Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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Property owners sued the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, challenging the validity of easements that cross their property to give access to neighboring residences. The superior court dismissed most of the property owners’ claims on res judicata grounds, reasoning that the claims had been brought or could have been brought in two earlier suits over the same easements. The court also granted the Borough’s motions for summary judgment or judgment on the pleadings on the property owners’ claims involving the validity of construction permits, redactions in public records, and whether the Borough had acquired a recent easement through the appropriate process. One claim remained to be tried: whether the Borough violated the property owners’ due process rights by towing their truck from the disputed roadway. The court found in favor of the Borough on this claim and awarded the Borough enhanced attorney’s fees, finding that the property owners had pursued their claims vexatiously and in bad faith. The property owners appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court correctly applied the law and did not clearly err in its findings of fact. Therefore, the superior court’s judgment was affirmed. View "Windel v Matanuska-Susitna Borough" on Justia Law

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Property owners sued the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, challenging the validity of easements that crossed their property to give access to neighboring residences. The superior court dismissed most of the property owners’ claims on res judicata grounds, reasoning that the claims had been brought or could have been brought in two earlier suits over the same easements. The court also granted the Borough’s motions for summary judgment or judgment on the pleadings on the property owners’ claims involving the validity of construction permits, redactions in public records, and whether the Borough had acquired a recent easement through the appropriate process. However, one claim remained: whether the Borough violated the property owners’ due process rights by towing their truck from the disputed roadway. The court found in favor of the Borough on this claim, and awarded the Borough enhanced attorney’s fees, finding that the property owners had pursued their claims vexatiously and in bad faith. The property owners appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the superior court, View "Windel v Matanuska-Susitna Borough" on Justia Law

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Homer, Alaska's Advisory Planning Commission (the Commission) approved a conditional use permit for the owners of a bicycle shop seeking to expand their entryway and install a covered porch. An objecting Homer resident appealed a superior court’s decision to affirm the permit approval, raising numerous procedural, legal, and factual issues. His main contentions were grouped into five general categories: (1) the Commission should have used a variance and not a conditional use permit; (2) the approval process violated various constitutional rights; (3) the Commission erred in its findings supporting the project; (4) the City Planner’s participation in the appeal was inappropriate; and (5) the judge was biased against him. The Alaska Supreme Court determined none of his arguments had merit. The Supreme Court concluded the Homer City Council, in an appropriate use of its legislative discretion, chose the conditional permitted use process to grant certain setback reductions. The Commission’s approval process and findings complied with applicable city code requirements and adequately protected the objecting resident’s rights. The City Planner’s participation in the appeals process was appropriate, and the judge displayed no disqualifying bias. Therefore, the decision to uphold the Commission’s approval of the conditional use permit was affirmed. View "Griswold v. Homer Advisory Planning Commission" on Justia Law

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A project developer that used state-allocated federal tax credits for a low-income housing project sued the state housing authority, asserting an option to eliminate a contractual obligation to maintain the project as low-income housing for 15 years beyond the initial 15-year qualifying period. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the housing authority, and the developer appealed several aspects of the court’s ruling. After review of the superior court record, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that court correctly interpreted the relevant statutes and contract documents, and correctly determined there were no material disputed facts about the formation of the parties’ agreements. View "Creekside Limited Partnership, et al. v. Alaska Housing Finance Corporation" on Justia Law

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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

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The State of Alaska selected the land at issue in this appeal in 1989 under an Alaska Statehood Act provision allowing State selections of federal lands for community centers and recreational areas. In the 1990s, in order to settle litigation about the State’s management of lands granted to Alaska under the Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act (Mental Health Act), the State agreed to create a mental health trust. There were extensive negotiations over which lands would be included in this trust. In the course of these negotiations, the State agreed that the parcel selected under the Statehood Act would not be conveyed to the mental health trust, but rather would be classified and managed by the State as wildlife habitat. For years after this settlement, the State managed the parcel as wildlife habitat. In 2009 the State and the federal government executed an agreement finalizing the Mental Health Act selections. One of the terms of the agreement was that the parcel selected under the Statehood Act would be converted to a Mental Health Act selection. The parcel was conveyed by the federal government to the State, and the State subsequently conveyed the parcel to the mental health trust. A lawsuit was filed against the State to invalidate the transfer of the parcel to the mental health trust, based primarily on the arguments that the transaction violated contractual and statutory terms of the earlier mental health trust settlement and violated the constitutional public notice requirement for disposing of an interest in State land. The superior court ruled for the State, and Southeast Alaska Conservation Council appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court determined the State violated the public notice clause of the Alaska Constitution by disposing of an interest in state land without providing the public prior notice. Further, the Court held the State's exchange of interests in the parcel was inconsistent with House Bill 201 (1994). The matter was therefore affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Supreme Court remanded for the superior court to "fashion a remedy" consistent withe the Supreme Court's opinion. View "Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Inc., v. Alaska, Department of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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Mick and Cecilia Manns made unsuccessful applications for preference rights to purchase certain Alaska State land. The Mannses argued they were entitled to a preference right under AS 38.05.035(f) based on their business use of the land beginning in the mid­ 1970s. But this statute required the Mannses to establish business use beginning at least five years prior to State selection; in this case, the State selection occurred in 1972. The statute also required the Mannses to show some income reliance on the land for the five years preceding their application, but the Mannses did not submit any such evidence. The Alaska Supreme Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision affirming the decision of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to deny the Mannses’ application. View "Manns v. Alaska, Dept. of Nat. Rec., Div. of Mining, Land & Water" on Justia Law

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In previous proceedings, the Alaska Supreme Court vacated a superior court award entered in favor of Alaska Laser Wash, Inc. against the State, and remanded for reconsideration of prevailing party status, fees and costs. On remand the superior court determined that the State was the prevailing party and awarded the State attorney’s fees. Alaska Laser Wash appealed, arguing that it should have been awarded attorney’s fees under Alaska Civil Rule 72(k), which applied to eminent domain proceedings. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s ruling, concluding that when a landowner fails to establish a taking in an inverse condemnation case, attorney’s fees are awarded under Alaska Civil Rule 82, generally governing attorney’s fees, or Alaska Civil Rule 68, if there has been an offer of judgment, but not under the eminent domain rules. View "Alaska Laser Wash, Inc., v. Alaska Dept. of Trans. & Public Facilities" on Justia Law

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The superior court affirmed a municipality’s tax valuation of a landowner’s property. The landowner argued on appeal the municipality’s valuation review board abused its discretion by excluding certain evidence of value on timeliness grounds. The landowner also argued the board applied fundamentally wrong principles of valuation by failing to consider, as definitive evidence of value, either his purchase price for the property or the price for which he sold a neighboring lot. The Alaska Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion as to either of the issues the landowner raised: the assessor explained at the hearing why he considered certain evidence of value more persuasive and more consistent with the municipality’s usual methods of appraisal, and it was well within the board’s broad discretion to accept the assessor’s explanation. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s decision upholding the board’s valuation of the property. View "Kelley v. Municipality of Anchorage, Board of Equalization" 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