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A public utility filed a condemnation action seeking the land use rights necessary to construct a natural gas storage facility in an underground formation of porous rock. The utility held some rights already by assignment from an oil and gas lessee. The superior court held that because of the oil and gas lease, the utility owned the rights to whatever producible gas remained in the underground formation and did not have to compensate the landowner for its use of the gas to help pressurize the storage facility. The court held a bench trial to determine the value of the storage space. The landowner appealed the resulting compensation award, arguing it retained ownership of the producible gas in place because the oil and gas lease authorized only production, not storage. It also argued it had the right to compensation for gas that was discovered after the date of taking. The landowner also challenged several findings related to the court’s valuation of the storage rights: that the proper basis of valuation was the storage facility’s maximum physical capacity rather than the capacity allowed by its permits; that the valuation should not have included buffer area at the same rate as area used for storage; and that an expert’s valuation methodology, which the superior court accepted, was flawed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err in ruling that the landowner’s only rights in the gas were reversionary rights that were unaffected by the utility’s non-consumptive use of the gas during the pendency of the lease. Furthermore, the Court concluded the trial court did not clearly err with regard to findings about valuation. View "Kenai Landing, Inc. v Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage, et al." on Justia Law

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Randell Jackson was charged with disorderly conduct, assault, and resisting arrest after a 2012 interaction with three police officers in Haines, Alaska. Amy Williams, an assistant district attorney, first prosecuted Jackson on these charges, but her efforts resulted in a mistrial. James Scott, the Juneau district attorney, oversaw the second round of proceedings against Jackson, which led to his conviction and sentencing. Jackson appealed his convictions in March 2016 to the superior court, which reversed his conviction for disorderly conduct but affirmed his assault and resisting arrest convictions. Jackson brought civil claims against the prosecutors who secured his convictions, alleging they committed various torts and violated his constitutional right to due process. The superior court dismissed his state and federal claims, concluding that the prosecutors enjoyed absolute immunity. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed the prosecutors were protected by absolute immunity from both the state and federal claims because they were acting in their official capacity as advocates for the State when they committed the acts that gave rise to the complaint. View "Jackson v. Borough of Haines, et al." on Justia Law

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The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT or the State) condemned a strip of property along the Parks Highway. DOT filed a declaration of taking, allowing it to take title immediately, and deposited approximately $15,000 in court as estimated compensation for the taking. The landowner challenged DOT’s estimate and was eventually awarded approximately $24,000, as well as attorney’s fees and costs. Pursuant to AS 09.55.440, the superior court awarded prejudgment interest to the landowner on the difference between the amount of DOT’s initial deposit and the amount the property was ultimately determined to be worth. The landowner appealed, arguing that the prejudgment interest should have been calculated on the difference between the deposit and his entire judgment, including significant amounts for attorney’s fees and appraisal costs. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the landowner’s argument was not supported by the statutory language, legislative history, or policy. Furthermore, the Court rejected the landowner’s arguments that the superior court applied the wrong postjudgment interest rate and abused its discretion by denying discovery of the State’s attorneys’ billing records. The trial court failed to state its reasons for excluding attorney time from its attorney's fees award, and therefore vacated that award and remanded for reconsideration only of the fees award. View "Keeton v. Alaska, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities" on Justia Law

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A husband and wife appealed denials of their Permanent Fund Dividends (PFDs) for 2014 and 2015. The husband’s 2014 PFD application was denied because he had been absent from the state for more than five years, creating a presumption of nonresidence that he was unable to rebut. The wife’s application was denied because her PFD eligibility as an accompanying military spouse depended on her husband’s. After the denials were affirmed by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the couple appealed to the superior court. While this appeal was pending they both applied for 2015 PFDs and were again denied. The husband’s 2015 application was denied because his residency for PFD purposes was severed in the 2014 PFD proceedings and he had not reestablished it. The wife’s application was again denied because of her accompanying-spouse status. They appealed the 2015 denials too; the superior court consolidated the 2014 and 2015 cases and affirmed both denials. The Alaska Supreme Court determined neither spouse met the residency requirements to qualify for either a 2014 or a 2015 PFD under the plain language of the applicable statute. The Court therefore affirmed the ALJs’ decisions. View "Jones v. Alaska, Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In 2013 and 2014 attorney Gerald Markham applied for a senior citizen tax exemption on his residential property in Kodiak, Alaska. The Borough assessor denied the applications due to Markham’s prolonged absences from Alaska. When given the opportunity to prove his absences were allowed under the applicable ordinance, Markham refused to provide corroborating documentation. He appealed the denials to the Borough Board of Equalization, which affirmed the denials. He appealed the Board’s decisions to the superior court. The superior court dismissed the 2013 appeal for failure to prosecute, denied the 2014 appeal on the merits, and awarded attorney’s fees to the Borough. Markham appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s 2013 dismissal and the Board’s 2014 denial on the merits, but vacated the superior court’s award of attorney’s fees and remanded for further findings. View "Markham v. Kodiak Island Borough Board of Equalization" on Justia Law

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After a limited liability company and its individual members failed to make payments on a real estate loan, the lender sued. One member, Kenneth Duffus, cross-claimed against a second member, Lee Baker, Jr., alleging breach of contract and tort claims related to the management of the business. Baker counterclaimed against Duffus, also alleging breach of contract and tort claims. After several years of litigation, only the claims by and between Duffus and Baker remained; the superior court granted partial summary judgment to Duffus, finding that the statutes of limitation barred Baker’s counterclaims. A trial jury found against Baker on Duffus’s breach of contract and tort claims, and awarded damages to Duffus. Baker appealed the grant of summary judgment and a number of procedural issues from the trial. Because the Alaska Supreme Court determined it was error to conclude that Baker’s claims were not compulsory counterclaims, thus changing the statutes of limitation analysis, it reversed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment, vacated the judgment, and remanded for a new trial on both Duffus’s cross-claims and Baker’s counterclaims. View "Baker v. Duffus" on Justia Law

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At trial, petitioner Kenneth Wahl offered an acquaintance’s testimony given during grand jury proceedings, invoking the former-testimony exception to the hearsay rule. The superior court excluded the evidence, reasoning that the State did not have the same motive to develop the acquaintance’s testimony at grand jury. The court of appeals agreed. The Alaska Supreme Court, however, concluded the former-testimony exception did not require the opposing party to have had an identical motive to develop the testimony during the previous proceeding. Here, the prosecutor’s motives at grand jury and at trial were sufficiently similar to fit this exception. "But we affirm based on the superior court’s alternate rationale: The defendant did not establish that he had used reasonable means to secure the witness’s attendance, and thus the witness was not 'unavailable' — a requirement for the former-testimony exception to apply." View "Wahl v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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Two debtor limited liability companies (LLCs) executed security agreements in favor of two creditor LLCs, giving the creditor LLCs security interests in three airplanes. Disputes arose when the creditor LLCs, considering the debtor LLCs in default, took possession of two airplanes and removed and retained parts of a third airplane. After a bench trial the superior court entered judgment against the debtor LLCs and an individual associated with both of them. The debtor LLCs and the individual appealed, raising issues about default, seizure of collateral, and post-seizure notice; the individual also questioned the judgment against him personally. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s finding that failure to give Knik Aircraft Leasing notice of default prior to repossession of the Cessnas was harmless; the Court also affirmed the superior court’s interpretation of the text messages between Helmericks and the individual, Brett Crowley. The Court reversed the superior court’s decision that Northern Aviation’s failure to provide notice of disposition of the Cessnas was harmless. The Court vacated the superior court’s decisions about the repossession of the Mooney, its entry of judgment on the Mooney-secured loan, and its entry of judgment against Crowley in his individual capacity. The matter was thereafter remanded to the superior court for further proceedings. View "Crowley, et al. v Northern Aviation, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

Posted in: Aviation, Contracts

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Regina S. and Michael C. married in 2000, and had two children, both boys, from the marriage. Regina filed for divorce in late 2014, alleging Michael had engaged in domestic violence against her. The court thus awarded temporary physical and legal custody of the children to Regina pending a divorce trial and permanent custody award. The court restricted Michael to supervised visitation. Michael never actually had any supervised visits with the children, however, because in May 2015 (when the visits were to begin) Regina left Alaska and took the boys with her. Ultimately sole legal and primary physical custody of the children was awarded to the mother. The trial court did so with “reluctance,” finding that the mother had “engaged in . . . egregious parental alienation,” but also finding that the children had become “adjusted . . . to life” in the mother’s care. The court awarded substantial periods of visitation to the father. It explained that if the mother interfered with visitation, it “w[ould] likely change its custody determination to award . . . custody” to the father. Visitation subsequently failed to occur, and the court ordered the mother to show cause. Following a hearing, the court held the mother in contempt and modified the custody decree to give custody to the father. Regina appealed the modification of custody, claiming she had inadequate notice that custody would be determined at the show-cause hearing. She contended the superior court should have continued the hearing when her counsel withdrew several days earlier. She also claimed the court’s modification of custody was based on the court’s mistaken conclusion that she committed custodial interference, a crime of domestic violence. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the mother had adequate notice of the hearing and that the trial court did not err when it found that her conduct constituted custodial interference. View "Regina C., n/k/a Regina S. v. Michael C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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In early 2016 Jet Commercial Construction, LLC (Jet), an Oklahoma corporation, entered into a contract with Kona Grill, Inc., for the construction of a restaurant in Honolulu, Hawaii. In May, Jet entered into a subcontract with SMJ General Construction, Inc. (SMJ), an Alaska corporation, “to supply the materials and labor for the construction of the building and other improvements.” When disputes arose, the parties engaged in mediation as their subcontract required, reaching a settlement agreement by which they each “absolutely release[d] the other of and from any and all claims, demands and obligations of any kind arising from [the subcontract].” The settlement agreement, unlike the subcontract, contained no dispute resolution provision. Two weeks after settlement the subcontractor filed suit against the contractor in Alaska superior court, seeking damages and an order setting aside the settlement agreement on grounds that the contractor had concealed facts that made it difficult for the subcontractor to obtain releases essential to the settlement. The contractor moved to dismiss, arguing that the subcontractor’s claims were subject to the subcontract’s dispute resolution provision. The superior court granted the contractor’s motion and awarded it attorney’s fees. The subcontractor appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the case should not have been dismissed because the parties, by the express language of their settlement agreement, released each other from “any and all” obligation to engage in dispute resolution as required by the subcontract. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "SMJ General Construction, Inc., v. Jet Commercial Construction, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts