Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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An employer disputed liability for attorney’s fees the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission awarded an employee, contending that the employee was not a successful party in the appeal and that the amount awarded was unreasonable. The Alaska Supreme Court found the Commission’s underlying decision on the merits included a remand on one issue; the Supreme Court asked the parties to provide supplemental briefing on the question whether the attorney’s fees order was final for purposes of appeal. The Supreme Court held that such orders were not final for purposes of appeal, but it treated the putative appeal as a petition for review, grant review, and affirmed the Commission’s attorney’s fees award. View "D&D Services, LLC d/b/a Novus Auto Glass & Ohio v. Cavitt" on Justia Law

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John Buckley started working for Labor Ready, Inc., a temporary employment service, in 2009. He was injured on assignment for a shipping company. At the time of injury he was performing a task prohibited by the contract between the temporary employment service and the shipping company. The injury resulted in loss of the worker’s hand and part of his arm. After getting workers’ compensation benefits from the temporary employment service, the worker brought a negligence action against the shipping company and one shipping company employee. The superior court decided on cross-motions for summary judgment that the exclusive liability provision of the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act (Act) barred the action. The Alaska Supreme Court reverse, finding material issues of fact precluded disposition by summary judgment. View "Buckley v. American Fast Freight, Inc." on Justia Law

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A self-represented litigant appeals from the dismissal of his complaint against Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Because the superior court gave the litigant multiple opportunities to amend his complaint before it correctly concluded that all of his claims were either time-barred, subject to a res judicata defense, or inadequately pleaded, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Robinson v Alaska Housing Finance Corporation" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure

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In late April 2018, 15-year-old Jessica J. traveled from Iowa to Alaska to spend the summer with family friends. Jessica’s divorced parents shared legal custody; her mother, who retained primary physical custody, gave Jessica permission. Jessica’s mother then changed her mind and told Jessica to return home. Jessica’s mother booked several return flights for Jessica, the final on May 30. On May 30 Jessica’s mother reported to Iowa police that the Alaska family friends refused to send Jessica home; the police treated Jessica as a missing person. Alaska police located her at the family friends’ home and indicated she was “safe until [her] mother c[ould] pay for plane fare out of Alaska.” But the Iowa police still considered Jessica a missing person, and a week later Alaska police located her at a shelter, where she apparently had gone to avoid getting “the family that she was staying with in trouble if there were legal repercussions . . . for staying in Alaska.” Police transported her to a youth facility pending further legal proceedings. The Interstate Compact for Juveniles (ICJ) governed the return of juveniles who have left their home states without permission. The home state sought her return under the ICJ, and the Alaska superior court complied. The superior court found that it was not authorized to consider the juvenile’s best interests and that the requisition paperwork demonstrated proof of entitlement for her return. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s order, holding that the ICJ authorized only the home state to consider a juvenile’s best interests in this context and that proof of entitlement was established in this case. View "Jessica J. v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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The father in this case had not been a substantial part of his daughter’s life when the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took custody of her from her mother. The father was coping with his own mental health, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) issues when this case began, and was receiving services to address those issues. OCS facilitated some visitation between the father and the daughter, encouraged the father to continue participating in the services he was already receiving, and added parenting classes to the regimen. By all accounts, the father was making progress. But while the case was ongoing, OCS received a report that the father had sent nude photos of his genitals to a minor female. OCS referred the father for a sex offender assessment and his history of other sexual misconduct came to light. Upon receiving the assessing psychologist’s conclusions that the father was a risk to his daughter’s safety, OCS moved forward with terminating his parental rights. The superior court terminated the father’s rights after a two-day trial. He appealed, arguing only that OCS failed to make active efforts. Because the record demonstrated OCS made active efforts to reunify the father and his daughter, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s termination of the father’s parental rights. View "Sam S. v. Alaska, Department of Health & Social Services, Office of Children’s Services" on Justia Law

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Sabrina V. was the mother of Kaleb D., born 2005. By 2016 Kaleb was living in Wasilla with his father, now deceased. Sabrina had been living outside of Alaska for some years; the parents did not have a court order regarding Kaleb’s custody. Sabrina also had an older daughter, Lizzie, from a previous relationship. Lizzie was committed to the custody of the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) in September 2014 in an earlier child in need of aid (CINA) case. In February 2016, after a successful six-month home visit with Sabrina in Montana, OCS released Lizzie to Sabrina. The Alaska Office of Child Services filed an emergency petition for temporary custody of Kaleb, and to adjudicate him as a child in need of aid. The petition listed Kaleb’s father as the sole caregiver, and claimed to not have current contact information for Sabrina despite her having released Lizzie roughly two months earlier. Sabrina later testified her residence had not changed between her reunification with Lizzie and the initiation of CINA proceedings for Kaleb. At the emergency probable cause hearing an OCS caseworker testified that Kaleb had told OCS he had not seen Sabrina in roughly two years and that she “wasn’t a good mom.” The court granted OCS temporary custody. Sabrina appealed the ultimate termination of her parental rights to Kaleb after it was determined she signed and then attempted to withdraw a voluntary relinquishment of parental rights. At the time she signed the relinquishment, her child was living with his paternal grandmother, who hoped to adopt him. When it later became clear that the grandmother would not be able to adopt the child, Sabrina signed a notice of her withdrawal of relinquishment despite a ten-day window for do had passed. Three days later she filed the notice in superior court. That same day, apparently without being aware of the withdrawal notice, the court issued an order terminating the mother’s parental rights. Because, assuming the superior court had discretion to allow the untimely withdrawal, the Alaska Supreme Court found it did not abuse its discretion by declining to do so, so the Court affirmed termination of Sabrina’s parental rights. View "S.V. (Mother) v. Alaska, DHSS, OCS" on Justia Law

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A husband and wife appealed denials of their Permanent Fund Dividends (PFDs) for 2014 and 2015. The husband’s 2014 PFD application was denied because he had been absent from the state for more than five years, creating a presumption of nonresidence that he was unable to rebut. The wife’s application was denied because her PFD eligibility as an accompanying military spouse depended on her husband’s. After the denials were affirmed by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the couple appealed to the superior court. While this appeal was pending they both applied for 2015 PFDs and were again denied. The husband’s 2015 application was denied because his residency for PFD purposes was severed in the 2014 PFD proceedings and he had not reestablished it. The wife’s application was again denied because of her accompanying-spouse status. They appealed the 2015 denials too; the superior court consolidated the 2014 and 2015 cases and affirmed both denials. The Alaska Supreme Court determined neither spouse met the residency requirements to qualify for either a 2014 or a 2015 PFD under the plain language of the applicable statute. The Court therefore affirmed the ALJs’ decisions. View "Jones v. Alaska, Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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After a limited liability company and its individual members failed to make payments on a real estate loan, the lender sued. One member, Kenneth Duffus, cross-claimed against a second member, Lee Baker, Jr., alleging breach of contract and tort claims related to the management of the business. Baker counterclaimed against Duffus, also alleging breach of contract and tort claims. After several years of litigation, only the claims by and between Duffus and Baker remained; the superior court granted partial summary judgment to Duffus, finding that the statutes of limitation barred Baker’s counterclaims. A trial jury found against Baker on Duffus’s breach of contract and tort claims, and awarded damages to Duffus. Baker appealed the grant of summary judgment and a number of procedural issues from the trial. Because the Alaska Supreme Court determined it was error to conclude that Baker’s claims were not compulsory counterclaims, thus changing the statutes of limitation analysis, it reversed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment, vacated the judgment, and remanded for a new trial on both Duffus’s cross-claims and Baker’s counterclaims. View "Baker v. Duffus" on Justia Law

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Thomas Anderson, Sr. appealed the superior court’s dismissal of his claim that the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) failed to properly transfer a motorcycle endorsement from his California driver’s license to his new Alaska license in 1992. The court decided that the motorist’s claim, filed in 2017, was barred by the statute of limitations, the doctrines of laches and exhaustion of administrative remedies, and the governing DMV regulations. The court also awarded the DMV attorney’s fees calculated pursuant to the Alaska Civil Rule 82(b)(2) schedule. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision primarily on laches grounds: Anderson filed his claim 25 years after the DMV’s alleged mistake, long past the time the DMV could reasonably be expected to have retained any evidence relevant to its defense. View "Anderson v. State of Alaska, Alaska Department of Administration, Division of Motor Vehicles" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board denied a Bryce Warnke-Green's request that his employer pay for a van modified to accommodate his work-related disability. On appeal, the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission decided that a modifiable van was a compensable medical benefit. Warnke-Green moved for attorney’s fees. The Commission reduced the attorney’s hourly rate, deducted a few time entries, and awarded him less than half of what was requested. Warnke-Green asked the Commission to reconsider its award, but the Commission declined to do so because of its view that the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) allowed it to reconsider only the final decision on the merits of an appeal. The Alaska Supreme Court granted Warnke-Green's petition for review, and held that the Commission had the necessarily incidental authority to reconsider its non-final decisions. The Court also reversed the Commission’s award of attorney’s fees and remanded for an award that was fully compensable and reasonable. View "Warnke-Green v. Pro-West Contractors, LLC" on Justia Law