Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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In the case before the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska, the Attorney General for the State of Alaska, Treg R. Taylor, sued the Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency. The dispute arose from a disagreement between the executive and legislative branches over when an appropriations bill passed by the legislature would take effect, with potential implications for funding state government in the subsequent fiscal year. The Attorney General asked the court for a declaration that any expenditure of state funds without an effective appropriation was unlawful, unless the expenditure was necessary to meet constitutional obligations to maintain the health and safety of residents or federal obligations. The superior court dismissed the case, holding that the lawsuit was barred by a provision of the Alaska Constitution (article III, section 16) that prohibits the governor from suing the legislature. The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska affirmed that decision. The court held that, although the Attorney General brought the suit, it was in substance a suit brought by the Governor "in the name of the State" against the legislature. Therefore, it was barred by the Alaska Constitution. The Supreme Court also remanded the issue of attorney’s fees for further proceedings in the lower court. View "Treg R. Taylor, in his Official Capacity as Attorney General of the State of Alaska v. Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took emergency custody of a child within days of her birth. OCS then filed an emergency child in need of aid (CINA) petition seeking an order confirming probable cause to believe the child was in need of aid and granting OCS temporary custody of the child pending further proceedings. The superior court held an evidentiary hearing and concluded that OCS had not shown probable cause to believe the child was a child in need of aid, and dismissed the CINA case. The superior court later denied OCS’s reconsideration motion, and OCS then appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision in a short summary order (with an opinion to follow), remanding to reopen the CINA case and conduct further proceedings in the normal course. The Court explained its order in this opinion. View "Alaska, Department of Family & Community Services v. Karlie T." on Justia Law

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removed an Alaska Native child from his mother and placed him with a relative, the child experienced suicidal ideation and checked himself into a psychiatric facility. Following a period of seemingly voluntary care, OCS requested a hearing to place the child at an out-of-state secure residential psychiatric treatment facility. The child’s Tribe intervened and challenged the constitutionality of AS 47.10.087, the manner in which evidence was received, and alleged due process violations. The child joined in some of these objections. The superior court ordered the child placed at a secure residential psychiatric treatment facility per AS 47.10.087. The Tribe, but not the child, appealed the placement decision, contending primarily that the superior court erred in proceeding under AS 47.10.087 and in making its substantive findings, and plainly erred in authorizing placement pursuant to AS 47.10.087 without addressing the Indian Child Welfare Act’s (ICWA) placement preferences. The Alaska Supreme Court found no error in the court’s application of AS 47.10.087 or its substantive findings, and thus affirmed the superior court’s placement determination. The Court expressed concern that the trial court failed to make required inquiries and findings related to ICWA’s placement preferences. However, this did not amount to plain error. The Supreme Court did not reach the Tribe’s other arguments as the Tribe has either waived them or lacked standing to raise them. View "Tuluksak Native Community v. Dept. of Health & Soc. Srvs." on Justia Law

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Alaska, pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement with the Alaska State Employees Association (ASEA), a public sector union representing thousands of State employees, including union members and nonmembers, deducted union members’ dues from their paychecks and deducted from nonmembers’ paychecks a mandatory “agency fee” and transmitted the funds to ASEA. In June 2018 the United States Supreme Court held in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees, Council 31 (Janus) that charging union agency fees to nonmember public employees violated their First Amendment rights by “compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.” The State and ASEA modified their collective bargaining agreement to comply with Janus, and the State halted collecting agency fees from nonmembers. In 2019, after a change in executive branch administrations following the November 2018 election, the State took the position that Janus also required the State to take steps to protect union member employees’ First Amendment rights. The State contended that Janus required it to obtain union members’ clear and affirmative consent to union dues deductions, or else they too might be compelled to fund objectionable speech on issues of substantial public concern. The governor issued an administrative order directing the State to bypass ASEA and deal directly with individual union members to determine whether they wanted their dues deductions to continue and to immediately cease collecting dues upon request. Some union members expressed a desire to leave the union and requested to stop dues deductions; the State ceased collecting their union dues. The State then sued ASEA, seeking declaratory judgment that Janus compelled the State’s actions. ASEA countersued seeking to enjoin the State’s actions and recover damages for breach of the collective bargaining agreement and violations of several statutes. The superior court ruled in favor of ASEA, and the State appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s declaratory judgment in favor of ASEA because neither Janus nor the First Amendment required the State to alter the union member dues deduction practices set out in the collective bargaining agreement. And because the State’s actions were not compelled by Janus or the First Amendment, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s rulings that the State breached the collective bargaining agreement and violated relevant statutes. View "Alaska, et al. v. Alaska St. Emp. Ass'n, et al." on Justia Law

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Alaska’s United States Representative Don Young died unexpectedly in March 2022. Following his death, Alaska held a special primary election and a special general election to select a candidate to complete the remainder of his term. Those special elections were conducted using ranked-choice voting procedures adopted by voters through a 2020 ballot measure. After the 2022 special primary election but before the vote was certified, the candidate who then had the third-most votes withdrew. The Division of Elections (Division) determined that it would remove the withdrawn candidate’s name from the special general election ballot, but would not include on the ballot the candidate who had received the fifth-most votes in the special primary election. Several voters brought suit against the Division challenging that decision. The superior court determined the Division’s actions complied with the law and granted summary judgment in favor of the Division. The voters appealed. Due to the time-sensitive nature of election appeals, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court in a short order dated June 25, 2022. The Court explained that because the Division properly applied a statutorily mandated 64-day time limit that prevented the addition of the special primary’s fifth-place candidate to the special general election ballot, and because the statutory mandate did not violate the voters’ constitutional rights, summary judgment was affirmed in favor of the Division. View "Guerin, et al. v. Alaska, Division of Elections" on Justia Law

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After a mining company abandoned its mining claims, the claims were located and recorded by a second mining company, which also abandoned the claims. After the second company abandoned the claims, the first company attempted to cure its earlier abandonment. The same year that the first company filed to cure its abandonment, a third mining company attempted to locate and record ownership of some of the same claims. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) refused to issue permits to the third company, reasoning that the first one had validly cured its abandonment of its claims before the third company located the claims. After exhausting its administrative remedies, the third company appealed DNR’s decision. The superior court reversed DNR’s decision. Because DNR’s interpretation of the controlling statute was reasonable, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court decision and affirmed DNR’s decision. View "Teck American, Inc., et al. v. Valhalla Mining, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Alaska Venture Capital Group, LLC (AVCG) owned interests in oil and gas leases on state lands. AVCG sought the State’s approval to create overriding royalty interests on the leases. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Oil and Gas denied AVCG’s requests, explaining that the proposed royalty burdens jeopardized the State’s interest in sustained oil and gas development. AVCG appealed. Five years later the DNR Commissioner affirmed. The superior court then affirmed the Commissioner’s decisions. AVCG appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, arguing primarily that the decisions improperly adopted a new regulation that did not undergo the rulemaking procedures of Alaska’s Administrative Procedure Act (APA). AVCG maintained that DNR’s reliance on specific factors - in particular, the fact that the proposed ORRIs would create a total royalty burden of over 20% on the leases - amounted to adopting a regulation. AVCG also argued that the decisions lacked a reasonable basis in fact and law and that, for some of its leases, no agency approval was required at all. The Supreme Court rejected these arguments, and rejected AVCG's constitutional claim: that delay and an "ad hoc" decision-making process violated its procedural due process rights. View "AVCG, LLC v. Alaska Department of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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Mother Miranda T. appealed the superior court’s entry of a disposition order in child in need of aid (CINA) proceedings. She contended the court erred by moving forward with an adjudication hearing without having considered her request for a review hearing on a previously stipulated temporary custody and placement arrangement. She contended the court also erred by later refusing to enforce two subsequent agreements she had reached with the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) about placements for her daughter. Furthermore, Mother contended the evidence did not support the disposition order’s predicate findings that (1) OCS had made sufficiently active efforts to reunify the family and (2) removal of the daughter from the family home was necessary to avoid harm to her. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court rejected the mother’s claims of error and affirmed the superior court’s disposition order. View "M.T. (Mother) v. State of Alaska DHSS, OCS" on Justia Law

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A woman who suffered from schizophrenia appealed court orders authorizing her involuntary commitment and administration of psychotropic medication. She argued the superior court erred by relying on a cursory report from the court visitor and by failing to make specific findings that involuntary medication was in her best interests. She also contended it was error to commit her to a psychiatric hospital instead of to a less restrictive facility. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s orders. View "In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Tonja P." on Justia Law

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Blythe and Danny were the parents of three-year-old Gene. Blythe had two other children, Gene’s half siblings, with a man named Timothy. Timothy has custody of those other children; they lived with him and his parents, Robert and Vivian. In January 2021, the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) filed a non-emergency petition to adjudicate Gene a child in need of aid due to concerns about Blythe’s and Danny’s mental health and substance abuse. Later that month OCS removed Gene from his parents and placed him with Robert and Vivian. Robert and Vivian considered themselves Gene’s grandparents, though they were not related to him by blood or marriage. When OCS decides to transfer a child in its custody from one out-of-home placement to another, a party may seek judicial review of that decision. According to statute, the superior court shall deny the proposed transfer if the party “prove[s] by clear and convincing evidence that the transfer would be contrary to the best interests of the child.” OCS argued that in some circumstances the party challenging a proposed transfer must also show it was an abuse of discretion, such as when OCS seeks to transfer the child to a statutorily preferred placement or due to licensing concerns with the existing placement. Because there was no basis in statutory text or legislative history to supplant the standard of review chosen by the legislature with a standard more deferential to OCS, the Alaska Supreme Court declined to do so. And because the Court mistakenly applied abuse of discretion review in State, Department of Health & Social Services, Office of Children’s Services v. Zander B., 474 P.3d 1153 (Alaska 2020), it overruled that decision to the extent it was inconsistent with the opinion here. View "Blythe P. v. Alaska, DHSS, OCS" on Justia Law