Articles Posted in Constitutional 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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In November 1999, Alaska filed a felony information charging Sean Wright with sexually abusing two young girls. Wright was not arrested or indicted on these charges until almost five years later. He moved to dismiss the charges, claiming, among other reasons, that his right to a speedy trial had been violated. The superior court denied this motion. On appeal, the court of appeals ordered a reassessment of Wright’s claim. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded speedy trial time begins to run from the filing of an information, and that that the superior court did not err in attributing primary responsibility for the delay to Wright. View "Alaska v. Wright" on Justia Law

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In the course of the 2016 budgetary process, the Alaska legislature appropriated a sum of money for dividend distributions. But the governor vetoed about half of the appropriation, and the legislature did not override the veto. One current and two former legislators later sued to effectively set aside the governor’s veto. The thrust of their argument was that a 1976 constitutional amendment creating the Alaska Permanent Fund gave the legislature constitutional authority to pass laws dedicating use of Permanent Fund income without need for annual appropriations and, therefore, not subject to annual gubernatorial veto. The legislators argued that the longstanding dividend program was a law exempt from the anti-dedication clause. The superior court ruled against the legislators, concluding the legislature’s actual use of the income remained subject to normal appropriation and veto budgetary processes. The narrow question this case presented for the Alaska Supreme Court's review was whether the 1976 amendment to the Alaska Constitution exempted the legislature’s use of Permanent Fund income from the Constitution’s anti-dedication clause. The Court concluded "no" — the 1976 amendment did not exempt the legislature’s use of Permanent Fund income from the Constitution’s anti-dedication clause. Although the superior court did not reach this question, the court’s ultimate conclusion nevertheless was correct: the legislature’s use of Permanent Fund income is subject to normal appropriation and veto budgetary processes. View "Wielechowski v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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Providence Alaska Medical Center terminated Dr. Michael Brandner’s hospital privileges without an opportunity to be heard after determining he had violated hospital policy by failing to report an Alaska State Medical Board order requiring him to undergo an evaluation of his fitness to practice medicine. Brandner unsuccessfully challenged this action through the hospital's hearing and appeal procedures. Brandner thereafter took his cause to court, seeking reinstatement and damages for the alleged due process violations both in the procedures used and in the substantive standard applied in his termination. The superior court found no such violations and that he was not entitled to reinstatement. Brandner appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding that Brandner was not entitled to reinstatement or post-termination-hearing damages. However, the doctor's due process rights were violated when he was not given a hearing following termination of his hospital privileges. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Brandner v. Providence Health & Services" on Justia Law

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In 2013, a number of pro se prisoners moved the superior court to enforce the terms of a 1990 Final Settlement Agreement and Order in "Cleary v. Smith," a class action by inmates regarding prison conditions. In 2014 Superior Court Judge John Suddock dismissed the prisoners’ motions, concluding that the Final Settlement Agreement was unenforceable because it had been terminated in 2001 when Superior Court Judge Elaine Andrews found that the requirements for termination had been met. But Judge Andrews did not terminate the Final Settlement Agreement because she determined that the Alaska Prison Litigation Reform Act was only constitutional if it did not terminate the Final Settlement Agreement. Judge Andrews’s 2001 Order became the law of the case when it was issued. Because Judge Suddock failed to make required findings when reversing the law of the case, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed Judge Suddock’s Order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Barber v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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A father requested court-appointed counsel in a child custody modification proceeding after learning that the mother had hired a private attorney. The court denied the request. The father (supported in part by several amici curiae) claimed that the denial violated his due process and equal protection rights under theAlaska Constitution. The Supreme Court disagreed, declining to expand its prior decisions by mandating court-appointed counsel for every indigent parent in a child custody proceeding when the opposing parent was represented by private counsel. The Court concluded that on the facts of this case the father’s constitutional rights were not violated by the denial of court-appointed counsel. View "Dennis O. v. Stephanie O." on Justia Law

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Alex H., a prisoner, challenged the superior court’s denial of his request for transport to attend in person his parental rights termination trial, and, therefore, the ultimate termination of his parental rights. He argued that when denying his transport request the superior court: (1) abused its discretion by concluding in its statutory analysis that transport was not required; (2) abused its discretion or erred by failing to consider all required factors for the statutory analysis; and (3) separately violated his due process rights by denying him in-person attendance at the parental rights termination trial. Because the superior court considered all relevant factors the parties presented to it, because it was not obvious that considering additional factors would have changed the court’s statutory analysis, and because the prisoner’s due process rights were not violated, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s transport decision and ultimate termination of the prisoner’s parental rights. View "Alex H. v. Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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Providence Alaska Medical Center terminated Dr. Michael Brandner’s hospital privileges without notice and an opportunity to be heard after determining he had violated hospital policy by failing to report an Alaska State Medical Board order requiring him to undergo an evaluation of his fitness to practice medicine. Brandner unsuccessfully challenged this action through Providence’s internal post-termination hearing and appeal procedures. Brandner then sued in superior court, seeking reinstatement and damages for, in relevant part, alleged due process violations both in the procedures used and in the substantive standard applied in his termination. The superior court ruled that Brandner’s due process rights were not violated, that he was not entitled to reinstatement, and that under federal law Providence was entitled to immunity from his damages claims. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision concerning the substantive standard applied to terminate Brander; he therefore was not entitled to reinstatement or post-termination-hearing damages. But Brandner’s due process rights were violated by the procedures Providence employed because was not given required notice and a hearing prior to the termination of his hospital privileges; the Court therefore reversed the superior court’s decision on the pre-termination notice and hearing claim and its decision that Providence had damages immunity from this claim. View "Brandner v. Providence Health & Services - Washington" on Justia Law

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The respondent in involuntary commitment and medication proceedings, Jacob S., appealed a few issues related to findings that he was mentally ill and posed a risk of harm to others. The superior court ordered both 30-and 90-day commitments, the latter following a jury trial. The court also entered medication orders after finding the respondent unable to make mental health treatment decisions. The primary argument respondent made on appeal of the commitment order, was: (1) when a respondent requests a jury trial on a 90-day commitment petition, who decides the factual underpinning for and the ultimate question of least restrictive alternative to commitment (the jury or the court); and (2) can a respondent be found incompetent under AS 47.0.837(d)(1) if only part of the requirements of that statute is not met? The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that: (1) the court decides the question of least restrictive alternative; and (2) yes, a respondent can be found incompetent if one part is not met. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s commitment and medication orders. View "In Re Necessity for the Hospitalization of Jacob S." on Justia Law