Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

by
An oil and gas lessee conducted drilling activity on the last day of the lease term; the lease provided that such activity would extend the term. Two days later, however, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sent the lessee a notice that his lease had expired. The lessee suspended drilling activities and asked DNR to reconsider its decision and reinstate the lease. DNR reinstated the lease several weeks later. The lessee contended that the reinstatement letter added new and unacceptable conditions to the lease, and pursued administrative appeals. Six months later DNR terminated the lease on grounds that the lessee had failed to diligently pursue drilling following the lease’s reinstatement. The superior court reversed DNR’s termination decision, finding DNR had materially breached the lease by reinstating it with new conditions. Both DNR and the lessee appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. The Supreme Court concluded that although DNR breached the lease in its notice of expiration, it cured the breach through reinstatement. And DNR’s subsequent decision to terminate the lease was supported by substantial evidence that the lessee failed to diligently pursue drilling activities following reinstatement. Further, the Court concluded neither DNR nor the superior court erred in failing to address the lessee’s damages claim. The Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision reinstating the lease and affirmed DNR’s termination decision. View "Alaska, Dept. of Natural Resources v. Alaskan Crude Corporation" on Justia Law

by
The Alaska Democratic Party amended its bylaws to allow registered independent voters to run as candidates in its primary elections without having to become Democratic Party members. But the Division of Elections refused to allow independent voter candidates on the Democratic Party primary election ballot, taking the position that Alaska election law, specifically the “party affiliation rule,” prevented anyone not registered as a Democrat from being a candidate in the Democratic Party’s primary elections. The Democratic Party sued for declaratory and injunctive relief preventing enforcement of the party affiliation rule, and the superior court ruled in its favor. The State appealed. Because the Alaska Constitution’s free association guarantee protects a political party’s choice to open its primary elections to independent voter candidates, and because in this specific context the State had no countervailing need to enforce the party affiliation rule, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Alaska v. Alaska Democratic Party" on Justia Law

by
A complaint filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) against John Eberhart was filed when he was a city council member, alleging Eberhart had improperly used government resources in his campaign for mayor of Fairbanks. After investigating the complaint and holding a hearing, APOC fined Eberhart $37.50 for improper use of government resources in violation of a state statute. Eberhart appealed to the superior court, which affirmed APOC’s decision. Eberhart petitioned the Alaska Supreme Court to find APOC misinterpreted and misapplied relevant statutes, violated the First Amendment, and violated its own procedural rules. The Supreme Court affirmed APOC’s decision, holding that Eberhart’s arguments lacked merit. View "Eberhart v. Alaska Public Offices Commission" on Justia Law

by
John Doe I and John Doe II were two separate individuals required by the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to register as sex offenders in Alaska based on their out-of-state convictions. DPS argued Doe I’s Washington convictions and Doe II’s California conviction were “similar” to the Alaska offense of attempted sexual abuse of a minor under AS 11.31.100 and AS 11.41.436(a)(2), making both Doe I and Doe II subject to Alaska’s sex offender registration requirement. One superior court judge determined that Doe I was not required to register; another superior court judge determined that Doe II was required to register. The cases were consolidated on appeal, and the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that neither the Washington nor the California laws under which Doe I and Doe II were convicted were similar to the relevant Alaska law and therefore held that neither Doe I nor Doe II was required to register under Alaska law. View "Alaska, Dept. of Public Safety v. Doe I" on Justia Law

by
The Lieutenant Governor of Alaska declined to certify a proposed ballot initiative that would establish a permitting requirement for activities that could harm anadromous fish habitat, reasoning that the initiative effected an appropriation of state assets in violation of article XI, section 7 of the Alaska Constitution. The initiative sponsors filed suit, and the superior court approved the initiative, concluding that the proposal would not impermissibly restrict legislative discretion. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the initiative would encroach on the discretion over allocation decisions delegated to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game by the legislature, and that the initiative as written effected an unconstitutional appropriation. But the Court concluded the offending sections could be severed from the remainder of the initiative. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the superior court and remanded for that court to direct the Lieutenant Governor to sever the offending provisions but place the remainder of the initiative on the ballot. View "Mallott v. Stand for Salmon" on Justia Law

by
A commercial tenant breached its lease and owed unpaid rent. The landlord sued and obtained a writ of attachment against any funds owed the tenant from Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS). DHSS replied to the writ by stating it owed nothing to the tenant because a recent audit showed the tenant owed DHSS $1.4 million. Without responding to DHSS’s reply the landlord moved for a writ of execution against DHSS, which the superior court denied after finding there were no funds to attach. The court denied the landlord’s motion for reconsideration, as well as its request for a hearing to examine DHSS. The landlord appealed the denial of its motion for reconsideration and sought a remand for a hearing to examine DHSS. In affirming the superior court, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court was correct in denying reconsideration of its order regarding the writ of execution. View "Arcticorp v. C Care Services, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Property Owners appealed special assessments that the Anchorage Municipal Assembly levied on their lots to pay for recently constructed road, water, and sewer improvement projects benefiting the lots. The Property Owners claimed the special assessments improperly included nearly $1 million in costs from another municipal utility project unrelated to the improvements built for the benefit of their lots. They also claimed the special assessments exceeded limits set by ordinance and that the assessed costs were disproportionate to the benefits provided by the improvements, violating municipal ordinance, charter, and state law. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the Assembly’s allocation of costs among these projects was supported by substantial evidence and that the ordinance limit the Property Owners relied on did not apply to these assessments. Furthermore, the Court concluded the Property Owners did not rebut the presumption of correctness that attached to the Assembly’s proportionality decisions. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s decision affirming the Assembly’s special assessment determinations. View "Fink v. Municipality of Anchorage" on Justia Law

by
The North Slope Borough discharged employee Tom Nicolos after he made statements that Borough employees interpreted as threats. Nicolos appealed the superior court’s order approving the Borough Personnel Board’s decision affirming his discharge. He claimed his statements did not constitute threats or other misconduct under the Borough’s personnel rules and that the Borough failed to conduct an adequate investigation into his alleged misconduct before terminating him. Nicolos also claimed that his purportedly threatening statements were manifestations of a disability and that his discharge violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Alaska Human Rights Act (AHRA). We reject Nicolos’s claims of error and affirm the judgment of the superior court approving the Personnel Board’s decision. Th Alaska Supreme Court found substantial evidence supporting the Board’s finding that Nicolos told a counselor that he had a premeditated plan to kill his supervisor, coworker, and others. This finding, combined with the undisputed evidence about Nicolos’s earlier conversation with his supervisor, justified the Board’s conclusion that Nicolos had violated the personnel rules on workplace violence. These violations were the basis for Nicolos’s discharge. The Board found that Nicolos was not terminated on the basis of prejudice: Nicolos did not argue, and has not shown, that he was terminated due to prejudice against him as a disabled person. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's approval of the Personnel Board's discharge decision. View "Nicolos v. North Slope Borough" on Justia Law

by
This appeal was one in a series of successive appeals brought by Kenneth Manning challenging the moose and caribou subsistence hunt regulations that governed a portion of southcentral Alaska. Manning filed this lawsuit in 2013 challenging the eligibility criteria for subsistence hunt permits, the point system for allocating Tier II subsistence permits, and the criteria for establishing nonsubsistence hunting areas. While these claims were pending, the Alaska Supreme Court issued a 2015 decision resolving similar claims brought by Manning in an earlier suit. Manning then moved to amend his complaint in this case and to add an individual official as a defendant. The superior court denied both motions, concluding that amendment would be futile because all of Manning’s claims would fail under Supreme Court precedent. The superior court also denied the State’s motion for attorney’s fees, concluding that Manning was exempt from an adverse attorney’s fees award under the constitutional litigant exception. Manning appealed the denial of his motion to amend; he also raised various allegations of deprivation of due process. The State cross-appeals the denial of its motion for attorney’s fees. The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of the motion to amend because Manning failed to adequately brief (thus forfeiting) his arguments on some of the counts, and the remaining counts would have been futile. And the Court affirmed the denial of attorney’s fees to the State because none of Manning’s claims were frivolous. View "Manning v. Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game" on Justia Law

by
This case arose out of disputed collective bargaining negotiations between City of Fairbanks and Public Safety Employees Association, AFSCME Local 803 (PSEA). PSEA was the labor representative for the City’s police and dispatch employees. The issue this appeal presented for the Alaska Supreme Court's review centered on whether the city council’s reconsideration and ultimate rejection of a labor agreement constituted an unfair labor practice under Alaska’s Public Employer Relations Act (the Act). An Alaska Labor Relations Agency (ALRA) panel concluded a violation occurred, and on appeal the superior court affirmed that ruling. The Supreme Court determined the record did not support a finding of bad faith on the city’s part, and because the failure to ratify the agreement alone could not be a violation of the Act, the Court reversed the superior court’s decision affirming the ALRA panel’s ruling. View "Public Safety Employees Association v. City of Fairbanks" on Justia Law