Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The superior court dismissed a subcontractor’s claims against the contractor because a venue provision in the subcontract required that litigation be conducted in another state. The superior court also dismissed the subcontractor’s unjust enrichment claim against the project owner for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The subcontractor appealed the dismissals; finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decisions. View "Resqsoft, Inc. v. Protech Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law

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An oil producer challenged an Alaska Department of Revenue advisory bulletin interpreting the oil tax code, arguing that the bulletin violated the Alaska Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and seeking a declaratory judgment that the interpretation was contrary to law. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the advisory bulletin could not be challenged under the APA because it was not a regulation, and that a declaratory judgment was not available because the tax dispute between the parties was not ripe. View "Exxon Mobil Corporation v. Alaska, Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Two commercial fishing companies caught and processed fish in the Exclusive Economic Zone off the Alaska coast, but outside Alaska’s territorial waters. Their vessels arrived at Alaska ports where they could transfer processed fish directly to foreign-bound cargo vessels or transfer processed fish to shore for storage and later loading on cargo vessels. Because the companies did not process fish in Alaska, they did not pay the taxes imposed on other processing vessels operating out of Alaskan ports, but their fisheries business activities were subject to a state “landing tax.” The fishing companies argued that this landing tax violated the Import-Export and Tonnage Clauses of the United States Constitution and 33 U.S.C. section 5(b). The Alaska Supreme Court found: (1) the tax was imposed before the fish product entered the stream of export commerce; (2) the tax did not constitute an “impost or duty;” and (3) the tax therefore did not violate the Import-Export Clause. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the tax was not imposed against the companies’ vessels in violation of the Tonnage Clause or 33 U.S.C. (b). View "Alaska Dept. of Revenue v. North Pacific Fishing, Inc. et al." on Justia Law

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Nora D. was an 82-year-old woman residing in an assisted living facility. She suffered a stroke in April 2016, and she reportedly continued to suffer resulting physical and mental limitations. In 2017 Nora gave her son, Cliff, a general power of attorney. In 2018 Adult Protective Services petitioned for a conservatorship to protect Nora’s finances and property after the office received reports of harm alleging that Cliff had made decisions not in Nora’s best interests. The Office of Public Advocacy (OPA) was appointed as Nora’s conservator in 2018. In September 2019 Nora’s daughter Naomi petitioned for a full guardianship for Nora. Naomi alleged that a guardianship was necessary because Nora was unable to attend to her own physical needs and Cliff was unable to care for Nora. A day later Naomi’s son Kevin petitioned for review of the conservatorship, and sought appointment as Nora’s guardian, which could replace OPA’s conservatorship. The superior court ordered a Nora attend a psychiatric evaluation and answer all questions posed to her by Kevin’s retained expert. But the guardianship statute provided that a respondent may refuse to answer questions during examinations and evaluations. The only exception to that statute applied in an interview to determine whether the respondent has capacity to make informed decisions about care and treatment services. The Alaska Supreme Court granted the Nora’s petition for review to consider the scope of the statute’s protection, and the Supreme Court concluded that Nora could refuse to answer any questions other than those directed at determining her capacity to make personal medical decisions. The Supreme Court therefore vacated the superior court’s order and remanded for further proceedings. View "In the Matter of the Protective Proceeings of Nora D." on Justia Law

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Two women were hospitalized following psychiatric emergencies. In each instance hospital staff petitioned the superior court for an order authorizing hospitalization for evaluation, and the superior court granted the order. But the women were not immediately transported for evaluation because no beds were available at Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API). Each woman eventually moved for a review hearing to determine whether continued detention in a hospital was proper; in each case the superior court allowed continued detention. The women were finally transported to API more than 14 calendar days after their initial detentions. On appeal they argued their continued detention before being moved to API for evaluation violated their due process rights. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed, vacating the superior court order in each case: “We conclude there was no reasonable relation between the limited purpose of the evaluation orders and the extended duration of the respondents’ confinements. The State’s unreasonably lengthy detentions of Mabel and Sarah violated their substantive due process rights.” View "In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Sarah D. & Mabel B." on Justia Law

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After two fishing boats collided at sea, the owner of one of the boats sued the other. Among his claims was an alleged violation of Alaska’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA). After the case settled, he requested full attorney’s fees under the UTPA. The superior court instead awarded fees under Alaska Civil Rule 82. The owner appealed. Finding no reversible error in the award, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "Cook v. Quashnick" on Justia Law

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Two police officers retired from the Anchorage Police Department (APD) due to discrimination and retaliation. Years later, a jury found that they had been constructively discharged and awarded them lost past wages and benefits. The officers requested that the Anchorage Police and Fire Retirement System (APFRS) increase their retirement benefits based on the award of lost wages. When the APFRS Board denied their request, they appealed to the superior court. The superior court affirmed the Board’s decision and awarded it attorney’s fees. The officers appealed the court’s decision denying them an increase in retirement benefits, arguing that the Anchorage Municipal Code required a recalculation of benefits. They also appealed the attorney’s fee award as unreasonably high. Because the Anchorage Municipal Code did not permit the requested increase in retirement benefits, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s order denying the officers’ administrative appeal. Because the superior court did not abuse its discretion when it awarded fees, the attorney’s fee award was also affirmed. View "Kennedy et al. v. Anchorage Police & Fire Retirement System et al." on Justia Law

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A minor convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) argued that the statute that excluded misdemeanor traffic violations from juvenile court jurisdiction violated her right to equal protection under the Alaska Constitution. She argued that the mandatory jail sentence for first DUI offenders was unfairly different than the dispositions for other misdemeanors in the juvenile code. And she argued that it was unfair for felony DUI offenses to be charged in juvenile court when misdemeanor offenses were not. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that because driving was an adult activity, the legislature could reasonably decide to treat misdemeanor traffic violations consistently to promote public safety while also reasonably choosing to protect juvenile offenders from the harsh collateral consequences of a felony conviction. The Court, therefore, concluded the statute was constitutional and affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Watson v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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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

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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