Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
by
A man’s condominium unit had the only access to a crawl space containing water pipes that served several other units. The condominium association’s president and a maintenance man entered the unit twice, with the owner’s permission, to address water-related maintenance issues in the crawl space, where they identified what they thought were serious problems of leaking and mold. But the unit owner denied their further requests for access to deal with these problems. The association brought suit against the unit owner, alleging that he had caused damage by concealing the leaking in the crawl space and making his own negligent repairs; it also asked for a declaratory judgment concerning its right of entry. The superior court, after an evidentiary hearing, granted a preliminary injunction allowing further inspections. After those inspections revealed that repairs were not needed after all, the association dropped its negligence claim. But it moved for summary judgment on its request for declaratory relief, which the superior court granted, deciding that the association’s declaration allowed reasonable entry for purposes of inspection and repair. The unit owner appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not abuse its discretion in issuing the preliminary injunction or err in granting summary judgment on the claim for declaratory relief. Nor did the Court find any abuse of discretion in the superior court’s procedural rulings or its award of attorney’s fees to the association. View "Randle v. Bay Watch Condominium Association" on Justia Law

by
A mining company appealed the borough assessor’s valuation of its mine to the borough board of equalization. At a hearing the company presented a detailed report arguing the borough had improperly included the value of “capitalized waste stripping”when calculating the tax-assessed value of the mine. The assessor maintained its position that waste stripping was taxable, but reduced its valuation of the mine to better reflect the remaining life of the mine. The board approved the assessor’s reduced valuation of the mine and the superior court affirmed the board’s decision. The mine owners argued that waste stripping fell within a statutory exemption from taxation. The Alaska Supreme Court construed municipal taxing power broadly, and read exceptions to that power narrowly. The Court found waste stripping was not a “natural resource,” but an improvement that made it easier for miners to access natural resources. The Court concluded that the value of this improvement, like that of other improvements at the mine site, was subject to tax by the borough. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision affirming the board’s valuation. View "Fairbanks Gold Mining, Inc. vs. Fairbanks North Star Borough Assessor" on Justia Law

by
The State of Alaska prevailed in a quiet title action brought against it by two landowners and was awarded approximately $205,000 in attorney’s fees pursuant to the Alaska Civil Rule 82(b)(2) schedule. In an earlier appeal the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision on the merits but determined that the court’s findings on attorney’s fees were inadequate for review. The case was remanded for the trial court’s express consideration of two factors relevant to whether a scheduled award should be reduced: Rule 82(b)(3)(I) and Rule 82(b)(3)(J). The superior court expressly considered these factors on remand, made additional findings to explain its reasoning, and affirmed its earlier award. The landowners again appealed. The Supreme Court concluded: the superior court did not err in its interpretation of factors (I) and (J); that it did not abuse its discretion by declining to rely on them to reduce the award; and that the award did not violate the landowners’ constitutional rights of due process and access to the courts. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to hold proceedings on remand in abeyance while the landowners evaluated the significance of an anonymous letter accusing the State and its attorneys of litigation misconduct. View "Dickson v. Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

by
A homeowner sought to rescind a foreclosure sale, arguing the notices he received before the sale were deficient because they lacked information required under state and federal law. The notices were sent by a law firm acting on behalf of a bank, which by assignment was the beneficiary of the deed of trust. The superior court granted summary judgment to the bank, determining that the law firm’s communications on the bank’s behalf did not violate the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), the Alaska Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA), or the state nonjudicial foreclosure statute, and that the homeowner was not entitled to relief. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concurred with the superior court and affirmed its judgment. View "Wendt v. Bank of New York Mellon Trust Company, N.A." on Justia Law

by
The State of Alaska claimed the right under Revised Statute 2477 (RS 2477) to clear land and permit the use of boat launches, camping sites, and day use sites within an alleged 100-foot right of way centered on a road on land belonging to an Alaska Native corporation, Ahtna, Inc. Ahtna sued, arguing that its prior aboriginal title prevented the federal government from conveying a right of way to the State or, alternatively, if the right of way existed, that construction of boat launches, camping sites, and day use sites exceeded its scope. After years of litigation and motion practice the superior court issued two partial summary judgment orders: (1) holding as a matter of law that any preexisting aboriginal title did not disturb the State’s right of way over the land; and (2) holding as a matter of law that the right of way was limited to ingress and egress. To these orders, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err, therefore affirming both grants of partial summary judgment. View "Ahtna, Inc. v. Alaska, Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, et al." on Justia Law

by
Shay Hurd appealed the superior court’s determination that his adjoining neighbor, Larry Henley, adversely possessed a portion of his land. Hurd and Henley shared a boundary line that Henley first encroached on by building a shed and then by building a larger shop. Hurd sued, and the superior court ultimately awarded the area originally occupied by Henley’s shed and the area surrounding it to Henley, but not the larger area with the shop. After review of the superior court record, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err when it found that Henley regularly graveled and parked vehicles in the area granted to him as adversely possessed. "Henley’s activities on that area were sufficient to constitute adverse possession. The superior court adequately defined the area adversely possessed by referencing landmarks with locations readily ascertainable from the record." The Court interpreted the “good faith but mistaken belief” required for adverse possession by AS 09.45.052(a) to require only subjective good faith; therefore, the superior court did not clearly err by determining Henley occupied the former shed area due to a good-faith belief the land was his. View "Hurd v. Henley" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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