Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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This case arose from a boundary dispute between the Collinses and the Halls, who were adjoining property owners in a recreational subdivision on an island near Juneau, Alaska. The Collinses alleged that structures on the Halls’ property encroached onto the Collinses’ property and violated the subdivision’s restrictive covenants. They brought claims for quiet title and trespass based on boundaries recorded in a 2014 survey of their lot. This survey was prepared by the same surveyor who had initially platted the subdivision in the mid-1970s; the 1970s survey in turn referred to a survey monument established in 1927. The Halls responded that the Collinses’ surveyor had used the wrong point of beginning for his subdivision survey; that a surveyor they had hired in 2012 found the true point of beginning based on the 1927 survey; that the correct property boundary lay some distance from where the Collinses claimed; and that the supposedly encroaching structures were fully on the Halls’ land. The superior court found that the boundary advocated by the Halls was correct and issued a judgment quieting title based on their 2012 survey, though it acknowledged that its decision could cloud title for other property owners on the island. The court also found that the restrictive covenants at issue had been abandoned and concluded they could not be enforced against the Halls. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court’s findings as to the boundary location and restrictive covenants were not clearly erroneous, and therefore affirmed the court’s decision on those issues. But because the superior court’s findings and conclusions did not address one of the Collinses’ trespass claims, the matter was remanded for consideration of that issue. View "Collins v. Hall" on Justia Law

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Jerry and Brenda McCavit built a dock extending into Wasilla Lake from their upland property. Their neighbors, Barbara and Louis Lacher, sued the McCavits claiming the dock unreasonably interfered with their riparian rights and constituted a private nuisance. The superior court found for the Lachers and issued an injunction ordering the McCavits to remove a portion of their dock. The McCavits appealed. Because the Alaska Supreme Court, by this case, announced a new rule of reasonableness regarding riparian or littoral rights, it vacated the superior court’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and Order Granting Injunctive Relief and Nuisance Abatement, remanded for the superior court to conduct the proper legal analysis, and vacated the superior court’s award for attorney’s fees and costs. View "McCavit v. Lacher" on Justia Law

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For several years two condominium owners withheld a portion of their dues in protest. Then beginning in 2014, they sent the condominium association several payments, with instructions to apply them to recent debts and current dues. In this appeal, the owners argued they accrued no debts within the statute of limitations because their payment directives were binding. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the superior court’s conclusion that these payment directives were not effective because the governing declaration allowed the association to apply any payments to “the oldest balance due.” The Court affirmed the trial court in all other respects. View "Black v. Whitestone Estates Condominium HOA, et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Lorna Weston was seriously injured when she slipped and fell on ice in a hotel parking lot. Medicare covered her medical expenses, settling the providers’ bills by paying less than one-fifth of the amounts billed. When she later sued the hotel for negligence, the hotel sought to bar her from introducing her original medical bills as evidence of her damages, arguing that only the amount Medicare actually paid was relevant and admissible. The superior court agreed and excluded the evidence. The Alaska Supreme Court granted Weston's petition for review the following questions: (1) whether evidence of medical expenses was properly limited to the amounts actually paid, or whether the amounts billed by the providers - even if later discounted - were relevant evidence of damages; and (2) whether the difference between the amounts billed by the providers and the amounts actually paid was a benefit from a collateral source, subject to the collateral source rule. The Supreme Court concluded that the amounts billed by the providers were relevant evidence of the medical services’ reasonable value. Furthermore, the Court concluded the difference between the amounts billed and the amounts paid was a benefit to the injured party that was subject to the collateral source rule; as such, evidence of the amounts paid was excluded from the jury’s consideration but was subject to post-trial proceedings under AS 09.17.070 for possible reduction of the damages award. View "Weston v AKHappytime, LLC, d/b/a Alex Hotel & Suites" on Justia Law

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A public utility filed a condemnation action seeking the land use rights necessary to construct a natural gas storage facility in an underground formation of porous rock. The utility held some rights already by assignment from an oil and gas lessee. The superior court held that because of the oil and gas lease, the utility owned the rights to whatever producible gas remained in the underground formation and did not have to compensate the landowner for its use of the gas to help pressurize the storage facility. The court held a bench trial to determine the value of the storage space. The landowner appealed the resulting compensation award, arguing it retained ownership of the producible gas in place because the oil and gas lease authorized only production, not storage. It also argued it had the right to compensation for gas that was discovered after the date of taking. The landowner also challenged several findings related to the court’s valuation of the storage rights: that the proper basis of valuation was the storage facility’s maximum physical capacity rather than the capacity allowed by its permits; that the valuation should not have included buffer area at the same rate as area used for storage; and that an expert’s valuation methodology, which the superior court accepted, was flawed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err in ruling that the landowner’s only rights in the gas were reversionary rights that were unaffected by the utility’s non-consumptive use of the gas during the pendency of the lease. Furthermore, the Court concluded the trial court did not clearly err with regard to findings about valuation. View "Kenai Landing, Inc. v Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage, et al." on Justia Law

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The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT or the State) condemned a strip of property along the Parks Highway. DOT filed a declaration of taking, allowing it to take title immediately, and deposited approximately $15,000 in court as estimated compensation for the taking. The landowner challenged DOT’s estimate and was eventually awarded approximately $24,000, as well as attorney’s fees and costs. Pursuant to AS 09.55.440, the superior court awarded prejudgment interest to the landowner on the difference between the amount of DOT’s initial deposit and the amount the property was ultimately determined to be worth. The landowner appealed, arguing that the prejudgment interest should have been calculated on the difference between the deposit and his entire judgment, including significant amounts for attorney’s fees and appraisal costs. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the landowner’s argument was not supported by the statutory language, legislative history, or policy. Furthermore, the Court rejected the landowner’s arguments that the superior court applied the wrong postjudgment interest rate and abused its discretion by denying discovery of the State’s attorneys’ billing records. The trial court failed to state its reasons for excluding attorney time from its attorney's fees award, and therefore vacated that award and remanded for reconsideration only of the fees award. View "Keeton v. Alaska, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities" on Justia Law

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In 2013 and 2014 attorney Gerald Markham applied for a senior citizen tax exemption on his residential property in Kodiak, Alaska. The Borough assessor denied the applications due to Markham’s prolonged absences from Alaska. When given the opportunity to prove his absences were allowed under the applicable ordinance, Markham refused to provide corroborating documentation. He appealed the denials to the Borough Board of Equalization, which affirmed the denials. He appealed the Board’s decisions to the superior court. The superior court dismissed the 2013 appeal for failure to prosecute, denied the 2014 appeal on the merits, and awarded attorney’s fees to the Borough. Markham appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s 2013 dismissal and the Board’s 2014 denial on the merits, but vacated the superior court’s award of attorney’s fees and remanded for further findings. View "Markham v. Kodiak Island Borough Board of Equalization" on Justia Law

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Frank Griswold appealed a decision of the Homer, Alaska Advisory Planning Commission to the Homer Board of Adjustment. Griswold was a Homer resident who owned several lots within the Business District, one of which is approximately 3,280 feet from Terry and Jonnie Yager. The Yeagers applied for a conditional use permit to build a covered porch ten feet into a twenty-foot setback. Before the hearing, Griswold submitted two documents to the Commission, arguing that the setback exceptions required a variance rather than a conditional use permit and that provisions of the Homer City Code (HCC) allowing for setback exceptions by conditional use permits in the Business District conflicted with state law. After a public hearing the Commission approved the Yagers’ conditional use permit. Griswold appealed, arguing the Yeagers' permit would adversely affect the value of his Business District properties by increasing congestion in the area and that the permit would create a “pernicious precedent” for future setback exceptions in his neighborhood. Additionally Griswold said this would harm the use and enjoyment of his home. The Board rejected his appeal for lack of standing. Griswold appealed to the superior court, arguing that he had standing under the Homer City Code and alleging a number of due process violations. The superior court ruled that Griswold lacked standing as a matter of law and found any due process errors harmless. It also awarded the Board attorney’s fees on the appeal, reasoning that Griswold did not qualify for protection from attorney’s fees as a public interest litigant. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed, finding that under applicable Home City Code section, a property owner need only produce some evidence supporting the owner’s claim that the city’s action could potentially adversely affect the owner’s use or enjoyment of the owner’s property. "The individual bringing the claim must still prevail on the merits by showing that a legal remedy against such harm is available." The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Griswold v Homer Board of Adjustment, et al." on Justia Law

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Chris and Jeanne Rosauer owned a home and underlying property in Girdwood across the municipal roadway from a home and underlying property owned by Thomas Manos and Jody Liddicoat (collectively, Manos). The Municipality of Anchorage owned a right-of-way between the Rosauers’ property and the municipal roadway. In August 2015 Manos hired Greatland Tree Service, LLC to remove several cottonwood trees within the municipal right-of-way in front of the Rosauers’ property. The Anchorage Municipal Code required private entities to obtain a permit for the “use” of municipal rights-of-way, including tree removal. Neither Manos nor Greatland obtained a permit before the tree removal, but Greatland later obtained a permit in October. In April 2016 the Rosauers sued Manos and Greatland, seeking damages under Alaska’s timber-trespass statute, AS 09.45.730. The superior court granted summary judgment to the Manos and Greatland, concluding that the municipality’s subsequent permit approving the tree removal negated the neighbors’ claim. The Rosauers appealed. Because the Alaska Supreme Court agreed the municipality’s subsequent permit effectively conferred lawful authority to cut the trees, it affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Rosauer v. Manos" on Justia Law

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In April 2014 Link Fannon acquired the property at issue in this appeal, along with a well and water system, from an owner subsequent to June Scheele’s 1998 transaction. The deed to Fannon made no mention of a Greenbelt Covenant. Fannon intended to increase the well’s production to service at least another ten acres of neighboring commercial property and to “sell bulk water” to the Department of Transportation for a Parks Highway upgrade. Fannon then began clear-cutting trees on Lot 1, Block 1. June’s estate brought suit against Fannon for violating the Greenbelt Covenant’s terms; the estate sought damages, a preliminary injunction against further clear-cutting, and an affirmative injunction to restore trees. The primary issue in this appeal was whether the superior court correctly interpreted two property restrictions, one found in a subdivision declaration and the other in a deed’s greenbelt covenant, to ultimately determine that the deed’s greenbelt covenant was enforceable. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court correctly applied interpretation rules by looking at the instrument language without regard to extrinsic evidence and correctly ruled that the subdivision declaration did not preclude the deed’s greenbelt covenant. It therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Fannon v. Polo" on Justia Law