Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The Alaska Department of Revenue audited a non-resident corporation doing business in Alaska. The Department issued a deficiency assessment based in part on an Alaska tax statute requiring an income tax return to include certain foreign corporations affiliated with the taxpaying corporation. The taxpayer exhausted its administrative remedies and then appealed to the superior court, arguing that the tax statute the Department applied was facially unconstitutional because: (1) it violated the dormant Commerce Clause by discriminating against foreign commerce based on countries’ corporate income tax rates; (2) it violated the Due Process Clause by being arbitrary and irrational; and (3) it violated the Due Process Clause by failing to provide notice of what affiliates a tax return must include, and therefore is void for vagueness. The superior court rejected the first two arguments but ruled in the taxpayer’s favor on the third argument. The Department appealed, claiming the superior court erred by concluding that the statute was void for vagueness in violation of the Due Process Clause. The taxpayer cross-appealed, asserting that the court erred by concluding that the statute did not violate the Commerce Clause and was not arbitrary. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision that the statute was facially unconstitutional on due process grounds, and affirmed the court’s decision that it otherwise was facially constitutional. View "Alaska Dept. of Revenue v. Nabors International Finance, Inc. et al." on Justia Law

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A man appealed superior court orders authorizing his commitment for mental health treatment and the involuntary administration of psychotropic medication, arguing the superior court relied on erroneous facts to find that he was gravely disabled and that the court did not adequately consider the constitutional standards established in Myers v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute before authorizing medication. Because the evidence supported the court’s finding that the man was gravely disabled, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the commitment order. But the Supreme Court vacated the medication order because the court’s analysis of the Myers factors was not sufficient. View "In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Jonas H." on Justia Law

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Appellant Raymond Dapo filed suit against his adoptive mother for sexual abuse that allegedly occurred 13 years earlier. He then agreed to release the adoptive mother from liability in exchange for her filing a third-party equitable apportionment claim against the Alaska Office of Children’s Services (OCS) and assigning the claim to him. OCS challenged the validity of this assignment. The superior court agreed with OCS that the assignment of the adoptive mother’s apportionment claim was void; it invalidated the assignment, dismissed the claim with prejudice, and awarded OCS attorney’s fees. Dapo appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court found that because a defendant prosecuting a third-party equitable apportionment claim possessed nothing in the claim itself that could be assigned, such claims are not assignable, and the Court affirmed the superior court’s invalidation of the assignment in this case. But the Supreme Court also concluded that it was error to dismiss the apportionment claim with prejudice; the Court thus vacated the order of dismissal and remanded for the court to provide the adoptive mother a reasonable time to decide whether to pursue the claim herself. View "Dapo v. Dept. of Health & Soc. Svcs" on Justia Law

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An Alaska citizen filed an application to recall a member of the Anchorage Assembly, alleging that the assembly member had committed misconduct in office by participating in an indoor gathering of more than 15 people in violation of an executive order. The municipal clerk rejected the application after concluding that the alleged conduct did not constitute misconduct in office. The superior court reversed the clerk’s denial of the application. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Jones v. Biggs" on Justia Law

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A construction company filed an administrative appeal of a final agency decision that a renovation project on a State-leased office building fell under a wage statute for public construction projects. During enforcement proceedings an administrative law judge (ALJ) found that the project parties had entered into a sham contract in an attempt to evade the statute’s coverage. The State agency charged with enforcing the wage statute adopted the ALJ’s findings verbatim as its final agency decision. The construction company appealed; acting as an intermediate court of appeals, the superior court affirmed the final agency decision. The construction company then appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error in the superior court's judgment affirming the agency decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Alborn Construction, Inc. v. Alaska Dept. of Labor & Workforce Development" on Justia Law

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The parties to this appeal disputed the sequence for applying the provisions when calculating compensation for injured employees; another provision applied a cost-of-living ratio only to out-of-state recipients. Richard Roberge injured his shoulder in May 2014 while working for ASRC Construction Holding Company; he continued working with accommodations until the job ended in November. Roberge then returned to his Idaho residence. ASRC paid him $834.85 weekly in temporary total disability compensation through mid-August 2015, calculated by adjusting the maximum weekly compensation rate by the prevailing cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) percentage for his residence. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded We conclude the Act required first applying the cost-of-living ratio and then applying the maximum rate. View "Roberge v. ASRC Construction Holding Company, et al." on Justia Law

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Ramsey Barton sued the City of Valdez after she was severely injured by falling from a tire swing overhanging a cliff in an undeveloped area of a city park. The swing was not built by the City, and Barton alleged the City was negligent in failing to remove it. The superior court assumed on summary judgment that the City had imputed knowledge of the swing, but because there was no evidence the City had a policy to inspect or remove hazards from undeveloped areas of the park, the City was entitled to discretionary function immunity. The court therefore dismissed Barton’s lawsuit against the City. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed, finding that there were "no conceivable policy reasons for declining to remove the unauthorized swing — a human-made hazard that was known, easily accessible, and simple to remove." The Supreme Court found that the failure to remove it was not protected by discretionary function immunity. View "Barton v. City of Valdez" on Justia Law

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The State redesigned the dental insurance plan offered to public retirees in 2014, narrowing coverage but also decreasing premiums paid by retirees. The Retired Public Employees of Alaska challenged the redesign. After a bench trial the superior court concluded that the new plan unconstitutionally diminished retirees’ accrued benefits. The State appealed, arguing that the superior court erred by determining the dental plan was a constitutionally protected “accrued benefit” and by refusing to consider premium rates for retirees as relevant to the diminishment analysis. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the State on the second point only: "The Alaska Constitution does protect public retirees’ option to purchase dental insurance as an accrued benefit, but both coverage for retirees and price to retirees influence the value of this option." The Court therefore vacated and remanded for the superior court to reevaluate the plan changes and incorporate premium pricing into its analysis. View "Tshibaka v. Retired Public Employees of Alaska, Inc." on Justia Law

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A man with severe mental illness stabbed his parents during a psychotic episode and was subsequently committed to a psychiatric hospital. He appealed that commitment order. Before the commitment hearing, he stopped taking prescribed medications, leading hospital staff to petition for permission to administer medication involuntarily. The court granted the medication petition as well as a revised petition requesting a higher dose. He also appealed the order authorizing involuntary administration of medication. Finding the superior court did not err in its finding there was no less restrictive alternative to confinement, or that the court did not err petitioner lacked capacity to give or withhold consent to psychotropic medication, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed both orders. View "In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Mark V." on Justia Law

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This matter arose from four Child in Need of Aid (CINA) cases. In each, the superior court appointed a guardian ad litem for the child through the Office of Public Advocacy (OPA), and in each case Brenda Finley, working under contract with OPA, appeared as the GAL. Pursuant to CINA Rule 11(e), Finley disclosed to the parties that she was a foster parent in another CINA case. She stated that she did not believe that her role as a foster parent “will affect her ability to be [impartial] in this specific case, or in other cases.” A parent in each case moved for an evidentiary hearing “regarding whether Ms. Finley should be disqualified as a guardian ad litem.” Arguing that Finley’s role as a foster parent might create a conflict of interest due to her relationship with the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) as both a foster parent and a GAL, the parents sought additional details to determine whether a conflict existed, suggesting a hearing would allow them to elicit information regarding Finley’s past, present, and possible future tenure as a foster parent, the status of the cases in which she served as a foster parent, her financial arrangements with OCS, and her relationship with OCS workers. Both OCS and OPA filed qualified oppositions to the parents’ request for a hearing, arguing: that categorical disqualification of foster parents from serving as GALs was overbroad; the court should provide clarity on what framework should govern the potential conflict; and that a low bar for disqualification would fail to recognize “the difficulty of keeping positions in child welfare staffed by qualified individuals, ideally with ties to the community . . . .” The Alaska Supreme Court held that the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct applied to determine whether the GAL has a disqualifying conflict of interest and that the superior court must permit limited discovery to ascertain the underlying facts for determining whether a disqualifying conflict exists. View "C.L. v. Office of Public Advocacy" on Justia Law