Articles Posted in Government Law

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Daniel Van Dennis was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and submitted to a chemical test, which showed that his breath alcohol concentration was over the legal limit. He received a notice of the revocation of his driver’s license, and he requested a hearing to contest the revocation. Before the hearing, Dennis filed a motion to suppress the breath test result, arguing that the verification report for the instrument’s calibration did not comply with the controlling regulation. The hearing officer concluded that the scientific director of the Department of Public Safety followed the controlling regulation by providing for this verification to be performed automatically. The superior court agreed with the hearing officer and finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed.View "Dennis v. Alaska, Dept. of Administration, Division of Motor Vehicles" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from the issuance of a permit by the State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Environmental Health to the Alaska Railroad Corporation for the use of herbicides to control vegetation along a railroad right-of-way. Two public interest organizations, Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) and Alaska Survival, contended that the Department’s issuance of the permit violated due process and the public notice requirement of AS 46.03.320; that the Department abused its discretion in accepting the permit application as complete and in denying standing and intervenor status to a third organization, Cook Inletkeeper; and that ACAT and Alaska Survival should not have been ordered to pay the costs of preparing the administrative record on appeal. The Department and the Railroad cross-appealed on the issue of attorney’s fees, contesting the superior court’s conclusion that ACAT and Alaska Survival were exempt from fees under AS 09.60.010(c) as constitutional litigants. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court concluded that the challenges to the permit were moot due to its expiration and changes in the governing regulatory scheme. The Court affirmed the agency’s decisions regarding costs; the cross-appeals on attorney’s fees were withdrawn by agreement.View "Alaska Community Action on Toxics v. Hartig" on Justia Law

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In January 2011, the Department of Health and Social Services, Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took emergency custody of three children. The children had been in the care of their maternal grandparents, but before their removal had returned to their parents. OCS, under the impression that the children were being cared for by the parents at the time of removal, placed the children with the maternal grandparents. The day the trial to terminate the mother’s parental rights was to begin, the mother moved to have the grandmother joined in the proceeding as the children’s Indian custodian. The court denied both the mother’s motion to join the grandmother and the grandmother’s motion to intervene, finding that shortly after the removal the parents revoked the grandmother’s Indian custodian status by asking OCS not to place the children with her. The grandmother moved for reconsideration and argued that her due process rights were violated at the time of the removal. She argued that OCS did not provide her with notice of the right she was entitled to as the children’s Indian custodian, including notice of her right to intervene in the proceeding and of her right to be represented by counsel. The trial court rejected this argument, finding that although OCS breached its duty to provide the grandmother with notice required by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), because of the short time between the children’s removal and the parents’ revocation of the grandmother’s status as the children’s Indian custodian the grandmother had suffered no significant detriment to her rights. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision and held that any error OCS may have made regarding the notice provisions of ICWA was harmless. View "Molly O. v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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Gregg Conitz filed suit against his employer, Teck Alaska Incorporated, alleging discrimination in its internal promotional decisions. The Alaska State Commission for Human Rights dismissed Conitz's complaint, and the superior court dismissed Conitz's appeal as moot. The superior court fount that the same claims had already been decided by a federal court and that the doctrine of res judicata precluded further pursuit of the claims if they were remanded to the Commission. Conitz appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Conitz v. Alaska State Commission for Human Rights" on Justia Law

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Simone H. appealed the trial court's order terminating her parental rights to her son, Irving. Simone challenged the trial court's denial of her request to have Irving's therapy records released to her for use during the termination trial and the trial court's finding that the Office of Children's Services (OCS) made reasonable efforts to provide services designed to enable Irving's safe return to her custody. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court acted within its discretion in denying Simone's request for access to Irving's therapy records and that substantial evidence supported the trial court's finding that OCS made reasonable efforts to reunify Simone with Irving.View "Simone H. v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the superior court issued a final order requiring David and Jane Szabo to pay unpaid fines assessed by the Municipality of Anchorage or failing to remove junk stored on their property. The Szabos did not appeal the order. A year later, they filed an Alaska Civil Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment. The superior court denied the motion and also denied a subsequent motion for reconsideration. The Szabos appealed, arguing that the fines assessed in this case were unconstitutionally excessive and the municipal code provision under which the Municipality proceeded is unconstitutional. Because the Supreme Court, after its review, concluded that the Szabos' claims did not assert a basis for relief under any section of Rule 60(b), the Court affirmed. View "Szabo v. Municipality of Anchorage" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case involved the assessed value of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System for property tax purposes. The parties disputed the method used to assess the pipeline's value as well as the specific deductions made for functional and economic obsolescence. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's valuation. View "BP Pipelines (Alaska) Inc. v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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Denali Citizens Council challenged the Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) finding that issuing a license to Usibelli Coal Mine for gas exploration in the Healy Basin was in the best interests of the state on two grounds: (1) DNR failed to take a "hard look" at the economic feasibility of excluding certain residential areas and wildlife habitat from the license; and (2) DNR's treatment of environmental mitigation measures in the best interest finding was arbitrary and capricious. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's order upholding DNR's decision to issue the gas exploration license to Usibelli because the Court concluded that DNR did not act arbitrarily in developing and publishing its best interest finding. View "Denali Citizens Council v. Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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Hiland Mountain Correctional Center inmate, Doctor Suzette Welton filed three appeals over the dismissal of her administrative appeals for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In all three cases, Welton appealed decisions in Department of Corrections (DOC) grievance proceedings. In order to qualify for the administrative appeal procedure, Welton had to show that: (1) she was alleging a violation of her constitutional rights; that (2) the proceeding was adjudicative in nature; and (3) she produced a record capable of appellate review. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with the superior courts that the underlying DOC grievance proceedings were not adjudicative proceedings, and they did not produce a record capable of appellate review. View "Welton v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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Stephen O.'s parents were concerned that he had suffered a possible psychotic break. They reported his behavior to a mental health clinician. The clinician obtained an ex parte order to take Stephen into custody and transport him to the hospital in Juneau for examination and treatment. The police took him into custody, but due to bad weather he remained in jail for six days before he was transported for evaluation. After a contested hearing, the superior court found by clear and convincing evidence that Stephen was gravely disabled under AS 47.30.915(7)(B) and issued an order for a 30-day involuntary commitment. Stephen appealed that order. Because the superior court’s conclusion that the man was gravely disabled was not supported by clear and convincing evidence, the Supreme Court reversed and vacated the superior court’s 30-day involuntary commitment order.View "In Re Necessity for the Hospitalization of Stephen O." on Justia Law