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Kevin Patterson has been incarcerated since 2013, having been convicted after a bench trial of seven counts of possession of child pornography. In May 2015 Patterson filed a 121-page civil complaint in superior court in Juneau. The complaint named as defendants the governor and his predecessor, the Alaska Legislature, a state senator, the then-current and two former attorneys general, an assistant attorney general, an attorney with the Office of Public Advocacy, and the State of Alaska. The complaint alleged that these state officials and entities had “directly harmed . . . Patterson in numerous ways and [had] violated his Constitutional Rights over and over.” It sought damages for Patterson’s incarceration, violence and emotional distress he allegedly suffered while in prison, and the alleged denial of medical care. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of Patterson’s complaint, holding a civil suit for damages allegedly caused by a criminal conviction or sentence may not be maintained if judgment for the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of the conviction or sentence, unless the conviction or sentence has first been set aside in the course of the criminal proceedings. The Court also rejected Patterson’s claim that the superior court demonstrated an unfair bias against him. View "Patterson v. Walker" on Justia Law

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The superior court awarded one of the husband’s investment accounts to his wife in a divorce. Before transferring the account, the husband transferred shares of three mutual funds from that account to a separate investment account. The wife asked the court to order him to account for the missing shares. The court ordered the husband to pay the wife the value of the shares on the date of the transfer and he did so. The parties contested the value of the income earned by the improperly transferred shares. Following lengthy litigation of this issue, the superior court awarded the wife enhanced attorney’s fees. The wife appealed the valuation of the earned income of the shares; the husband cross-appealed the valuation of the earned income on the shares and the award of attorney’s fees. The Alaska Supreme Court found the superior court appropriately awarded the wife prejudgment interest instead of damages as well as enhanced attorney’s fees. View "Erwin v. Mendenhall" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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A mother appealed the termination of her parental rights to her son, an Indian child. She argued the trial court violated the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) by finding that the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) made active efforts and that her continued custody of her son was likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage to him. She also argued that the trial court’s latter finding was not supported by the testimony of a qualified expert as required by ICWA. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s order terminating her parental rights because its findings satisfied ICWA’s requirements. View "Demetria H. v. Alaska, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

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Kelly Dickson and Donna DeFusco owned adjacent parcels of land near Big Lake. The property’s original 160 acres were homesteaded in 1958 by their father, Benjamin Cowart, who received a patent from the federal government in 1965. He later purchased two 40-acre tracts that bordered his acreage to the southeast. Dickson and DeFusco inherited the property upon their mother’s death in 2007. At issue in this case are two easements the superior court found to exist across Dickson and DeFusco’s property. The first involved the Historic Iditarod Trail that was first surveyed in the early 1900s. The second easement was for part of Homestead Road and was created in 1958 when a neighbor, Charles Sassara, Sr., used a D8 Caterpillar to improve access to his and other homesteads in the area. The owners appealed a decision in favor of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR), that recognized an RS 2477 right of way over their property for the Historic Iditarod Trail and a prescriptive easement for public use of a road. The owners argued the evidence did not support the court’s findings of the right of way and the easement; that the court made a number of procedural and evidentiary errors that collectively deprived them of procedural due process; and that the large attorney’s fees award in favor of the State was excessive in light of its likely deterrent effect and the State’s decision to vigorously litigate this case for its precedential effect. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not clearly err in its findings of fact, and affirmed its decision recognizing the RS 2477 right of way for the Historic Iditarod Trail and the prescriptive easement for the road. The Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion in the court’s procedural and evidentiary rulings. However, the Court concluded there may have been a compelling reason to vary the presumptive attorney’s fees award under Alaska Civil Rule 82(b)(3), and remanded for the superior court’s further consideration of this issue. View "Dickson v. Alaska, Dept. of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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Appellant Ronda Marcy, resident of Matanuska-Susitna Borough, filed suit against the borough and citizens who had sponsored a borough ballot initiative prohibiting commercial marijuana businesses. The suit, filed 32 days before the borough election, sought declaratory and injunctive relief that the initiative was unconstitutional and unlawful and should be removed from the election ballot. Given the imminent election, the superior court ordered the case held in abeyance pending the initiative vote’s outcome. After borough voters rejected the initiative, the court dismissed the case as moot. Marcy appealed, arguing the merits of her declaratory judgment claim should have been heard under the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine and that the superior court issued procedurally defective orders, violated her due process rights, and erroneously awarded attorney’s fees against her. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court because it did not abuse its discretion in its procedural decisions; the resident’s due process rights were not violated; the Court declined to invoke the public interest exception to address the moot claims; and the resident failed to properly bring her attorney’s fees appeal. View "Marcy v. Matanuska-Susitna Borough" on Justia Law

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A mother appealed the termination of her parental rights to her son on findings of abandonment, mental injury, neglect and parental substance abuse. The mother challenged none of the superior court’s factual findings; rather, she alleged the court violated her due process rights during the termination trial by: (1) prejudging the case; (2) improperly assuming the role of a prosecutor while examining witnesses; and (3) relying on research and evidence outside the record to impeach witnesses and disregard testimony favorable to her. Asserting that the court’s actions deprived her of the right to an impartial decision-maker and amounted to structural error, she sought reversal and remand before a different judge. Although the Alaska Supreme Court agreed the court took inappropriate action with respect to witness testimony and other evidence regarding one issue at the trial, the Supreme Court concluded this did not amount to structural error and that it did not otherwise undercut the unrelated findings supporting the termination of the mother’s parental rights. View "Sarah A. v. Alaska, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

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A mother moved from Texas to Alaska, taking her two children with her. The father, still residing in Texas, filed for divorce. The parties executed a settlement agreement awarding joint legal custody of the children to the parents, primary physical custody to the mother, and custody during the summer and over the Christmas holiday to the father. Cooperation between the parents began to deteriorate, and the father moved to modify custody. The superior court concluded that there had been a substantial change of circumstances and conducted a best interests analysis. The court elected to keep the custody agreement largely unchanged. However, it required the father’s future visitation to occur in Alaska and imposed other conditions on his visitation and the parties’ communications. The father appealed, alleging several deficiencies in the court’s analysis and arguing that his due process rights were violated. Finding no error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s order. View "Lewis G. v. Cassie Y." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The superior court awarded a mother primary physical custody of a couple’s two children and ordered the father to pay child support. Both parents appealed: the father contended the superior court abused its discretion when it refused to vary his child support obligation pursuant to the “good cause” exception of Alaska Civil Rule 90.3(c)(1), given the parents’ disparate incomes and the expenses the father was incurring to comply with conditions on his visitation. The mother contended the superior court erred in setting the child support order’s effective date. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not abuse its discretion by denying a “good cause” variance because the evidence did not support it. But it was error not to expressly consider child support for the period between the parties’ separation and the order’s effective date. The matter was remanded the child support issue for further proceedings. View "Christopher D. v. Krislyn D." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Lum family sued two police officers and the North Slope Borough for trespass and invasion of privacy after an allegedly unlawful entry into the Lums’ home. The superior court dismissed both claims on summary judgment, reasoning that the officers were protected by qualified immunity under state law because the Lums had not produced sufficient evidence that the officers acted in bad faith. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision because there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether they acted in bad faith. View "Lum v. Koles" on Justia Law

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An expert witness in a personal injury trial varied from his written report, expressing new opinions to justify a bar employee's use of force. The plaintiff sought to cross-examine the expert with testimony the expert had been given to review prior to writing his report; the testimony was contrary to the expert's new opinions. The superior court refused to allow this cross-examination, telling plaintiff she could try to call a rebuttal witness. Defendant objected because the new witness was not on the witness list. The superior court then refuses to allow the witness to testify. The jury found the employee was justified in using reasonable force to defend against a trespass. On appeal, plaintiff argued the superior court erred in precluding her cross-examination of the witness and for refusing to allow her rebuttal witness. The Alaska Supreme Court determined it was prejudicial abuse of discretion to preclude the rebuttal witness due to the defense expert's new and unexpected trial opinions, so it vacated the judgment and remanded for a new trial without reaching the cross-examination issue. View "Johnson v. J.G. Pattee, Inc." on Justia Law