Articles Posted in Class Action

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Peter Metcalfe was employed briefly by the State in the early 1970s and contributed to the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS). In 1981, Metcalfe took a refund of his PERS contributions. Under a statute in effect at the time, if Metcalfe later secured State employment and returned his refund to PERS with interest, he was entitled to reinstate at his prior PERS service tier and credit. But in 2005 the legislature repealed that statute, leaving a five-year grace period for regaining State employment and reinstating to a prior PERS status. The State then sent notice to former PERS members that “[d]efined benefit members who do not return to covered employment before July 1, 2010 will forfeit their defined benefit tier and all service associated with the refund.” In 2012 Metcalfe inquired about his PERS status. He was informed that even if he were to regain State employment, he could not reinstate to his prior PERS service tier and credit because under the new statute, his grace period for reinstatement ended in 2010. In June 2013 Metcalfe brought a putative class action lawsuit against the State, alleging that the 2005 legislation: (1) violated article XII, section 7 of the Alaska Constitution; (2) deprived a class of former employees of their vested interest in the contractual “benefit to be reinstated to state employment at the tier level they previously held”; and (3) effectively breached the class members’ employment contracts. Metcalfe sought damages, but he also asked for a seemingly mutually exclusive declaratory judgment that the State must comply with former AS 39.35.350. The class was never certified. The State moved to dismiss Metcalfe’s lawsuit for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The superior court tentatively rejected the argument that Metcalfe failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, rejected the argument that Metcalfe’s claim was not ripe and that he lacked standing, but dismissed Metcalfe’s claim as time barred. Metcalfe appealed, and the State cross-appealed the superior court’s ruling that Metcalfe’s claim was ripe and argued that the superior court’s decision could be upheld on the ground that Metcalfe lacked standing to sue. The Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the contract damages claim on the alternative ground that no such claim existed; the Court reversed and remanded the declaratory and injunctive relief claim for further proceedings. View "Metcalfe v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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Six Alaska prisoners jointly filed a pro se putative class-action complaint against various Department of Corrections officials. Their complaint listed 18 causes of action, many of which addressed changes in Department policy regarding inmate purchase and possession of gaming systems and restrictions on mature-rated video games. One of the prisoners moved for class certification and for appointment of counsel. The superior court denied the class action motion on the grounds that pro se plaintiffs could not represent a class, and denied the appointment of counsel. The Department then moved for dismissal of the prisoners’ complaint for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The superior court granted this motion on the ground that all of the claims were class action claims that could not be pursued. Two of the plaintiffs, Jack Earl, Jr. and James Barber, each filed an appeal (which were consolidated for the purposes of this opinion). They argued that the superior court erred in denying the motion for class certification, denying the motion for appointment of counsel, and dismissing the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Upon review of their arguments on appeal, the Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err in denying class certification and appointment of counsel, but reversed the dismissal of the action and remanded for further proceedings. View "Barber v. Schmidt" on Justia Law

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Diana Albrecht brought a class-action lawsuit against Alaska Trustee, LLC, on behalf of a group of Alaska homeowners who had faced foreclosure on their homes. Alaska Trustee, acting as foreclosure trustee, had provided Albrecht and the other homeowners reinstatement quotes that included the costs of foreclosure. Albrecht maintained that the inclusion of foreclosure costs in her reinstatement quote violated her right to cure under a former version of AS 34.20.070(b), the non-judicial foreclosure statute, which provided that a homeowner’s "default may be cured by payment of the sum in default other than the principal that would not then be due if no default had occurred, plus attorney fees or court costs actually incurred by the trustee due to the default." According to Albrecht, Alaska Trustee's inclusion of foreclosure costs in addition to "attorney's fees or court costs" constituted a violation of not only the non-judicial foreclosure statute but also Alaska’s Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA). The superior court concluded that Albrecht lacked standing to sue and denied her motion for class certification. The superior court further ruled that Alaska Trustee's practice of including various fees and charges as foreclosure costs was permitted under the statute. The superior court awarded attorney's fees to Alaska Trustee as the prevailing party, enhancing those fees under AS 45.50.537(b) on the ground that Albrecht's claims were frivolous. Because the inclusion of foreclosure costs in a reinstatement quote did not violate AS 34.20.070, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court in most respects. But because the Court concluded that Albrecht’s claims were not frivolous and attorney's fees could not be awarded under Rule 82 for time spent litigating the structure of a class action, the Court remanded for recalculation of fees awarded. View "Albrecht v. Alaska Trustee, LLC" on Justia Law