Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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A property owner cut down trees on his lot to build a cabin. The trees were protected by his subdivision’s Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CCRs) and could not be cut down without prior approval. The owners of an adjacent lot sued him. The superior court found the property owner liable and, following a two-day bench trial, awarded the neighbors compensatory restoration damages and punitive damages. The property owner appealed, arguing that the superior court erred in both damages awards. After review of the trial court record, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed: there was no basis in the evidence for an award of restoration costs when the trees would not be restored, and there was no evidence to support an award based on a loss of value to the neighbors’ property. Nor was there proof of an independent tort as necessary to support a punitive damages award in a case premised on the breach of CCRs. The superior court's judgment was vacated and the matter remanded for entry of a nominal damages award. View "Galipeau v. Bixby" on Justia Law

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A property owner installed a locked gate across an access easement on his property and provided keys to the neighboring easement holder. The neighbor sued, alleging the gate wrongfully interfered with his easement rights. After trial the superior court determined the parties’ easement rights and ruled in the property owner’s favor. The neighbor appealed, arguing the superior court erred: (1) by not applying res judicata to bar the property owner’s defenses; (2) made clearly erroneous findings about the easement’s scope; and (3) abused its discretion by allowing the locked gate, in procedural rulings, and in its attorney’s fees award. Finding neither error nor abuse of discretion, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Sykes v.Lawless" on Justia Law

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In October 2017 the Alaska Trust Land Office (Land Office) issued a best interest decision in favor of selling five lots of land owned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust to Louis and Stacy Oliva. The Olivas' neighbors, Jeffrey and Bonnie West, submitted late comments opposing the sale. The Land Office accepted those comments as a request for reconsideration, but it ultimately denied the Wests' request and proceeded with the sale. The Wests appealed to the superior court, which affirmed the best interest decision. On appeal, the Wests argued the sale was not in the Trust’s best interest, the Land Office violated a number of statutes and regulations, and the agency’s public notice regulation was invalid. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the Wests' first argument lacked merit, and the remaining issues were waived for various reasons. The Court therefore affirmed the best interest decision. View "West v. Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority" on Justia Law

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Landowners Ronald and Annette Alleva settled a lawsuit against a the Municipality of Anchorage and organizations that operated a homeless shelter and a soup kitchen; the settlement agreement recited that the landowners accepted a sum of money in exchange for a release of present and future trespass and nuisance claims involving the organizations’ clients. Six years later the landowners filed this lawsuit asserting similar claims. Their complaint referred to the prior settlement, but they did not file the settlement agreement with the complaint. The defendants moved to dismiss, relying on the settlement agreement. The landowners argued that because the settlement agreement had not been filed with the complaint, it could not be used as a basis for dismissal under Alaska Civil Rule 12(b)(6). The superior court rejected the landowners’ argument, granted the motion to dismiss, and ruled in the alternative that the defendants were entitled to summary judgment. The landowners appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the superior court that the settlement agreement was properly considered on the motion to dismiss because it was addressed in the complaint and its authenticity was not questioned. The Supreme Court also agreed that the settlement barred the landowners’ current lawsuit. View "Alleva v. Municipality of Anchorage" on Justia Law

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The Bachner Company leased office space to the State of Alaska. The lease stipulated that the State would occupy 15,730 square feet of space but would not have to pay rent on 1,400 square feet of that space during the lease’s initial ten-year term. The lease further specified that if it was extended beyond the initial term the parties would negotiate a rate for the free space and the State would pay for it. Toward the end of the initial term the State exercised its first renewal option and opened negotiations with the company over the free space’s value. The parties retained an expert to value the space, but the State questioned his methods and conclusions. The State also resisted the company’s claim that the State should begin paying rent for additional space, not identified in the lease, that the company contended the State had been occupying. The parties failed to reach agreement, and the State did not pay rent for any of the extra square footage. Eventually the State executed a unilateral amendment to the lease based on the expert’s valuation and, ten months after the end of the lease’s initial term, paid all past-due rent for the formerly free space identified in the lease. The company filed a claim with the Department of Administration, contending that the State had materially breached the lease, the lease was terminated, and the State owed additional rent. A contracting officer rejected the claim, and on appeal an administrative law judge found there was no material breach, the lease had been properly extended, and the company had waived any claim regarding space not identified in the lease. The Commissioner of the Department of Administration adopted the administrative law judge’s findings and conclusions. The superior court affirmed the Commissioner’s decision except with regard to the space not identified in the lease; it directed the company to pursue any such claim in a separate action. Both parties appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the administrative law judge's findings were supported by substantial evidence, and because the lease did not terminate under the Supreme Court's interpretation of it, the Court affirmed the Commissioner's decision except with regard to the company's claim to rent for space not identified in the lease. The Court concluded that, to the extent it sought rent after the end of the initial term, it was not waived by the document on which the administrative law judge relied to find waiver. Only that issue was remanded to the Commissioner for further consideration. View "Bachner Company, Inc. v. Alaska Department of Administration" on Justia Law

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Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) held a promissory note and deed of trust executed in connection with a borrower’s purchase of his home. AHFC non-judicially foreclosed on the deed of trust without first providing the borrower an opportunity to present to a decision-maker his argument why under AHFC’s policies and procedures he was entitled to loan assistance to prevent the foreclosure. The borrower brought suit, alleging among other things, that he was denied procedural due process protections before AHFC took his property by foreclosure. The superior court rejected his due process argument and granted AHFC summary judgment on all issues. The sole issue presented to the Alaska Supreme Court on appeal was the due process question. The Court concluded that AHFC, a public corporation, was a “state actor,” that the foreclosure effected a deprivation of the borrower’s property, and that the borrower was not afforded a constitutionally required pre­ deprivation opportunity to be heard. The Court therefore reversed the superior court’s summary judgment decision on the due process question and remanded for further proceedings. View "Anderson v Alaska Housing Finance Corporation" on Justia Law

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In the 1940s, Fred E.W. and Clara Seater acquired a roughly five-acre parcel located along the Nikiski Bay beach in the Cook Inlet region, referred to as Lot 9. In 1956, following Fred E.W.’s death, Clara transferred Lot 9 to her sons Ronald Seater and Fred L. Seater, as tenants in common. Fred L. died in 1979. His widow, Lee Seater, as executor of his estate, conveyed his share in Lot 9 to herself. Ronald filed for partition of Lot 9 in January 2010. In February 2012, a superior court issued a partition order severing Ronald and Lee’s tenancy in common. he partition made a straight-line division in Lot 9 to create a northern “Lot 1” and a southern “Lot 2” of “reasonably equal ‘value.’ ” Lee was granted the northern “Lot 1” and Ronald was granted the southern “Lot 2.” In April 2012 Ronald requested the use of an old access trail that crossed Lot 1. In October the superior court granted Ronald “an express appurtenant easement by necessity over Lot 1 for ingress and egress via the trail/road into the northern boundary of Lot 1.” In June 2014 Lee requested that “reciprocal easements for ingress and egress be established between Lot 1 and Lot 2.” In September 2015 the superior court entered a decision granting Lee’s request. In July 2016 Lee moved to enforce the September 2015 decision. She alleged that Ronald was placing boulders on or around the easement to frustrate her access. Ronald claims that in response he “installed boulder fences . . . along a 10-foot wide corridor centered on the ‘diagonal cut’ on Lot 2, in order to mark the boundary between Lots 1 and 2; identify the location of the ‘diagonal cut[’;] deter trespassers (including the Lee Seater family); and prevent more erosion on Lot 2.” In July 2017 Lee filed an enforcement motion alleging that Ronald continued to frustrate her access to the easement. Ronald appealed the modification of the partition, and the subsequent related enforcement orders. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded Ronald's appeal was untimely with respect to all but the most recent enforcement order, which contained an erroneous interpretation of a term used in prior orders. The matter was remanded for the superior court to rectify that mistake. View "Seater v Estate of Fred L. Seater" on Justia 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