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The City of Cordova evicted commercial tenants from city-owned land and was granted a money judgment against them for unpaid rent and sales taxes. The tenants left behind various improvements, as well as items of personal property related to their operation of a marine fueling facility on the land. The city pursued collection of its money judgment for several years before suspending its efforts; about eight years later it resumed its attempts to collect. The tenants, contending that they had reasonably assumed by the passage of time that the judgment had been satisfied, moved for an accounting of their left-behind property and the amount still owing on the judgment. The city informed the superior court that it had executed only on bank accounts and wages and that several improvements had reverted to city ownership and therefore did not count against the judgment. It claimed not to know what happened to the rest of the property the tenants identified as having been left behind. The superior court found the city’s response sufficient and allowed execution to continue. The tenants appealed, arguing that they were entitled to a better accounting of their left-behind property and that the city was estopped from contending that the judgment was still unsatisfied. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed in part, holding that it was the city’s burden to produce evidence of the property’s disposition and that it failed to carry this burden. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held there were genuine issues of material fact about whether the city was estopped from contending that the judgment remains unsatisfied. The Court therefore reversed the superior court’s order accepting the accounting and allowing execution to continue. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Beecher v. City of Cordova" on Justia Law

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A mother moved to modify an existing custody arrangement with her ex-husband. She asked that she be given primary custody of their daughter and that the ex­ husband’s visitation rights and legal custody over her son (the ex-husband’s stepson) be terminated. The trial court denied her motion and found that, given the recent intervention of the stepson’s biological father, the ex-husband’s obligation to pay child support was terminated. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the modification motion with regard to the daughter. However, the legal intervention of a previously absent biological parent constituted a substantial change in circumstances as a matter of law, and accordingly the Court reversed the trial court’s denial of the modification motion for the son and remanded for best interests findings under AS 25.24.150(c). Finally, the Supreme Court held that a psychological parent’s child support obligation continues so long as that parent maintains some custody of the child, and reversed the trial court’s absolution of the ex-husband’s child support obligation. View "Moore v. McGillis" on Justia Law

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A mother appealed a superior court’s decision to modify a long-term domestic violence protective order against her ex-husband. The protective order was issued by a magistrate judge, based on his findings that the father had committed acts of domestic violence. But the superior court, during the parties’ subsequent and separate divorce and custody case, concluded that findings of domestic violence were not supported by the evidence. When modifying the protective order to accommodate a change in the parties’ living arrangements, the superior court also modified the order’s factual findings about domestic violence, noting its own conclusion that such findings were not justified. The mother argued the superior court erred by modifying the factual findings of domestic violence underlying an unappealed final order. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed the superior court lacked the authority to modify the factual findings on which the order was based. As such, the Supreme COurt vacated that aspect of the protective order. View "Ruerup v. Ruerup" on Justia Law

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An Indian child in the custody of the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. The child’s psychiatrist recommended treating him with an antidepressant, with the addition of a mood stabilizer if it later became necessary. When the mother rejected the recommendation, OCS asked the superior court for authority to consent to the medications over the mother’s objection. The court granted OCS’s request. The mother appealed, arguing that the superior court failed to apply the correct standard for determining whether her fundamental constitutional rights as a parent could be overridden. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed with her in part, holding that the constitutional framework laid out in Myers v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute, 138 P.3d 238 (Alaska 2006), applied to a court’s decision whether to authorize medication of a child in OCS custody over the parent’s objection. The Supreme Court concluded that the superior court’s findings in this case regarding the antidepressant satisfied the “Myers” standard but that its findings regarding the optional mood stabilizer did not. The Court therefore affirmed in part and reversed in part the superior court’s order authorizing OCS to consent to the recommended medications. View "Kiva O. v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Svcs." on Justia Law

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Kaleb Basey was the subject of a joint criminal investigation conducted by the Alaska State Troopers (AST) and the Fort Wainwright Criminal Investigation Division. He was a party to two federal cases stemming from that investigation. First, Basey was indicted by a federal grand jury in December 2014 and was the defendant in a federal criminal case. Second, Basey brought a federal civil rights lawsuit in January 2016 against more than a dozen named individuals, including AST officers, based on their alleged actions during the investigation and his arrest. Basey filed two public records requests with AST seeking records related to his specific investigation, records related to AST’s use of military search authorizations, and disciplinary and training certification records for two AST investigators who were defendants in the civil case. About a week later AST denied Basey’s requests on the basis that all of the information he requested pertained to pending litigation. Basey appealed to the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety; the Commissioner denied the appeal. The denial letter stated that the requested records “pertain to a matter that is currently the subject of civil and/or criminal litigation to which [Basey is] a party” and that pursuant to AS 40.25.122 the records “continue to be unavailable through [a public records request] and must be obtained in accordance with court rules.” Basey subsequently filed a complaint to compel AST to produce the records. The State filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that two statutory exceptions justified the denial of Basey’s requests. On appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court, Basey argued AST had to comply with his requests for the records he requested. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the State could not establish disclosure of these records “could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings” or that either of these pending actions “involv[es] a public agency” as required by the statutory exceptions the State cited. View "Basey v. Alaska Dept. of Public Safety, Division of Alaska State Troopers" on Justia Law

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Paternal grandparents sought a court order for visitation with their grandson. The superior court denied their request because they did not allege that the child suffered any detriment from a lack of court-ordered visitation. Finding no reversible error in that denial, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed: “[t]he balance of interests that due process requires was resolved in favor of the parents, and the result is the ‘showing of detriment’ test which the grandparents here have failed to even argue they could satisfy.” View "Jordan v. Watson" on Justia Law

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An attorney represented a Native corporation in litigation nearly three decades ago. The corporation disputed the attorney’s claim for fees, and in 1995, after the attorney’s death, the superior court entered judgment on an arbitration award of nearly $800,000 to the attorney’s law firm, then represented by the attorney’s son. The corporation paid eight installments on the judgment, but eventually stopped paying, citing financial difficulties. The law firm sought a writ of execution for the unpaid balance, and the writ was granted. The corporation appealed but under threat of the writ paid $643,760 while the appeal was pending. In a 2013 opinion the Alaska Supreme Court held the writ invalid and required the firm to repay the $643,760. The corporation was never repaid. The original law firm moved its assets to a new firm and sought a stay of execution, averring that the original firm now lacked the funds necessary for repayment. The corporation sued the original firm, the successor firm, and the son for breach of contract, fraudulent conveyance, conspiracy to fraudulently convey assets, violations of the Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA), unjust enrichment, and punitive damages. The firm counterclaimed, seeking recovery in quantum meruit for attorney’s fees it claimed were still owing for its original representation. The superior court granted summary judgment for the corporation on the law firm’s quantum meruit claim and, following trial, found that the son and both law firms fraudulently conveyed assets and were liable for treble damages under the UTPA. The son and the law firms appealed, arguing the trial court erred by: (1) holding that the quantum meruit claim was barred by res judicata; (2) holding the defendants liable for fraudulent conveyance; (3) awarding damages under the UTPA; and (4) making mistakes in the form of judgment and award of costs. The Alaska Supreme Court found no reversible error with one exception. The Court remanded for reconsideration of whether all three defendants are liable for prejudgment interest from the same date. View "Merdes & Merdes, P.C. v. Leisnoi, Inc." on Justia Law

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Jacqualine Schaeffer and Linus Mathis married in April 2002, separated in March 2012, and divorced in April 2015. Two children were born of the marriage, one in September 2002 and the other in June 2004. The parties litigated the divorce for three years, during which time the father had interim sole legal custody of the children, and the physical custody arrangements were modified multiple times. In 2015 the superior court issued the divorce decree and made findings regarding child custody and property distribution. The mother appealed, raising eight issues. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed and remanded the superior court’s decision regarding the mother’s student loans and, if necessary, for a recalculation of the equitable distribution of the marital estate. The Court affirmed the superior court’s decision in all other respects. View "Schaeffer-Mathis v. Mathis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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A married couple, with the help of an attorney-mediator, reached a settlement agreement and filed for divorce in January 2012. Under the agreement the marital home and primary physical custody of the couple’s three children were awarded to the mother. After the divorce the father moved into a small cabin, and expanded it to the point that it was able to adequately house the children. The father moved to modify custody on the grounds that there had been a substantial change in circumstances since the original custody order. The superior court denied the motion without a hearing, and the father appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court held the father presented evidence of a substantial change in circumstances and that the court should have conducted an evidentiary hearing. Therefore the trial court’s order was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Fredrickson v. Hackett" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Michael Rae was a prisoner in the custody of Alaska’s Department of Corrections (DOC). In January 2015, he filed a complaint (labeled a “petition”) alleging that DOC lacked the constitutional authority to hold him. In an attached motion for expedited consideration he asserted that he had been “subjected to numerous forms of cruel and unusual punishments” including solitary confinement and impediments to his ability to conduct legal research. In June 2015, the superior court sua sponte dismissed the complaint with prejudice because Rae failed to “advance any cognizable or discernable claim.” Rae filed both a motion for reconsideration and a notice of his intent to seek a default, following up with a 75-page application for a default judgment. The superior court denied reconsideration, concluding that “Rae’s main point of contention is that [DOC] has no legal authority to hold him or exist at all” and that the “argument is without merit and the relief sought is not available to Rae.” The Alaska Supreme Court agreed the complaint failed to state a cognizable claim, and affirmed the dismissal. View "Rae v. Alaska Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law