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Forest Button and Shelley Fredrickson never married, but they had one child together. Button and Fredrickson separated in September 2006. From September 2006 until January 2013 neither sought a formal custody order or a child support order. Instead, they had an informal arrangement to share their son’s expenses. Button filed a complaint for custody in January 2013. The parties participated in a settlement conference and entered into an agreement resolving all custody issues, but the parties reserved issues of prospective and retrospective child support for later resolution by the court. When the trial court did make its support orders, Frederickson appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in determining the sources of Frederickson's income and whether it could be considered for purposes for calculating a retrospective child support award, but did not err in imputing income to Frederickson but not to Button. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Fredrickson v. Button" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The issue this case presented for the Alaska Supreme Court centered on the termination of parental rights and reinstatement. This review necessitated revisiting issues arising from Rita T. v. Alaska, 623 P.2d 344 (1981), in which the Court held that a parent whose parental rights have been terminated retained the right, upon a showing of good cause, to request a review hearing, during which the parent may seek to set aside a termination order and have parental rights reinstated. This then leads the Court to review the superior court’s reinstatement order in this case. The Supreme Court held Rita T. remained viable: at a Rita T. hearing, a termination order can be set aside by clear and convincing evidence that the parent has been sufficiently rehabilitated and is capable of providing the care and guidance that will serve the child’s moral, emotional, mental, and physical welfare and that parental rights reinstatement is in the child’s best interests. Because the factual findings supporting the parental rights reinstatement in this case were inadequate for review of the necessary best interests finding, the case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "Dara S. v. Alaska, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

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Daniel Blair, a seaman, sued his former employer and the former employer’s liability insurer, claiming that the insurer had failed to pay him amounts due under the terms of a settlement agreement. Blair asserted that the “policy limits” settlement included both the policy’s stated limits and attorney’s fees calculated under Alaska Civil Rule 82. The insurer, relying on the policy’s notice that fees were included in the policy limits, argued that the settlement had been fully satisfied. The parties also disagreed about whether costs from a review of Blair's medical bills were properly counted against the policy limits. After contentious discovery, the superior court granted summary judgment for the insurer, finding that the policy’s Rule 82 notice was valid and that the settlement had been satisfied. The court awarded attorney’s fees to the insurer as the prevailing party. Blair appealed the grant of summary judgment, the denial of some discovery, and the award of attorney’s fees. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s summary judgment and discovery rulings except with regard to whether the costs of the medical review were properly deducted from the policy limits; here, the Court concluded issues of fact precluded summary judgment on this issue. The Court reversed summary judgment only as to that issue, vacated the attorney’s fees award, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Blair v. Federal Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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In 2016, a recount was ordered to settle a very close Alaska Democratic Party primary election for House District 40. Dean Westlake was declared the victor by eight votes. The defeated candidate, Benjamin Nageak, brought two legal challenges to the primary results. He and four others contested the election in the superior court pursuant to AS 15.20.540. He also filed a direct appeal of the recount with the Alaska Supreme Court pursuant to AS 15.20.510. The Supreme Court stayed the direct appeal and, after a trial, the superior court granted relief on the election contest. The court found that election officials in Shungnak, who gave ballots for both the Alaska Democratic Party and Alaska Republican Party primaries to every voter, had committed malconduct that changed the outcome of the election. The court ordered the Director of the Division of Elections to certify Nageak as the winner after proportionately reducing the votes from Shungnak. The Division and Westlake appealed the superior court’s rulings against them. Nageak cross-appealed the court’s rulings against him. The Supreme Court consolidated the appeal from the superior court in the election contest with the recount appeal from the Division, and reversed the superior court’s decision and reinstated the Director’s certification of Westlake as the winner of the election. View "Nageak v. Mallott" on Justia Law

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Following mediation, a trust beneficiary and a trustee signed a document purporting to settle a bitter family litigation and referring future disputes to the mediator for resolution. The beneficiary subsequently denied that she settled and asked the mediator to resolve the issue, but the mediator concluded that the parties had reached a binding settlement. The beneficiary tried to resurrect this issue in the superior court, but the court concluded that the mediator’s decision was within the scope of the authority conferred by the parties. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err by confirming the mediator’s decision. Furthermore, the court did not err by denying the beneficiary’s petition to review the trustee’s compensation, or by awarding Alaska Civil Rule 82 attorney’s fees to the trustee. View "Lee v. Sheldon" on Justia Law

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Federal law mandated a prison disciplinary decision include a written statement of the evidence relied on and the reasons for the decision. In this case, the superior court affirmed a decision finding a prisoner “guilty” without any further explanation. The court reasoned that the prisoner was not prejudiced because the disciplinary hearing was recorded, and the prisoner was able to adequately explain his version of the evidence in his appeal. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the written disciplinary decision or the audio recording must ordinarily include a specific statement satisfying federal law: a mere finding of “guilty” is generally insufficient. The Court reversed the superior court’s decision affirming the decision of the Department of Corrections. View "Huber v. Alaska, Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Alaska case law has treated the end of a domestic partnership as coextensive with both the end of a marriage-like relationship and the end of the partners’ cohabitation. But this appeal presented a novel factual circumstance of a couple who continued living together after their marriage-like relationship ended. The Alaska Supreme Court clarified several aspects of Alaska domestic partnership case law to decide this appeal, including when and how a domestic partnership terminates, when postpartnership payments must be reimbursed, and how the trial court should award attorney’s fees. Applying these clarified standards, the Court concluded most of the trial court’s property distribution was correct but that some minor aspects were in error. The Court therefore remanded for the trial court to revise its property division. View "Tomal v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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An oil and gas lessee conducted drilling activity on the last day of the lease term; the lease provided that such activity would extend the term. Two days later, however, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sent the lessee a notice that his lease had expired. The lessee suspended drilling activities and asked DNR to reconsider its decision and reinstate the lease. DNR reinstated the lease several weeks later. The lessee contended that the reinstatement letter added new and unacceptable conditions to the lease, and pursued administrative appeals. Six months later DNR terminated the lease on grounds that the lessee had failed to diligently pursue drilling following the lease’s reinstatement. The superior court reversed DNR’s termination decision, finding DNR had materially breached the lease by reinstating it with new conditions. Both DNR and the lessee appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. The Supreme Court concluded that although DNR breached the lease in its notice of expiration, it cured the breach through reinstatement. And DNR’s subsequent decision to terminate the lease was supported by substantial evidence that the lessee failed to diligently pursue drilling activities following reinstatement. Further, the Court concluded neither DNR nor the superior court erred in failing to address the lessee’s damages claim. The Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision reinstating the lease and affirmed DNR’s termination decision. View "Alaska, Dept. of Natural Resources v. Alaskan Crude Corporation" on Justia Law

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Darcey and Matthew Geldermann, parents of a young son, divorced in 2011, agreeing that the mother would have primary physical custody during the school year. The father moved to California. When the child began experiencing behavioral problems, the parents agreed to switch custody for a few years, giving the father primary physical custody in California during the school year. The parties signed a custody modification agreement to this effect in December 2014, including both parents’ waivers of child support, but they did not file the agreement in court. The next year, following a dispute over the mother’s visitation, both parties sought a judicial resolution of custody. The father went to a California court seeking to make the 2014 change in custody permanent. The mother went to Alaska superior court seeking to enforce the original 2011 agreement that gave her primary physical custody. The Alaska court asserted jurisdiction; it ultimately modified physical custody in favor of the father but maintained the parents’ joint legal custody. The court also modified child support, ordering the mother to pay child support effective from the date the father first sought to modify custody in California. The mother appealed the physical custody and child support orders, challenging among other things the child support order’s effective date. The father cross-appealed, challenging the decision on joint legal custody. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s custody and child support orders, concluding that they were well supported by the evidence, and that the court did not abuse its discretion in selecting the child support order’s effective date. View "Geldermann v. Geldermann" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Commission for Human Rights is responsible for enforcing Alaska’s anti-discrimination laws. The Commission’s staff is authorized by regulation to use a variety of investigative methods. These include witness interviews, “inspection of documents and premises,” and “examination of written submissions of parties and witnesses.” The focus of this appeal was the Commission’s unwritten policy, followed for at least 27 years, barring third parties from investigative interviews with “certain limited exceptions.” As the Commission described its policy, third parties may be present if the interviewee is “the respondent named in the complaint, or is a member of the respondent’s ‘control group’ management, or has managerial responsibility.’ ” The Commission also allowed witnesses to be accompanied by their own attorneys and, if necessary, an interpreter or a guardian. The investigation at issue began when an employee filed two complaints against her employer, the State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), in August 2014 and February 2015. The Commission opened an investigation headed by investigator Patricia Watts. Watts contacted Dori Anderson, the complainant’s supervisor, to schedule an interview. A question was raised over whether Greta Jones, a program manager for the complainant’s agency, was requested to attend Anderson’s interview. The Commission issued a subpoena to interview the complainant’s supervisor, who refused to be interviewed unless an employer representative was also present. On the Commission’s petition, the superior court issued an order to show cause why the supervisor should not be held in contempt. The supervisor moved to vacate the order and dismiss the contempt proceeding; the superior court granted the motion on the ground that the Commission lacked the legal authority to exclude third parties from its investigative interviews. The Commission appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the statutory requirement of a confidential investigation, with its specific limits on a respondent’s access to investigative materials, clearly authorized the Commission to exclude third parties from investigative interviews. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the superior court’s order dismissing the Commission’s petition and remanded for further proceedings. View "Alaska State Commission for Human Rights v. Anderson" on Justia Law