Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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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

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The Alaska Department of Corrections investigated its employee David Wilson for potentially criminal misconduct. It ordered him to answer questions from investigators but assured him that his answers and any evidence derived from those answers could not be used against him criminally. Wilson was terminated for refusing to answer and claimed the State violated his constitutional privilege against self­ incrimination by failing to tell his lawyer that his answers to the investigator could not be used against him in a criminal proceeding. After review of his appeal, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that by terminating Wilson for refusing to answer those questions, the State of Alaska did not violate his privilege against self-incrimination, under either the U.S. Constitution or the Alaska Constitution. The State did notify Wilson that his answers could not be used against him criminally, and Wilson not only confirmed at the time that he understood this notification, but also in the subsequent court proceedings introduced no evidence to the contrary. View "Wilson v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Division of Banking and Securities civilly fined Sitnasuak Native Corporation shareholder Austin Ahmasuk for submitting a newspaper opinion letter about Sitnasuak’s shareholder proxy voting procedures without filing that letter with the Division as a shareholder proxy solicitation. Ahmasuk filed an agency appeal, arguing that the Division wrongly interpreted its proxy solicitation regulation to cover his letter and violated his constitutional due process and free speech rights. An administrative law judge upheld the Division’s sanction in an order that became the final agency decision, and the superior court upheld that decision in a subsequent appeal. Ahmasuk raised his same arguments on appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court concluded Ahmasuk’s opinion letter was not a proxy solicitation under the Division’s controlling regulations, therefore reversing the superior court’s decision upholding the Division’s civil sanction against Ahmasuk without reaching the constitutional arguments. View "Ahmasuk v. Division of Banking and Securities" on Justia Law

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Sponsors of an initiative that would revise taxation for a defined set of oil producers filed a superior court complaint seeking declaratory judgment that the lieutenant governor’s initiative ballot summary was not true and impartial. The superior court held that one ballot summary sentence included “partisan suasion” by weighing in on a disputed initiative provision’s meaning, and the court ordered that sentence deleted. The lieutenant governor appealed, arguing that the disputed sentence was fair and impartial, but requesting that, if the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision, the Supreme Court allow the lieutenant governor to insert a proposed replacement sentence. After expedited briefing and oral arguments, the Supreme Court issued a brief order affirming the court’s ruling and judgment but allowing, at the lieutenant governor’s discretion, the portion of the proposed replacement sentence to which the sponsors had no objection. The Supreme Court stated that “[a]n opinion explaining the reasoning for this order will follow at a later date.” This opinion set forth the reasons for the earlier order. View "Alaska Office of Lieutenant Governor, Division of Elections v. Vote Yes for Alaska's Fair Share" on Justia Law

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Shay Hurd appealed the superior court’s determination that his adjoining neighbor, Larry Henley, adversely possessed a portion of his land. Hurd and Henley shared a boundary line that Henley first encroached on by building a shed and then by building a larger shop. Hurd sued, and the superior court ultimately awarded the area originally occupied by Henley’s shed and the area surrounding it to Henley, but not the larger area with the shop. After review of the superior court record, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err when it found that Henley regularly graveled and parked vehicles in the area granted to him as adversely possessed. "Henley’s activities on that area were sufficient to constitute adverse possession. The superior court adequately defined the area adversely possessed by referencing landmarks with locations readily ascertainable from the record." The Court interpreted the “good faith but mistaken belief” required for adverse possession by AS 09.45.052(a) to require only subjective good faith; therefore, the superior court did not clearly err by determining Henley occupied the former shed area due to a good-faith belief the land was his. View "Hurd v. Henley" on Justia Law

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A mother and father appealed the termination of their parental rights after proceedings at the Families with Infants and Toddlers Court (FIT Court). They argued their rights were violated when the FIT Court’s “rigid, non-fact driven,” 12-month timeline governed the progression of the Child in Need of Aid (CINA) cases of their two children. After review of the FIT Court record, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded it was error to adhere to a preset timeline rather than making an individualized assessment of whether the parents had a reasonable time to remedy based on the facts of their children’s cases, as required by statute. Furthermore, the Court concluded the parents did not knowingly and voluntarily waive that statutory requirement. View "Edna L. v. Dept. of Health & Social Services (Office of Children's Services)" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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A worker died at a construction site when a retaining wall collapsed. Neither the putative employer, who claimed the worker was an independent contractor, nor the property owner, who hired the putative employer, had workers’ compensation coverage. The worker’s mother, who also was the personal representative of the worker’s estate, filed both a workers’ compensation claim against the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Benefits Guaranty Fund and a superior court wrongful death action against both the putative employer and the property owner. The Fund later caused the property owner, the putative employer, and the worker’s father to be joined as parties to the workers’ compensation claim before the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board.All parties to the workers’ compensation proceeding, except the putative employer, entered into a settlement agreement; in the settlement the estate elected the wrongful death suit as its remedy, agreed to dismiss the workers’ compensation claim entirely to effectuate its remedy election, received a settlement payment from the property owner’s general liability insurer, and dismissed the wrongful death claim against the property owner. The agreement explicitly preserved the estate’s wrongful death claim against the putative employer. The Board approved the agreement, and the superior court dismissed the property owner from the wrongful death action based on a separate stipulation. The putative employer then sought dismissal of the wrongful death suit, contending that the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusive liability provision precluded the lawsuit because the settlement effectively paid workers’ compensation benefits to the estate. The superior court granted the putative employer summary judgment, relying on the Act to decide that the Board’s approval of the settlement transformed the settlement money into workers’ compensation benefits. Because the superior court misinterpreted the settlement agreement and the Act, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Seal v. Welty d/b/a North Country Services" on Justia Law

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A divorcing couple had a community property trust holding title to two rental properties: a fourplex and a mobile home park. The husband had owned these properties before marriage. The superior court divided the marital estate equally, awarding the rental properties to the husband and a large equalization payment to the wife. Both parties appealed. The husband argued the superior court erred when it found that a bank account in the names of the husband and the mobile home park was marital. The wife argued the court erred in its interpretation of the Alaska Community Property Act when it held that income and appreciation from the rental properties in the community property trust remained the husband’s separate property; she also argued the court clearly erred in some findings of fact and abused its discretion when it failed to invade the husband’s separate property in order to reach an equitable division. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err in its interpretation of the relevant statutes, did not clearly err in its findings of fact, and did not abuse its discretion when dividing the marital estate. View "Philips v. Bremner Philips" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The district court entered a default judgment against a litigant in a dispute over real property improvements and rent. Following a levy on his bank account, the litigant moved for relief from the default judgment, attesting that he had stopped participating in the lawsuit because he believed it was about to be dismissed. The district court denied the motion, but on appeal the superior court reversed on procedural grounds. On remand the litigant amended his answer to assert a counterclaim for conversion of personal property; the counterclaim would have been time-barred unless allowed to relate back to the date of the litigant’s original answer. The district court held that the litigant was judicially estopped from pursuing the counterclaim because it was contradictory for him to assert it after attesting that he believed for years that the case against him had been dismissed. The superior court affirmed this decision. The Alaska Supreme Court granted certiorari review to address one issue: whether judicial estoppel barred the conversion counterclaim. The Court concluded the litigant’s two positions — his asserted belief that the case had been dismissed and his later assertion of a counterclaim — were not clearly inconsistent and that the judicial estoppel doctrine therefore was inapplicable. The superior court’s decision affirming the district court’s judgment on this issue was reversed and the matter remanded to the district court for further proceedings on the counterclaim. View "Zwiacher v, Capstone Family Medical Clinic, LLC" on Justia Law

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Loren Larson, Jr. was convicted in 1998 of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree burglary, and he was sentenced to two consecutive 99-year terms for the murder counts and a 10-year concurrent term for the burglary count; the court of appeals affirmed Larson’s conviction in 2000. In 2003, the court of appeals affirmed the superior court’s subsequent dismissal of Larson’s post-conviction relief claim. Larson maintained his innocence and has unsuccessfully challenged the convictions in numerous other proceedings. Larson claimed he wanted to apply for clemency from the Alaska Governor on grounds he was innocent and wrongly convicted, But he did not want to execute two required information release forms that were part of the clemency application. Larson was advised by the Board of Parole that under the current administrative framework an incomplete application would be returned to him and not forwarded to the governor. Larson then sued the Board, arguing that its refusal to forward his application without the release forms violated his due process right to submit a clemency application. He further argued that enforcing the information release requirement would violate the unconstitutional conditions doctrine, which in some contexts barred the government from conditioning a benefit on the waiver of a constitutional right. The superior court granted summary judgment to the Board, rejecting the applicant’s constitutional arguments. Because the Board did not violate the applicant’s constitutional rights, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s dismissal of the lawsuit. View "Larson Jr. v. Alaska, Department of Corrections, Board of Parole" on Justia Law