Articles Posted in Government & Administrative 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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The superior court affirmed a municipality’s tax valuation of a landowner’s property. The landowner argued on appeal the municipality’s valuation review board abused its discretion by excluding certain evidence of value on timeliness grounds. The landowner also argued the board applied fundamentally wrong principles of valuation by failing to consider, as definitive evidence of value, either his purchase price for the property or the price for which he sold a neighboring lot. The Alaska Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion as to either of the issues the landowner raised: the assessor explained at the hearing why he considered certain evidence of value more persuasive and more consistent with the municipality’s usual methods of appraisal, and it was well within the board’s broad discretion to accept the assessor’s explanation. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s decision upholding the board’s valuation of the property. View "Kelley v. Municipality of Anchorage, Board of Equalization" 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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Frank Griswold appealed a decision of the Homer, Alaska Advisory Planning Commission to the Homer Board of Adjustment. Griswold was a Homer resident who owned several lots within the Business District, one of which is approximately 3,280 feet from Terry and Jonnie Yager. The Yeagers applied for a conditional use permit to build a covered porch ten feet into a twenty-foot setback. Before the hearing, Griswold submitted two documents to the Commission, arguing that the setback exceptions required a variance rather than a conditional use permit and that provisions of the Homer City Code (HCC) allowing for setback exceptions by conditional use permits in the Business District conflicted with state law. After a public hearing the Commission approved the Yagers’ conditional use permit. Griswold appealed, arguing the Yeagers' permit would adversely affect the value of his Business District properties by increasing congestion in the area and that the permit would create a “pernicious precedent” for future setback exceptions in his neighborhood. Additionally Griswold said this would harm the use and enjoyment of his home. The Board rejected his appeal for lack of standing. Griswold appealed to the superior court, arguing that he had standing under the Homer City Code and alleging a number of due process violations. The superior court ruled that Griswold lacked standing as a matter of law and found any due process errors harmless. It also awarded the Board attorney’s fees on the appeal, reasoning that Griswold did not qualify for protection from attorney’s fees as a public interest litigant. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed, finding that under applicable Home City Code section, a property owner need only produce some evidence supporting the owner’s claim that the city’s action could potentially adversely affect the owner’s use or enjoyment of the owner’s property. "The individual bringing the claim must still prevail on the merits by showing that a legal remedy against such harm is available." The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Griswold v Homer Board of Adjustment, et al." 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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A mother appealed the superior court’s decision adjudicating her child as a child in need of aid, contending the court relied in part on the record from her previous custody proceeding without giving her prior notice. The mother argued that by not giving her notice, the court violated her due process rights. Relying on cases involving judicial bias, she then claimed the superior court’s due process violation warranted automatic reversal of the court’s adjudication finding, or, alternatively, reversal on the basis that the error was not harmless. The Alaska Supreme Court determined, after review of this case, the mother failed to demonstrate that this alleged error was anything but harmless. View "Amy S. v. State of Alaska, DHSS, OCS" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services required most healthcare facilities to document the need for proposed services before the state approves construction of a new facility. The agency determined that an ambulatory surgical facility seeking to relocate from Anchorage to Wasilla did not need to submit such documentation because it was moving within the same community as defined by the relevant statute. Competing medical facilities in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough objected to the determination, arguing that Anchorage and Wasilla were not the “same community” and that the proposed relocation required the usual certification of need. Because Anchorage and Wasilla were not the same community as contemplated by the statute, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the determination that the facility was exempt from the required certification process. View "Alaska Spine Center, LLC v. Mat-Su Valley Medical Center, LLC" on Justia Law

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The district court found that a woman, "Linda M.," charged with several misdemeanors was incompetent to stand trial and committed her to a state hospital. The hospital later brought petitions in the superior court for civil commitment and involuntary medication. Linda moved to dismiss or stay the proceedings, contending that the superior court was an improper forum because of the criminal case pending in the district court. The superior court denied the motion, asserted its jurisdiction to hear the case, and granted the hospital’s petition for authority to administer medication. Linda appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court held the superior court properly asserted its jurisdiction over the civil commitment and involuntary medication petitions and that the superior court did not err in finding that involuntary medication was in Linda's best interests. View "In Re Hospitalization of Linda M." on Justia Law

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Connor J. was living at a shelter for homeless youth, when his psychiatric condition allegedly began to deteriorate. A social worker filed a petition in superior court seeking authority to hospitalize Connor for evaluation. The petition noted Connor had a history of suicidal thoughts; that he had been diagnosed at various times with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder; and that he had been treated for mental illness in the past at a hospital and several counseling centers. Connor was transported to Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) for an evaluation. A few days later API filed a petition for 30-day commitment and a proceedings were initiated that lead to his commitment. The superior court issued a 30-day involuntary commitment order after finding that Connor was "gravely disabled" and there were no less restrictive alternatives to hospitalization. The respondent appealed, arguing that it was plain error to find he waived his statutory right to be present at the commitment hearing, that it was clear error to find there were no less restrictive alternatives, and that the commitment order should be amended to omit a finding that he posed a danger to others, a finding the superior court meant to reject. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded it was not plain error to find that the respondent waived his presence at the hearing. We further conclude that it was not clear error to find that there were no less restrictive alternatives to a 30-day hospital commitment. However, because there was no dispute that the “danger to others” finding should not have been included in the commitment order, the case was remanded for issuance of a corrected order. View "In Re Hospitalization of Connor J." on Justia Law

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The Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took custody of a three-month-old child after he was found outside alone on a cold winter day. The child’s mother had an alcohol abuse problem and had failed repeated attempts at treatment. The father also had problems with alcohol abuse, never completing treatment, and spending much of the relevant time period in jail or on probation. The mother and father had a second child while OCS’s case was pending, and the agency took custody of that child as too. OCS then petitioned to terminate parental rights to both children. The superior court granted OCS’s petition following trial. The parents appealed: the father argued the superior court erred when it found OCS’s proposed expert witness, an experienced attorney and guardian ad litem, qualified to testify about whether the children would likely suffer emotional or physical harm if returned to their parents’ care. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed the record did not support a conclusion that the witness met the heightened standard for expert testimony under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA); for that reason the Court reversed the termination order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Eva H. v. Alaska, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law