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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

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In May 2014, the Alaska Department of Corrections found inmate Sababu Hodari guilty of a disciplinary infraction. Hodari appealed the Department’s decision to the superior court, arguing that the Department violated his right to due process by failing to follow prescribed procedure in the disciplinary hearing. While the appeal was pending the Department reversed its decision and removed the disciplinary records from Hodari’s file. The superior court then found that Hodari had effectively prevailed on his appeal, and it allowed him to recover costs and fees from the Department. Hodari moved for an award of $4,800 in attorney’s and paralegal fees. The court awarded Hodari fees and costs but did not specify the amount of the award in its order, so the Department moved for clarification of the fee-award order. In its clarification order the court stated that because Hodari had not shown that the paralegal fees were for legal work “ordinarily performed by an attorney,” he was only entitled to $1,800 in attorney’s fees. Hodari appealed, arguing that the superior court abused its discretion in refusing to award him paralegal fees. The Alaska Supreme Court disagreed, and therefore affirmed the superior court’s fee award. View "Hodari v. Alaska Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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A mother and son disputed ownership of a house in Ketchikan. The son contended his mother gave him the property following her husband’s death, and that he spent years repairing and renovating it on the understanding that it was his. His mother argued the house was still hers, and agreed to transfer title only if her son repaired the property and paid off the mortgage, which he failed to do. Following a bench trial on the son’s quiet title claim, the superior court found that he failed to prove his mother’s intent to transfer the property. Because the superior court properly applied the relevant legal doctrines and did not clearly err in its findings of fact, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed its judgment. View "Dixon v. Dixon" on Justia Law

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An undeveloped greenbelt buffer runs between Bill Yankee’s property and the back of Chris and Ann Gilbertos’. The two properties are in different subdivisions and therefore subject to different covenants: Yankee’s property is in the Nunatak Terrace Subdivision whereas the Gilbertos’ is in the Montana Creek Subdivision. Yankee complained about the fence to the Director of Juneau’s Community Development Department, but the Director responded that the fence was allowed, citing longstanding policy. Yankee then appealed to the Planning Commission, which affirmed the Director’s decision. Yankee next appealed to the Juneau Assembly, which rejected his appeal for lack of standing. Yankee appealed this decision to the superior court, which affirmed the Assembly’s reliance on standing as grounds to reject the appeal. Yankee then appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, which concluded the Director’s decision was an appropriate exercise of his enforcement discretion, not ordinarily subject to judicial review. On that alternative ground the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s dismissal of the appeal. View "Yankee v. City & Borough of Juneau" on Justia Law

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A trial court determined the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) failed to demonstrate it made reasonable efforts to reunify a family. Nonetheless, the court terminated Kylie L.’s parental rights to her daughter, finding that OCS’s failure was “excused.” The mother appealed, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s “excuse.” View "Kylie L. v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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Divorced parents reached a custody settlement giving the mother sole legal and primary physical custody of their son; the father had visitation at the mother’s discretion. After the father later requested joint legal and shared physical custody, the mother sought authorization to relocate with the child out of state. At a combined hearing on both issues the father presented evidence that the mother may have committed domestic violence against a former boyfriend. The superior court denied the custody modification request for failure to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances. The court granted the mother authorization to move, finding her reasons for relocating legitimate and determining that the child’s best interests were served by staying with the mother. Under the court’s subsequent order the mother maintained sole legal and primary physical custody, with limited visitation by the father. The father appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the determination that the mother’s move was for legitimate purposes; however, it vacated the underlying finding that no domestic violence occurred between the mother and her former boyfriend and remanded that issue for renewed consideration. Necessarily, the Court remanded the custody and visitation decisions for renewed consideration. View "Bruce H. v. Jennifer L." on Justia Law

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After a mother and daughter were involved in a car accident, they (and the father) sued the employer of the other vehicle’s driver. The employer made separate offers of judgment to the mother and daughter under Alaska Civil Rule 68, which they rejected. At trial all three plaintiffs were awarded damages. With respect to the mother, the superior court awarded partial attorney’s fees to the employer under Rule 68 because the mother’s award was less than 95% of the offer made to her. Mother appealed, arguing that the offer of judgment was not a valid Rule 68 offer and that the superior court wrongly excluded certain costs that, when included, would have led to an award of more than 95% of the offer of judgment. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court found the offer of judgment was valid and that the court did not err in excluding costs not covered by Alaska Civil Rule 79 when comparing the offer to the mother’s recovery. View "Whittenton v. Peter Pan Seafoods, Inc." on Justia Law