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The superior court terminated a father’s parental rights to his son, finding that the child was in need of aid because of abandonment, neglect, and the father’s incarceration and that the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) had satisfied its statutory obligation to make reasonable efforts to reunify parent and child. The father appealed, arguing these findings were unsupported by the evidence. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the father: the record showed he initiated efforts to visit the child, who was already in OCS custody, as soon as he learned of his possible paternity; that during the father’s subsequent incarceration he had visitation as often as OCS was able to provide it; and that OCS never created a case plan to direct the father’s efforts toward reunification. The Supreme Court concluded it was clear error to find that the child was in need of aid and that OCS made reasonable efforts toward reunification, and reversed the termination decision. View "Duke S. v. Alaska, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

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Two young siblings were removed from their biological parents’ home and placed with a foster family. The maternal biological grandparents remained involved in the children’s lives and sought to adopt them, as did the foster parents. The grandparents and foster parents entered into a formal settlement agreement, which was incorporated into the ultimate adoption decree. Under the agreement the grandparents waived their right to pursue adoption in exchange for several specific guarantees and assurances, including that the foster parents would comply with a visitation agreement and facilitate a relationship between the children and the grandparents. When the grandparents were later denied post-adoption visitation, they moved to enforce the agreement and then to vacate the adoption. The superior court vacated the adoption after finding that the foster parents made material misrepresentations throughout the pre-adoption process, including specific misrepresentations about their intent to comply with the visitation and relationship agreement. The superior court placed the children back in state custody to determine a suitable adoptive placement. The foster parents appealed, arguing that the grandparents’ sole remedy was enforcement of the visitation agreement. The Alaska Supreme Court found that an adoption could be vacated due to material misrepresentations, and because the adoptive parents did not challenge the court’s factual finding that they never intended to comply with the settlement agreement’s visitation and relationship provisions, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision vacating the adoption. View "In Re Adoption of E.H. and J.H." on Justia Law

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Steven Levi appealed a superior court decision affirming a Department of Labor and Workforce Development order requiring him to repay several months of unemployment insurance benefits plus interest and penalties because he under-reported his weekly income while receiving benefits. Based on a Department handbook, Levi argued he was not required to report his wages unless he earned more than $50 per day. The Alaska Supreme Court determined Levi’s reading of the handbook was unreasonable. Nonetheless, the governing statute required a reduction in benefits whenever a claimant’s wages were more than $50 per week. Levi made other arguments, but the Court found no merit to any of them. The Court affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Levi v. State, Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development" on Justia Law

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A divorcing couple disputed custody of their child and division of their marital property. The wife alleged for the first time during trial that the husband had engaged in a pattern of domestic violence. The court found her testimony credible, applied the statutory domestic violence presumption, and awarded her primary physical and sole legal custody of the child. The husband filed a motion to reopen the evidence regarding domestic violence and substance abuse more than a month after the court’s oral decision. The court denied his motion. The court divided the marital property 60/40 in favor of the wife, awarded all of the real property to the husband, and ordered him to make an equalization payment. The husband appealed the denial of his motion to reopen the evidence and the property division. Because the husband waived any argument that he should be allowed to present additional evidence and the court did not abuse its discretion in its property division, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Burns-Marshall v. Krogman" on Justia Law

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Conar Groppel was charged with first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter, first- and second-degree arson, first-degree criminal mischief, first-degree burglary, and evidence tampering. Groppel notified the superior court he intended to rely on the defense of diminished capacity, and pursuant to AS 12.47.070(a) the court was required to appoint at least two qualified psychiatrists or board-certified forensic psychologists to examine him and report upon his mental condition. Groppel also moved for a competency and culpability examination. This case presented questions regarding to whom these experts served, how they were to be chosen, and who had bear their costs. The Alaska Supreme Court answered that these were the court’s experts, that Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) had to provide them if API did not employ such qualified experts, then the superior court had to appoint qualified experts and the Alaska Court System had bear their costs. View "Alaska v. Groppel" on Justia Law

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The superior court appointed a child’s grandparents as his guardians after finding that the father’s parental rights of custody had been suspended by circumstances because it would be detrimental to the child’s welfare to remove the child from the grandparents’ care. The father appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the term "suspended by circumstances" in AS 13.26.132 was properly focused on the parent's ability to accept the rights and responsibilities of parenthood rather than on the child's welfare. In this case, the superior court found the father was not an unfit parent and had not abandoned the child, the court erred in finding all of his parental rights of custody had been suspended by circumstances. The Supreme Court therefore vacated the guardianship order and remanded the case back to the superior court with instructions to dismiss the grandparents' guardianship petition. View "Michael W. v. Brown" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Stacey Graham pleaded guilty to second-degree murder after striking and killing two pedestrians while driving intoxicated. He was sued by the victims’ families. Graham appealed his sentence, arguing he could assert the privilege against self-incrimination in response to the families’ discovery requests based on: (1) his criminal sentence appeal; and (2) the possibility that he might file an application for post-conviction relief if his sentence was upheld. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded Graham could assert the privilege against self-incrimination in the civil proceeding based on the possibility that the decision on his pending sentence appeal might require a new sentencing proceeding where his compelled testimony in the civil proceeding could be used to his disadvantage. The Supreme Court declined to decide whether Graham was entitled to assert the privilege based on the possibility that he might eventually file an application for post-conviction relief because that issue was not ripe for review. View "Graham v. Durr" on Justia Law

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Kevin Patterson has been incarcerated since 2013, having been convicted after a bench trial of seven counts of possession of child pornography. In May 2015 Patterson filed a 121-page civil complaint in superior court in Juneau. The complaint named as defendants the governor and his predecessor, the Alaska Legislature, a state senator, the then-current and two former attorneys general, an assistant attorney general, an attorney with the Office of Public Advocacy, and the State of Alaska. The complaint alleged that these state officials and entities had “directly harmed . . . Patterson in numerous ways and [had] violated his Constitutional Rights over and over.” It sought damages for Patterson’s incarceration, violence and emotional distress he allegedly suffered while in prison, and the alleged denial of medical care. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of Patterson’s complaint, holding a civil suit for damages allegedly caused by a criminal conviction or sentence may not be maintained if judgment for the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of the conviction or sentence, unless the conviction or sentence has first been set aside in the course of the criminal proceedings. The Court also rejected Patterson’s claim that the superior court demonstrated an unfair bias against him. View "Patterson v. Walker" on Justia Law

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The superior court awarded one of the husband’s investment accounts to his wife in a divorce. Before transferring the account, the husband transferred shares of three mutual funds from that account to a separate investment account. The wife asked the court to order him to account for the missing shares. The court ordered the husband to pay the wife the value of the shares on the date of the transfer and he did so. The parties contested the value of the income earned by the improperly transferred shares. Following lengthy litigation of this issue, the superior court awarded the wife enhanced attorney’s fees. The wife appealed the valuation of the earned income of the shares; the husband cross-appealed the valuation of the earned income on the shares and the award of attorney’s fees. The Alaska Supreme Court found the superior court appropriately awarded the wife prejudgment interest instead of damages as well as enhanced attorney’s fees. View "Erwin v. Mendenhall" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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A mother appealed the termination of her parental rights to her son, an Indian child. She argued the trial court violated the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) by finding that the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) made active efforts and that her continued custody of her son was likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage to him. She also argued that the trial court’s latter finding was not supported by the testimony of a qualified expert as required by ICWA. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s order terminating her parental rights because its findings satisfied ICWA’s requirements. View "Demetria H. v. Alaska, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law