to exercise the option the lessee declined to sell, claiming the option was unenforceable. The sublessee sued, seeking, among other things, to enforce the option provision. The superior court held that the provision was too uncertain to enforce either as an option or as an agreement to negotiate. The sublessee appealed; but finding no reversible error in the superior court’s decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Alaska Fur Gallery, Inc. v. Hwang" on Justia Law