Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Public Benefits
Ross v. Dept. of Revenue
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
McKitrick v. Alaska Pub. Employees Retirement Sys.
A man filed an application for both occupational and nonoccupational disability benefits from the Public Employees Retirement System, claiming disability from both physical and mental conditions. An administrative law judge (ALJ) denied his claim, finding that he failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that he had a physical or mental disability that presumably permanently prevented him from satisfactorily performing his job. The man appealed and the superior court affirmed the ALJ's determination. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the man challenged the ALJ's determination regarding his mental condition. Because the ALJ's written findings were sufficiently detailed to support the ALJ's conclusions, and because substantial evidence supported the ALJ's conclusion that the man’s mental condition did not amount to an occupational or nonoccupational disability, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision to uphold the ALJ's order. View "McKitrick v. Alaska Pub. Employees Retirement Sys." on Justia Law
McGahuey v. Whitestone Logging, Inc.
A worker was involved in a fight in a logging camp bunkhouse. He did not file a report of injury related to the fight for over a year. When he finally filed a report of injury, he alleged that he had injured his hip, lower back, and ear in the fight. His employer denied the worker benefits because he did not give timely notice of the injury. The worker then alleged that he had verbally informed his supervisor of the injuries. After a hearing, the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board determined that the worker’s claim was barred because he did not give his employer timely notice of the injury. The Board performed an alternative analysis assuming the worker had given timely notice and decided that the claim was not compensable. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decision. Because the Commission correctly determined that substantial evidence in the record supports the Board’s decision on the compensability of the claim, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commission’s decision. View "McGahuey v. Whitestone Logging, Inc." on Justia Law
Pfeifer v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Serv.
An elderly woman requiring long-term medical care gave $120,000 to her son in February 2007. The mother believed that the gift would not prevent her from receiving Medicaid coverage if she lived long enough to exhaust her remaining assets. She relied on a provision in Alaska's Medicaid eligibility manual that suggested prospective Medicaid beneficiaries could give away a portion of their assets while retaining sufficient assets to pay for their medical care during the period of ineligibility that Medicaid imposes as a penalty for such gifts. But by the time the mother applied for Medicaid in September 2008, the Alaska legislature had enacted legislation with the retroactive effect of preventing the kind of estate planning the mother had attempted through her gift. The State temporarily denied the mother's application. The son appealed pro se on behalf of his mother, who died in 2009. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the Alaska legislature's retroactive change to the Medicaid eligibility rules was valid. The Court thus affirmed the State's temporary denial of the mother's application. View "Pfeifer v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Serv." on Justia Law
J.P. v. Anchorage Sch. Dist.
Parents requested that the Anchorage School District evaluate their child for eligibility for special education services. While awaiting the results of the eligibility assessment, the parents arranged for private tutoring. The school district did not assess the child’s eligibility within the statutorily-required time, and the parents requested a due process hearing. They also arranged for their child to be privately evaluated to determine whether he was eligible for special education services. The school district subsequently completed its evaluation and determined the child to be ineligible for services. At the due process hearing, the parents alleged that the school district committed procedural violations under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), including impermissibly delaying the evaluation. They sought reimbursement for the cost of their child’s private evaluation and tutoring. An independent hearing officer presided over the due process hearing and ultimately agreed with the district that the child was ineligible for services. The hearing officer ordered the school district to pay the cost of the private eligibility assessment and to partially pay the cost of the tutoring. The superior court upheld the award of the private eligibility assessment, but reversed the award of the private tutoring cost. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the school district argued that the parents should not be reimbursed for the evaluation or the tutoring; the parents argued they are entitled to full reimbursement for both expenses. The central question the Court addressed was: where a child is ultimately determined to be ineligible for special education services, does the IDEA provide relief for procedural violations that occur during the process of evaluating the child’s eligibility for services? The Court affirmed the superior court’s decision, upholding the independent hearing officer’s award of the private assessment cost, but reversing the hearing officer’s award of the private tutoring expenses. View "J.P. v. Anchorage Sch. Dist." on Justia Law