Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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A married couple with a ten-year-old son separated in 2014. Following an evidentiary hearing on temporary orders, the trial court found that the father had a history of perpetrating domestic violence and ordered him to complete an intervention program for batterers before he would be allowed unsupervised visitation with the child. At the later custody trial, the director of the intervention program testified that the father had sought entry to the program but had been determined to be unsuited for it because he was a victim of domestic violence rather than a perpetrator. The custody investigator’s report confirmed these conclusions and recommended that the father be granted sole legal and primary physical custody of the child because of the mother’s coercive influence and her inability to meet the child’s mental and emotional needs. Relying primarily on the testimony of the batterers’ program director and the custody investigator, the trial court concluded that the father had overcome the statutory presumption against awarding custody to a parent with a history of perpetrating domestic violence and followed the investigator’s recommendation, granting the father sole legal and primary physical custody of the child. The mother, on appeal, challenged this decision, arguing that the evidence did not support a conclusion that the statutory presumption was overcome because the father never received any treatment or therapy. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the trial court could lawfully consider the expert testimony that the father was not suited for a batterers’ intervention program when deciding whether the statutory presumption against awarding him custody was overcome. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the court did not clearly err or abuse its discretion in its consideration of the child’s best interests. View "Joy B. v. Everett B." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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When the Department of Corrections (DOC) discovered that one of its contract employees, a substance abuse counselor, was in an “intimate relationship” with a prisoner in violation of prison policy, DOC barred the counselor and her parents from visiting the prisoner or putting money in his prison bank account. The prisoner sued DOC, alleging that these restrictions violated his constitutional and statutory rights to rehabilitation. When the prisoner moved for summary judgment, DOC moved to amend its answer to deny the statutory claim it had failed to deny in its original answer. The prisoner then moved to amend his complaint to add a claim asserting the constitutional rights of the counselor and her parents. The superior court granted DOC’s motion to amend, denied the prisoner’s motion to amend as futile, and granted summary judgment in DOC’s favor. The prisoner appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court found the DOC’s visitation restrictions were reasonable exercises of its authority to address legitimate penological interests and therefore did not violate the prisoner’s constitutional or statutory rights to rehabilitation. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not abuse its discretion when it granted DOC’s motion to amend its answer and denied the prisoner’s motion to amend his complaint. View "Ebli v. Alaska, Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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A father sought to modify a child support order on the basis that his income had decreased. He also asked that the support order be changed to not require him to contribute to the children’s health insurance costs. The superior court found that his gross income had changed by less than 15% and that he therefore was not entitled to a modification of child support. And because the mother was then paying for health insurance for the children, the court added a health insurance adjustment to its new support order while keeping the basic monthly amount the same. The father appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court conclude the superior court erred in finding that as a matter of law the father was obligated to pay 50% of his children’s health insurance costs. Further, it was an abuse of discretion for the court to decline to modify his child support obligation without first calculating an updated adjusted annual income and monthly child support amount. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the superior court's order regarding health insurance costs. In all other respects, it affirmed. View "Dunn v. Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Luciano G. appealed a court order involuntarily committing him for mental health treatment. He argued the court erred in making two findings: (1) that as a result of his mental illness he posed a risk of harm to others; and (2) that there was no less restrictive alternative to committing him to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API). He contended his conduct did not meet the statutory criteria of “likely to cause serious harm” and that there was insufficient evidence presented that there was no less restrictive alternative for his treatment. Because the Alaska Supreme Court found the superior court’s findings were supported by clear and convincing evidence, and the superior court properly determined that the man’s conduct met the statutory criteria, it affirmed the commitment order. View "In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of Luciano G." on Justia Law

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A juvenile from a small village could not afford to travel to the site of his juvenile delinquency proceeding. His attorney with the Public Defender Agency (the Agency) filed a motion asking the superior court to require the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to pay the travel expenses for both the juvenile and one of his parents. The superior court denied the motion and required the Agency to pay the expenses. The court of appeals upheld the superior court’s decision, reasoning that the Agency’s authorizing statute could plausibly be interpreted to cover client travel expenses and that this reading was supported by administrative guidance in the form of two Attorney General opinions and a regulation governing reimbursements by the Office of Public Advocacy (OPA). The Alaska Supreme Court granted the Agency’s petition for hearing, asking the Agency and DJJ to address two questions: (1) whether the Agency has a statutory obligation to pay its clients’ travel expenses; and (2) whether DJJ has a statutory obligation to pay those expenses. The Supreme Court concluded neither entity’s authorizing statutes required the payment and therefore reversed the court of appeals. The Court did not address the question of how these necessary expenses were to be funded; the Court surmised that was an issue for the executive and legislative branches. View "Alaska Public Defender Agency v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a boundary dispute between the Collinses and the Halls, who were adjoining property owners in a recreational subdivision on an island near Juneau, Alaska. The Collinses alleged that structures on the Halls’ property encroached onto the Collinses’ property and violated the subdivision’s restrictive covenants. They brought claims for quiet title and trespass based on boundaries recorded in a 2014 survey of their lot. This survey was prepared by the same surveyor who had initially platted the subdivision in the mid-1970s; the 1970s survey in turn referred to a survey monument established in 1927. The Halls responded that the Collinses’ surveyor had used the wrong point of beginning for his subdivision survey; that a surveyor they had hired in 2012 found the true point of beginning based on the 1927 survey; that the correct property boundary lay some distance from where the Collinses claimed; and that the supposedly encroaching structures were fully on the Halls’ land. The superior court found that the boundary advocated by the Halls was correct and issued a judgment quieting title based on their 2012 survey, though it acknowledged that its decision could cloud title for other property owners on the island. The court also found that the restrictive covenants at issue had been abandoned and concluded they could not be enforced against the Halls. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court’s findings as to the boundary location and restrictive covenants were not clearly erroneous, and therefore affirmed the court’s decision on those issues. But because the superior court’s findings and conclusions did not address one of the Collinses’ trespass claims, the matter was remanded for consideration of that issue. View "Collins v. Hall" on Justia Law

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Adam and Kyoko Perry married in November 2005 and had two minor children. For the latter part of their marriage, Kyoko handled the couple’s finances. Kyoko continued her education while married, obtaining a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree and incurring approximately $84,000 in debt. AKyoko testified that she obtained a master’s degree so she could defer her loan payments while Adam was temporarily unemployed. She stated that she feared they could not afford the loan payments while Adam was out of work. Adam decided to leave his job and was temporarily unemployed for a period of 34 days in early 2015, around the same time that Kyoko’s student loan payments began. Adam filed for divorce in March 2017. Kyoko objected when the divorce decree classified a portion of her student loan debt as non-marital. She also argued the court improperly calculated the parties’ income for child support purposes. Because the superior court applied the wrong legal standards to determine whether the student loan debt was marital and to calculate the parties’ incomes for child support purposes, the Alaska Supreme Court vacated the superior court’s final property distribution and child support orders and remanded for the court to conduct the proper legal analysis. View "Perry v. Perry" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Borrowers brought suit alleging that their lending bank had engaged in fraudulent real estate lending practices. The bank responded that statutes of limitations barred the borrowers’ fraud claims. Following an evidentiary hearing to establish relevant dates for the statutes of limitations inquiry, the superior court entered judgment and awarded attorney’s fees in the bank’s favor. The borrowers appealed, arguing that the superior court erred in its factual and legal determinations and otherwise violated their due process rights. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s rulings. View "Taffe v. First National Bank of Alaska" on Justia Law

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In 2015, then-21-year-old G.L. was arrested after allegedly firing a loaded shotgun at buildings and people in his village. G.L. faced criminal charges related to the shooting, but the superior court ultimately ruled him mentally incompetent for criminal proceedings and in 2016 committed him to Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) for competence restoration. G.L. was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He refused to consistently take medications and “was becoming increasingly psychotic and paranoid and dangerous” while at API for competence restoration. G.L. appealed a 180-day involuntary commitment order, arguing that the evidence presented at the commitment hearing was outdated and insufficient to support concluding that he continued posing a risk of harm to others. Because the superior court correctly applied the involuntary commitment statute in this case, appropriately considering the patient’s recent history of conduct and demonstrated unwillingness to comply with treatment, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the commitment order. View "In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of G.L." on Justia Law

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In a case of first impression for the Alaska Supreme Court, at issue was the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to a catatonic, non-consenting patient. In March 2017, police officers found Lucy G. in an Anchorage parking lot, wet and shivering. She was taken to a local hospital, where she initially exhibited “agitated, self-harming, and disoriented” behaviors requiring sedation for her and the staff’s safety. Lucy, who was calm but unresponsive by the end of the day, was diagnosed as catatonic. Hospital staff also noted her prior schizophrenia diagnosis and psychotropic medication prescriptions, as well as hospitalization the prior month. After a petition by hospital staff, the superior court authorized Lucy’s hospitalization for an involuntary commitment evaluation. She would ultimately be diagnosed with catatonia, involuntarily committed for 30 days, and given psychotropic medication and involuntary ECT. At the superior court hearing, the parties agreed that constitutional standards established in Myers v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute, 138 P.3d 238 (Alaska 2006) for ordering involuntary, non-emergency administration of psychotropic medication also applied to involuntary ECT. The patient argued there should have been heightened standards for ordering involuntary ECT and that, in any event, the superior court’s Myers analysis was legally deficient. The Alaska Supreme Court held that the superior court did not plainly err by applying the existing Myers constitutional standards to authorize involuntary ECT to the non-consenting patient. The Court also held the superior court made sufficient findings related to each relevant, contested mandatory Myers factor. Therefore, the Court surmised these findings supported the court’s involuntary ECT order. View "In the Matter of the Necessity of the Hospitalization of Lucy G." on Justia Law