Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Public Benefits
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This case involved an obligor father who never missed a child support payment to the obligee, mother for their minor child. The father retired and began collecting Social Security retirement benefits. As a result, the child became eligible to receive a derivative monthly children’s insurance benefit (CIB) from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The mother received four years of CIB payments in addition to regular monthly child support payments from the obligor; the law allowed the CIB payments to be credited against the child support obligation. However, neither parent notified the Alaska Department of Revenue, Child Support Services Division (CSSD) that they were receiving CIB payments for their daughter. After four years of overpayments, CSSD discovered the CIB payment from SSA and credited the father more than $47,000 in child support overpayment. The father filed suit, asking the superior court for a judgment against the mother for overpaid child support. He also requested reimbursement or credit for overpaid health insurance premiums. The superior court denied reimbursement for either overpayment, and the father appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed, finding no reversible error in the superior court's judgment. View "Rosenbaum v. Shaw" 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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A 2014 statute and 2013 regulation re-defined which abortions qualified as “medically necessary” for the purposes of Medicaid funding. The statute defined medically necessary abortions as those that “must be performed to avoid a threat of serious risk to the life or physical health of a woman from continuation of the woman’s pregnancy” as a result of a number of listed medical conditions; the regulation was similarly restrictive. Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest challenged both the statute and regulation as unconstitutional, and the superior court held that both measures violated the equal protection clause of the Alaska Constitution. The court reasoned that these measures imposed a “high-risk, high- hazard” standard on abortion funding unique among Medicaid services, and held that our 2001 decision striking down an earlier abortion funding restriction on equal protection grounds compelled the same result. The State appealed, arguing that the statute and regulation should be interpreted more leniently and therefore do not violate the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection clause. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision: the statute’s and the regulation’s facially different treatment of pregnant women based upon their exercise of reproductive choice required the Court to apply strict scrutiny, and the proposed justifications for the funding restrictions "did not withstand such exacting examination." View "Alaska v. Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest" on Justia Law

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An employee continued to work for over ten years after a job-related knee injury but had multiple surgeries on her injured knee. Over time, her employer made several permanent partial impairment payments, and she was eventually determined to be permanently and totally disabled because of the work injury. She began to receive Social Security disability at about the same time she was classified as permanently and totally disabled for workers’ compensation. Her employer asked the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board to allow two offsets to its payment of permanent total disability (PTD) compensation: one related to Social Security disability benefits and one related to the earlier permanent partial impairment (PPI) payments. The Board established a Social Security offset and permitted the employer to deduct the amount of previously paid PPI. The employee appealed to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission, arguing that the Board had improperly applied one of its regulations in allowing the PPI offset and had incorrectly calculated the amount of the Social Security offset. She also brought a civil suit against the State challenging the validity of the regulation. The State intervened in the Commission appeal; the lawsuit was dismissed. The Commission reversed the Board’s calculation of the Social Security offset and affirmed the Board’s order permitting the PPI offset. The employer appealed the Commission’s Social Security offset decision to the Alaska Supreme Court, and the employee cross- appealed the PPI offset. The Court affirmed that part of the Commission’s decision reversing the Board’s calculation of the Social Security disability offset and reversed that part of the Commission’s decision permitting an offset for permanent partial impairment benefits. The case was remanded back to the Commission for further proceedings. View "Alaska Airlines, Inc. v. Darrow" on Justia Law

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Sunny Radebaugh contested both her inability to cross-examine the nurse who performed an annual assessment and the Department of Health and Social Services' reversal of an administrative law judge’s determination. Radebaugh was a Medicaid in-home nursing care benefits recipient, who had her benefits terminated by the Department after an annual assessment. The assessment concluded that Radebaugh’s physical condition had materially improved to the point where she no longer required the benefits. She challenged the termination of her benefits at an administrative hearing, and the nurse who performed the assessment did not testify. Following the hearing, the administrative law judge determined that the Department erroneously terminated her benefits. The Department, as final decision maker, reversed the administrative law judge’s determination and reinstated the decision to terminate Radebaugh’s benefits. Radebaugh appealed to the superior court, which first determined that the Department had violated her due process rights but then reversed itself and upheld the Department’s decision. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded Radebaugh waived the right to challenge her inability to cross-examine the nurse who performed the assessment. The Court held that the agency sufficiently supported its final decision. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s affirmance of the Department’s final decision. View "Radebaugh v. Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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An applicant for federal disability benefits applied for state benefits that were intended to provide basic assistance while the federal application was pending. The Division of Public Assistance denied these interim benefits, relying on a subset of the criteria that the Social Security Administration uses to determine eligibility for federal benefits. The superior court reversed this decision, holding that Alaska law required the Department to apply the same federal substantive criteria and procedural requirements to its determination of eligibility for state interim benefits. The Department petitioned the Alaska Supreme Court for review. After review, the Court concluded that, while state law did not require the Department to track the federal analysis exactly when it assessed eligibility for state interim benefits, the Department’s application of the law erroneously excluded a category of applicants who would be found to be disabled for purposes of federal benefits and who therefore should have been entitled to interim assistance. The Court affirmed the superior court’s decision in part, reversed it in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Services v. Gross" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits
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Dillip Mullings owned a NAPA auto-parts store in Seward called Resurrection Bay Auto Parts, Inc. Mullings hired Dennis Alder to be the store manager, a position Alder held from 2006 to 2010, when he was terminated. Alder did not keep a time card, but it was undisputed that he typically worked from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The extent of Alder’s overtime was not at issue on appeal; Mullings conceded that Alder worked over 40 hours a week. It was also undisputed that Alder was paid a salary and did not receive overtime pay. Once terminated, Alder sought unemployment compensation from the State. The Department of Wage and Hour determined that Alder was entitled to overtime pay, and attempted to negotiate a settlement on his behalf with Resurrection Bay. Alder later sued seeking overtime pay. The employer claimed the Alder was exempt from the overtime laws, but the superior court found he was not and awarded overtime pay and liquidated damages. The employer appealed. Because the employer failed to show that the manager satisfied all four requirements of the overtime laws’ exemption for executive employees, the Supreme Court affirmed the finding that the manager was owed overtime pay under Alaska and federal law. Furthermore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s award of liquidated damages, because the employer failed to carry his burden of demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence that he acted in good faith. View "Resurrection Bay Auto Parts, Inc. v. Alder" on Justia Law

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A member of the military moved to a new post in Alaska in 2005. Two months later, he was deployed to Iraq. After 16 months of service in Iraq, he returned to Alaska in December of 2006. Shortly thereafter, he applied for the 2007 Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD), for his eligibility for 2006. The Department of Revenue denied his application. The service member filed an informal appeal and later a formal appeal with the Department, both of which were denied. The superior court affirmed the denial, concluding that the relevant statute required him to reside in Alaska for six months before claiming an allowable absence for military service and that the statute did not violate equal protection under the U.S. and Alaska Constitutions. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that because the service member was not eligible for the 2007 PFD, the Court affirmed the superior court's judgment. View "Heller v. Alaska Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Five disabled Alaskans sued their former representative payee. At the conclusion of trial, the superior court awarded both compensatory and punitive damages to the plaintiffs; it also entered injunctive relief against the representative payee as to both parties and non-parties. But it declined to enter other injunctive relief as to non-parties. Three of the plaintiffs appealed. They argued that the superior court failed to understand that non-party injunctive relief was available under Alaska's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act. Because the superior court actually entered non-party injunctive relief, the Supreme Court after its review of the case disagreed with the plaintiffs' characterization of the superior court proceedings and affirmed the superior court in all respects. View "Osbakken v. Whittington" on Justia Law

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Brian Ross had been absent from the State of Alaska since 1990, first as a student at the United States Naval Academy and later as a career Marine Corps officer. Despite his absence, Ross maintained Alaska residency and received a permanent fund dividend each year. In 1998 the Alaska Legislature amended the dividend qualifications to provide that anyone who was allowably absent for ten consecutive years would no longer be eligible for dividends. This ten-year rule, however, does not apply to members of the United States Congress, their staffs, or the families of either. In 2009 Ross and his children applied for dividends but were denied because Ross had then been absent for ten consecutive years from the enactment of the ten-year rule. They appealed the denial, but the denial was upheld at an informal agency appeal, a formal agency appeal, and by the superior court. Ross appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the ten-year rule violates his equal protection and substantive due process rights. Because the ten-year rule and congressional exception are fairly and substantially related to the legitimate state interests of limiting dividends to permanent Alaska residents and preventing fraud, and because the ten-year rule is rationally related to the legitimate state purpose of reducing administrative burdens, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court as to these claims. View "Ross v. Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law