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The City of Houston, Alaska fired its police captain shortly before disbanding its police department. The captain claimed he was terminated in bad faith in order to stop ongoing investigations into city leaders. He challenged: (1) the superior court’s refusal to allow his claim under the Alaska Whistleblower Act; (2) a jury instruction stating that termination for personality conflicts did not constitute bad faith; and (3) an award of attorney’s fees and costs. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that the court’s refusal to allow his claim under the Whistleblower Act, its decision to give the personality conflict instruction, and its award of attorney’s fees and costs were not erroneous and therefore affirmed. View "McNally v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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Girdwood Mining Company transferred stock and mineral royalty interests to Comsult LLC pursuant to a contract between the parties. Girdwood Mining later refused to perform its obligations with respect to the stock and royalty interests, arguing that the contract transferring the stock and royalty interests was illegal. The superior court ruled that because the contract was illegal, it would not grant relief to either party. Comsult appealed seeking enforcement of its stock and royalty interests. the Alaska Supreme Court held that Comsult’s stock and royalty interests and its rights to enforce them remained valid, and therefore reversed the superior court’s decision. View "Comsult LLC v. Girdwood Mining Company" on Justia Law

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Caitlyn E., a Yupik woman, was the mother of Maggie and Bridget, ages nine and six at trial, who are Indian children within the meaning of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) based on their affiliation with the Orutsararmiut Native Council (the Tribe). Caitlyn struggled with abuse of both legal and illegal drugs since a young age. Maggie tested positive for cocaine and marijuana when she was born. The Office of Children’s Services (OCS) received other reports of harm; at a doctor’s visit when the girls were toddlers, they reportedly had multiple impetigo sores on their bodies and had to be cleaned by the doctor, and Caitlyn smelled like marijuana. Caitlyn was also reported to have been violent toward both her daughters, kicking Maggie and giving her a bloody nose, and, while drunk, swinging Bridget around “like a rag doll.” The superior court terminated a Caitlyn's parental rights to the two girls. She appealed, contesting the qualification of the ICWA-required expert witness and the finding that OCS made active efforts to prevent the breakup of the Indian family. Because the superior court’s decision to qualify the expert witness was not an abuse of discretion, and because the superior court’s active efforts finding was not erroneous, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the termination of the mother’s parental rights. View "Caitlyn E. v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Svcs." on Justia Law

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This appeal involved an attorney’s fees dispute following a superior court decision upholding Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell’s certification of the “Bristol Bay Forever” ballot initiative. The initiative was approved to be placed on the November 2014 ballot. It required additional legislative approval for “a large-scale metallic sulfide mining operation located within the watershed of the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve.” Richard Hughes, Alaska Miners Association, and Council of Alaska Producers (Hughes plaintiffs) challenged the certification of the initiative. It was undisputed that this initiative, if passed, would impact the Pebble Project, a potential large-scale mining project in the Bristol Bay region. The initiative’s sponsors, John Holman, Mark Niver, and Christina Salmon (Holman intervenors), intervened on Alaska's side, and the State and intervenors moved for summary judgment to establish the legality of the initiative. The superior court granted the State’s and the Holman intervenors’ motions for summary judgment. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed on the merits. The Holman intervenors then moved for full reasonable attorney’s fees as constitutional claimants under AS 09.60.010. The Hughes plaintiffs opposed, arguing that they themselves were constitutional claimants and that the Holman intervenors were not constitutional claimants because they were intervenor-defendants. The superior court determined that the Holman intervenors were constitutional claimants. It also found that because Pebble Limited Partnership (Pebble) financed at least part of the litigation for the Hughes plaintiffs, Pebble was the real party in interest; the court further found that Pebble did not qualify as a constitutional claimant because it had sufficient economic incentive to bring the action. The court therefore awarded the Holman intervenors full reasonable attorney’s fees. The Hughes plaintiffs appealed. The Supreme Court held that because this case was fundamentally about constitutional limits on the ballot-initiative process and not whether the Pebble Project should go forward, the Hughes plaintiffs did not have sufficient economic incentive to remove them from constitutional-claimant status, and therefore reversed the award of attorney’s fees. View "Alaska Miners Association v. Holman" on Justia Law

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This case involved a cancelled contract between Richard Feeney and Alaskan Wind Industries (AWI), a renewable energy contractor, for the sale and installation of a wind turbine on Feeney’s property in Homer. Feeney cancelled a contract to install a wind turbine on his property and sued AWI to recover his down payment. The contractor filed a counterclaim for breach of contract. The superior court concluded that the contractor was required to be licensed by the State and had misrepresented its licensing status. It also concluded that the contractor could not maintain the counterclaim because the contractor was unregistered. The court ordered the contract rescinded and the contractor to return the down payment less a setoff covering costs incurred in the transaction. The contractor failed to pay and the court amended the judgment to include the contractor’s individual owners and a successor company. The contractor’s individual owners appealed the licensing determination and the amended judgment. The property owner cross-appeals the setoff calculation. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that the court erred only in its setoff calculation. View "Daggett v. Feeney" on Justia Law

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Sunny Radebaugh contested both her inability to cross-examine the nurse who performed an annual assessment and the Department of Health and Social Services' reversal of an administrative law judge’s determination. Radebaugh was a Medicaid in-home nursing care benefits recipient, who had her benefits terminated by the Department after an annual assessment. The assessment concluded that Radebaugh’s physical condition had materially improved to the point where she no longer required the benefits. She challenged the termination of her benefits at an administrative hearing, and the nurse who performed the assessment did not testify. Following the hearing, the administrative law judge determined that the Department erroneously terminated her benefits. The Department, as final decision maker, reversed the administrative law judge’s determination and reinstated the decision to terminate Radebaugh’s benefits. Radebaugh appealed to the superior court, which first determined that the Department had violated her due process rights but then reversed itself and upheld the Department’s decision. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded Radebaugh waived the right to challenge her inability to cross-examine the nurse who performed the assessment. The Court held that the agency sufficiently supported its final decision. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s affirmance of the Department’s final decision. View "Radebaugh v. Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not clearly err in finding that the father did not remedy the mental health issues that were “the root cause” of his inability to safely parent his daughter. The Court also concluded that it was not an abuse of discretion to deny the father’s motion to allow his attorney to withdraw. The superior court terminated a father’s parental rights to his daughter. He appealed the superior court’s finding that he failed to remedy the conduct and conditions that placed his child in need of aid, arguing that he cleaned up the family home, obtained a commercial driver’s license and a job, and passed drug tests during the pendency of the case. He also argued the superior court deprived him of his right to self-representation when it denied his motion to allow his appointed counsel to withdraw shortly before the termination trial. View "Matthew H. v. Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the appraisal panel’s valuation of Calais Company, Inc. (a closely held corporation), but reversed the superior court’s denial of shareholder Deborah Ivy’s request for post-judgment interest. Ivy sued Calais in 2007 seeking dissolution of the company. The parties settled, and Calais agreed to buy out Ivy’s shares of the company based on a valuation of Calais conducted by a three-member appraisal panel. The appraisers returned an initial valuation in 2009. The superior court approved that valuation, but Calais appealed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, concluding that the appraisers had failed to understand their contractually assigned duty. The appraisal panel returned a second valuation in October 2014, which the superior court again approved. Ivy appealed again, arguing: (1) that on remand the superior court improperly instructed the appraisers; (2) that the appraisers made substantive errors in their valuation; and (3) that she was entitled to post-judgment interest. View "Ivy v. Calais Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Alaska Supreme Court disagreed with the probate master and superior court’s underlying conclusion that a paternity determination could not be made in estate proceedings, or that a laches defense could apply in this context. A decedent left a will stating he had no children. But during probate proceedings a man in his early 30s claimed to be the decedent’s son, requested genetic testing on the decedent’s cremated remains, and filed numerous motions in an attempt to share in the decedent’s estate. The man’s mother also filed numerous motions in the proceedings, claiming to be a creditor of the decedent’s estate and seeking recovery of child support from the man’s birth to his 18th birthday. After previously signing orders denying the motions based on the probate master’s reasoning that paternity determinations may not be made in estate proceedings, the superior court ultimately ruled that: (1) laches barred the man’s and his mother’s efforts to establish paternity; and (2) because paternity had not been established, neither the man nor his mother had standing to pursue a claim in the estate proceedings. Despite disagreeing with these findings, the Supreme Court nonetheless affirmed the superior court’s decision with respect to the man’s mother on the alternative ground that her putative creditor claim: the only basis by which she could be an interested person in the estate proceedings unquestionably was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. But if the man proved to be the decedent’s son he had, at a minimum, certain statutory rights that: (1) may be established through declaratory judgment in the probate proceedings; and (2) might not be barred by a statute of limitations. Because the statute of limitations defense to the man’s claim was briefed only in limited fashion in the superior court and was not ruled on by that court, and because the issue has not been adequately briefed to the Supreme Court, the Court asked for supplemental briefing be filed to assist it in resolving whether a statute of limitations may bar the man’s recovery from the estate. View "Estate of Seward" on Justia Law

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A surveyor discovered a discrepancy between the location of a longstanding fence and the boundary between two lots. The property owners sued to quiet title to the fenced-off section of their lot. But the owners of the encroaching fence claimed adverse possession of the fenced-off section, and the superior court entered summary judgment in their favor. The property owners who brought the quiet title action appealed, arguing that the court erred in its application of procedural rules and substantive law. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Yuk v. Robertson" on Justia Law