Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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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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A mother appealed the termination of her parental rights to her son on findings of abandonment, mental injury, neglect and parental substance abuse. The mother challenged none of the superior court’s factual findings; rather, she alleged the court violated her due process rights during the termination trial by: (1) prejudging the case; (2) improperly assuming the role of a prosecutor while examining witnesses; and (3) relying on research and evidence outside the record to impeach witnesses and disregard testimony favorable to her. Asserting that the court’s actions deprived her of the right to an impartial decision-maker and amounted to structural error, she sought reversal and remand before a different judge. Although the Alaska Supreme Court agreed the court took inappropriate action with respect to witness testimony and other evidence regarding one issue at the trial, the Supreme Court concluded this did not amount to structural error and that it did not otherwise undercut the unrelated findings supporting the termination of the mother’s parental rights. View "Sarah A. v. Alaska, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

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An expert witness in a personal injury trial varied from his written report, expressing new opinions to justify a bar employee's use of force. The plaintiff sought to cross-examine the expert with testimony the expert had been given to review prior to writing his report; the testimony was contrary to the expert's new opinions. The superior court refused to allow this cross-examination, telling plaintiff she could try to call a rebuttal witness. Defendant objected because the new witness was not on the witness list. The superior court then refuses to allow the witness to testify. The jury found the employee was justified in using reasonable force to defend against a trespass. On appeal, plaintiff argued the superior court erred in precluding her cross-examination of the witness and for refusing to allow her rebuttal witness. The Alaska Supreme Court determined it was prejudicial abuse of discretion to preclude the rebuttal witness due to the defense expert's new and unexpected trial opinions, so it vacated the judgment and remanded for a new trial without reaching the cross-examination issue. View "Johnson v. J.G. Pattee, Inc." on Justia Law

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A taxi driver injured in an accident while working filed a report with the Alaska Workers' Compensation Board. The nature of the relationship between the taxi company and the driver was disputed. The driver retained an attorney for a lawsuit against the other driver, and settled that claim with the other driver's insurance company without his taxi company's approval. Because the taxi company did not have workers' compensation insurance, the Alaska Workers' Compensation Benefits Guaranty Fund assumed responsibility for adjusting the workers' compensation claim. The Fund asked the Board to dismiss the taxi driver's claim because of the unapproved settlement. The Board dismissed the claim, and the Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission ultimately affirmed the Board's decision. The taxi driver appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the Commission's decision. View "Atkins v. Inlet Transportation & Taxi Service, Inc." on Justia Law

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Frank Griswold submitted public records requests to the City of Homer, seeking all records of communications between members of the Homer Board of Adjustment, City employees, and attorneys for the City leading up to the Board’s decision in a separate case involving Griswold. He also requested attorney invoices to the City for a six-month period. Citing various privileges, the City Manager refused to provide any records of communications surrounding the Board’s decision; the Manager provided some complete invoices but provided only redacted versions of some invoices and completely withheld some invoices. Griswold appealed the partial denial of his records request to the City Council; the Council affirmed, and Griswold appealed to the superior court. The superior court substantially affirmed. Griswold then turned to the Alaska Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed with respect to the communications relating to the Board’s decision, but vacated and remanded the attorney invoices issue for further analysis. View "Griswold v. Homer City Council" on Justia Law

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Frank Griswold twice appealed the Homer Advisory Planning Commission’s approval of a conditional use permit to the Homer Board of Adjustment and later appealed the Board’s second decision to the superior court, which sua sponte dismissed his appeal for lack of standing. Because Griswold did not have notice that his standing was at issue, his due process rights were violated. The Alaska Supreme Court therefore reversed and remanded for the superior court to decide his appeal on the merits. View "Griswold v. Homer Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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Paulette Harper sued two New York corporations in Alaska superior court alleging violations of her right of publicity and right of privacy. Her claims related to an allegedly false account regarding her recovery from cancer; she discovered the account in a brochure promoting products by BioLife Energy Systems, Inc., while working for BioLife’s distributor in Colorado. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction, claiming that neither of them has the minimum contacts with Alaska necessary to satisfy due process. The superior court granted the motion, reasoning that although BioLife arguably had some contacts in Alaska, the woman’s claims did not relate to those contacts, and the defendants’ contacts were insufficient to establish all-purpose jurisdiction. Harper appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "Harper v. Biolife Energy Systems, Inc." on Justia Law