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The superior court issued a 30-day involuntary commitment order after finding that respondent Connor J was gravely disabled and there were no less restrictive alternatives to hospitalization. The respondent appealed, arguing that it was plain error to find he waived his statutory right to be present at the commitment hearing, that it was clear error to find there were no less restrictive alternatives, and that the commitment order should be amended to omit a finding that he posed a danger to others, a finding the superior court meant to reject. The Alaska Supreme Court disagreed with respondent's contentions. However, because there was no dispute that the “danger to others” finding should not have been included in the commitment order, the Court remanded for issuance of a corrected order. View "In Re Hospitalization of Connor J." on Justia Law

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Two separate appeals from involuntary commitment orders, brought by two appellants, one of whom also appealed a related involuntary medication order were consolidated for the Alaska Supreme Court's review. The challenged orders expired while the respective appeals were pending; the issue each case presented centered on whether the Supreme Court should revisit its mootness jurisprudence in involuntary commitment and involuntary medication appeals. The Court held that all appeals of involuntary admissions for treatment and involuntary medication were categorically exempt from the mootness doctrine. After reviewing each case on its merits and finding no error in the orders appealed, the Court affirmed in each case. View "In Re Hospitalization of Naomi B." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants were an adult daughter (believed to be incompetent) and her mother. After retaining counsel, the mother brought a tort action as the daughter’s next friend for in utero injuries to the daughter, which the mother alleged were caused almost 20 years previously in a boating accident. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, but they also offered to permit plaintiffs to dismiss the case with each side to bear its own costs and fees. The plaintiffs’ attorney believed that accepting this walk-away offer was in the daughter’s best interest, but the mother disagreed. Facing a conflict of interest between his two clients, the attorney moved to withdraw. The superior court permitted the attorney to withdraw and ultimately granted the unopposed motion for summary judgment and awarded costs and fees against both plaintiffs. The mother and daughter appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court held that before granting the attorney’s motion to withdraw the court should have determined the daughter’s competency, and if she was found incompetent the court should have appointed a guardian ad litem or taken further action to protect her interests pursuant to Alaska Civil Rule 17(c). Therefore, the Court reversed the trial court’s orders granting the motion to withdraw and summary judgment, vacated the award of attorney’s fees and costs, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bravo v. Aker" on Justia Law

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In three criminal cases consolidated for appeal, each defendant sought to introduce expert testimony by a polygraph examiner that the defendant was truthful when he made exculpatory statements relating to the charges against him during a polygraph examination conducted using the “comparison question technique” (CQT). In two of the cases, the superior courts found that testimony based on a CQT polygraph examination satisfied the requirements for scientific evidence under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993) and Alaska v. Coon, 974 P.2d 386 (Alaska 1999). In the third case, the superior court reached the opposite conclusion and found the evidence inadmissible. The issue these cases presented for the Alaska Supreme Court's review centered on the appellate standard of review for rulings on the admissibility of scientific evidence and to determine the admissibility of CQT polygraph evidence. The Court concluded that appellate review of Daubert/Coon determinations should be conducted under a hybrid standard: the superior court’s preliminary factual determinations should be reviewed for clear error; based on those findings and the evidence available, whether a particular scientific theory or technique has been shown to be “scientifically valid” under Daubert and Coon is a question of law to which the Court applies its independent judgment; and where proposed scientific evidence passes muster under that standard, the superior court’s case-specific determinations and further evidentiary rulings are reviewed for abuse of discretion. Applying this standard here, the Supreme Court concluded that CQT polygraph evidence had not been shown to be sufficiently reliable to satisfy the Daubert/Coon standard. View "Alaska v. Sharpe" on Justia Law

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An Alaskan superior court denied a father’s motion to modify custody because it did not believe it had subject matter jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) to modify an Oregon custody order. The father appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, arguing arguing that the superior court erred in failing to consider the controlling statute that governs the court’s jurisdiction to modify an out-of-state order. The father also appeals an order imposing sanctions, including costs and attorney’s fees. The Supreme Court agreed that the controlling statute, AS 25.30.320, allowed the superior court to modify an out-of-state custody order if it “determines that neither the child, nor a parent, nor a person acting as a parent presently resides in the other state.” It did not appear from the record that the superior court considered this subsection of the statute. The Court therefore vacated the superior court’s order denying the motion to modify for lack of jurisdiction. And because the sanctions order was premised on the court’s jurisdictional ruling, it too was vacated. View "Fox v. Grace" on Justia Law

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A psychologist at a mental health clinic petitioned to have a patient involuntarily hospitalized. The superior court held a hearing on the petition at which only the psychologist gave substantive testimony. The court granted the petition, and the patient was hospitalized. The patient appealed the trial court’s denial of her motion to vacate the involuntary hospitalization order. Because the superior court failed to conduct a screening investigation that met statutory requirements, and because this failure was not harmless error, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s denial of the patient’s motion to vacate. View "In Re Hospitalization of Paige M." on Justia Law

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Christopher Hess was convicted by jury of second and third degree assault. He appealed, arguing that the superior court committed plain error by not addressing improper statements in the prosecutor’s closing arguments. The court of appeals affirmed Hess’s convictions and held that, although some of the prosecutor’s statements were improper, they did not undermine the trial’s fundamental fairness. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the comments at issue here "affected important rights that could affect the fundamental fairness of the proceeding. The prosecutor suggested that the jury should consider his personal opinion of defense attorneys and Hess’s defense strategy. The prosecutor’s attack on the defense strategy and defense counsel was inappropriate, the comments were of no probative value, and they created a high potential for unfair prejudice." Because these statements were plain error, the Supreme Court reversed Hess' convictions and remanded for a new trial. View "Hess v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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After a bench trial, the superior court determined that a pilot who flew seasonally for a remote wilderness lodge, was a professional employee and therefore subject to an exemption from the overtime requirements of the Alaska Wage and Hour Act. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed that decision on appeal, holding that the pilot was not exempt, and remanded the case for a determination of the overtime hours actually worked. On remand the superior court framed the issue as whether the pilot, during his time at the lodge, was “engaged to wait or waiting to be engaged.” The superior court applied a multi-factor test and found that the pilot was “waiting to be engaged” and therefore was not entitled to overtime compensation for hours other than those he spent actually performing duties for his employer. The court found that the pilot had worked 6.4 hours of unpaid overtime but declined to award liquidated damages, finding that an exception to the liquidated damages statute applied because the lodge had acted reasonably and in good faith. The court also declined to award attorney’s fees to the lodge despite the fact that it had bettered the terms of several offers of judgment. Both parties appealed. The Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err in its legal analysis when determining whether the pilot was entitled to overtime compensation. Furthermore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s decision not to award attorney’s fees to the employer. But because the superior court made no findings about the lodge’s subjective good faith, the case was remanded for further consideration of liquidated damages and whether the good-faith exception applied. View "Moody v. Royal Wolf Lodge" on Justia Law

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A man sued his neighbors, alleging that an access road on their property caused flooding on his property. After he reached a settlement with the neighbors, the man stipulated to a dismissal of his claims with prejudice. Three years later the man again sued the neighbors as well as the Municipality of Anchorage, alleging that the flooding had continued and asserting new claims of nuisance, trespass, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract. The superior court granted summary judgment for the Municipality on the basis of either collateral estoppel or res judicata. The man appealed; the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Strong v. Williams" on Justia Law

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A divorced mother and father shared joint legal custody of their son. The mother moved for a modification of legal custody, alleging that the father was failing to cooperate on important issues such as counseling, the selection of a middle school, and medical care; she also moved for a declaration that the parents did not have to mediate their custody disputes before filing a modification motion, as required by their custody agreement. The superior court denied the request for declaratory relief and denied the motion for modification of custody without a hearing. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the superior court that the motion for declaratory relief was properly denied, as neither party was seeking to enforce the mediation provision and it presented no actual controversy. However, the Court concluded the mother’s allegations in her motion to modify legal custody made a prima facie showing that the parents’ lack of cooperation was serious enough to negatively affect the child’s well-being, and that the mother was therefore entitled to an evidentiary hearing on modification. The trial court’s order was therefore reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Edith A. v. Jonah A." on Justia Law