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An insured sued her auto insurer and one of its adjusters, alleging that the insurer breached the insurance contract and committed tortious bad faith by withholding underinsured motorist benefits and that the adjuster negligently handled her claim for those benefits. The insurer then paid all available underinsured motorist benefits to the insured, including interest. The insured continued her tort claims, alleging additional financial and emotional harm from the delayed benefits payment. The insured proposed a jury instruction addressing the effect of the insurer’s belated payment, but the superior court rejected that instruction. After trial the jury determined that: (1) the insurer had acted in bad faith, but its conduct was not a substantial factor in causing the insured’s asserted harm; and (2) the adjuster had not been negligent. The superior court subsequently ordered the jury to award the insured nominal damages. The jury then awarded the insured $2 in nominal damages and later awarded $450,000 in punitive damages. The superior court awarded the insured prevailing party costs and attorney’s fees against the insurer. The court also awarded the adjuster prevailing party attorney’s fees against the insured. The court rejected the insured’s request that judgment against the insurer be entered nunc pro tunc to the date of the jury verdict so that post-judgment interest on the punitive damages award would start earlier. The insurer appealed the nominal and punitive damages awards and the prevailing party determination. The insured cross-appealed the adjuster’s attorney’s fees award, the jury’s failure to award compensatory damages, the court’s rejection of the insured’s proposed jury instruction, and the court’s refusal to enter judgment effective from the jury verdict date. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed in all respects save the adjuster’s attorney’s fees award: that was remanded for further proceedings. View "Government Employees Insurance Co. v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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In the course of the 2016 budgetary process, the Alaska legislature appropriated a sum of money for dividend distributions. But the governor vetoed about half of the appropriation, and the legislature did not override the veto. One current and two former legislators later sued to effectively set aside the governor’s veto. The thrust of their argument was that a 1976 constitutional amendment creating the Alaska Permanent Fund gave the legislature constitutional authority to pass laws dedicating use of Permanent Fund income without need for annual appropriations and, therefore, not subject to annual gubernatorial veto. The legislators argued that the longstanding dividend program was a law exempt from the anti-dedication clause. The superior court ruled against the legislators, concluding the legislature’s actual use of the income remained subject to normal appropriation and veto budgetary processes. The narrow question this case presented for the Alaska Supreme Court's review was whether the 1976 amendment to the Alaska Constitution exempted the legislature’s use of Permanent Fund income from the Constitution’s anti-dedication clause. The Court concluded "no" — the 1976 amendment did not exempt the legislature’s use of Permanent Fund income from the Constitution’s anti-dedication clause. Although the superior court did not reach this question, the court’s ultimate conclusion nevertheless was correct: the legislature’s use of Permanent Fund income is subject to normal appropriation and veto budgetary processes. View "Wielechowski v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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A building owner sued an agency of the Alaska Legislature and a private developer, alleging that the agency and developer had entered into an illegal lease for the building next door. The complaint sought both declaratory relief invalidating the lease and monetary compensation calculated as a percentage of the savings once the lease was invalidated. The building owner succeeded in invalidating the lease but lost the compensation claim; the superior court concluded that the claim had no basis in Alaska law. The court later found that the compensation claim was frivolous and justified a sanction under Alaska Civil Rule 11. The building owner appealed that decision. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the compensation claim was based on a nonfrivolous argument for establishing new law and thus did not violate Rule 11, and therefore reversed. View "Alaska Building, Inc. v. Legislative Affairs Agency" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure

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An employee continued to work for over ten years after a job-related knee injury but had multiple surgeries on her injured knee. Over time, her employer made several permanent partial impairment payments, and she was eventually determined to be permanently and totally disabled because of the work injury. She began to receive Social Security disability at about the same time she was classified as permanently and totally disabled for workers’ compensation. Her employer asked the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board to allow two offsets to its payment of permanent total disability (PTD) compensation: one related to Social Security disability benefits and one related to the earlier permanent partial impairment (PPI) payments. The Board established a Social Security offset and permitted the employer to deduct the amount of previously paid PPI. The employee appealed to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission, arguing that the Board had improperly applied one of its regulations in allowing the PPI offset and had incorrectly calculated the amount of the Social Security offset. She also brought a civil suit against the State challenging the validity of the regulation. The State intervened in the Commission appeal; the lawsuit was dismissed. The Commission reversed the Board’s calculation of the Social Security offset and affirmed the Board’s order permitting the PPI offset. The employer appealed the Commission’s Social Security offset decision to the Alaska Supreme Court, and the employee cross- appealed the PPI offset. The Court affirmed that part of the Commission’s decision reversing the Board’s calculation of the Social Security disability offset and reversed that part of the Commission’s decision permitting an offset for permanent partial impairment benefits. The case was remanded back to the Commission for further proceedings. View "Alaska Airlines, Inc. v. Darrow" on Justia Law

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In 2012 John “Scott” Hockema filed for divorce from his wife, Janet. The superior court divided the marital estate equally and awarded Janet, who had been a homemaker throughout most of the marriage, spousal support for six years. Scott appealed the superior court’s award of spousal support, its valuation of several pieces of marital property and a retirement account, the denial of an offset for certain mortgage payments made on the marital home, the denial of an offset for interim spousal support paid, and the calculation of tax payments made on certain marital property. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s valuation of the marital property and its decision not to offset the interim spousal support payments, but concluded the value of the retirement account and the amount of property taxes paid were calculated incorrectly. The Court also concluded the court did not make sufficient findings regarding its award of spousal support, and remanded for further consideration of the necessity, amount, and duration of spousal support. View "Hockema v. Hockema" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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In 1994, Victoria Zalewski purchased a 60 foot by 90 foot rectangle of land, Lot 8A. Just south of Lot 8A was a parking lot. Although the parking lot was recorded as being part of a larger adjacent lot known as Lot 9A, no boundary line was apparent between Lot 8A and the parking lot. Zalewski never had her lot surveyed and mistakenly assumed when she purchased Lot 8A that it included the parking lot. Prospector Outfitters obtained Lot 9A (including the parking lot) in 1994, and in 2007 conveyed the lot to Glenn Prax, Phillip Prax, and Marianne Kittridge (the Praxes). Various members of the Prax family shared in the ownership and management of Prospector Outfitters and its properties before and after the 2007 transfer of Lot 9A. Zalewski had a duplex on her property. She and tenants consistently used the parking lot for parking, entry, and exit. Zalewski and her husband maintained the parking lot, keeping it graveled and clear of snow and plants. They installed electrical outlets on the lot for headbolt heaters and paid for the electricity. Zalewski built a shed on the lot in 2008; she used the shed and other parts of the lot for storage. The duplex occupants received mail at a mailbox placed within the parking lot. Zalewski consistently used the parking lot on Lot 9A, but her exclusive use ended during the summer of 2002, when the owners of neighboring Lots 10B and 11B excavated their property to prepare it for construction, and they stored their equipment and materials on the parking lot. This use of the property ended in autumn of 2002. Glenn Prax knew that Zalewski was using the parking lot and repeatedly attempted to talk to her about his family’s ownership of the lot. Between 2001 and 2003 he left two notes at the duplex explaining his family’s claim to the property and suggesting some discussion about the boundary. Around 2005 he spoke to a tenant of the building about the issue, and in 2009 or 2011 he spoke to Zalewski herself about the boundary. In 2012 and 2013 he sent letters to Zalewski outlining the Praxes’ claim to the property, but he received no response. After his last attempt in 2013 he set up sawhorses barring Zalewski from the parking lot. Zalewski removed them and filed suit in July 2013. The trial court ruled that from 2002 to 2012 the neighbor had perfected an adverse possession claim to the lot and held that amendments made to the relevant law in 2003 did not apply to the neighbor’s claim because her period of possession began in 2002. The family appealed, arguing that 2003 statutory changes should have been applied to this case. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed, reversed the trial court, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Prax v. Zalewski" on Justia Law

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Parties in a divorce disputed the value of the husband’s post-retirement military medical benefits. The superior court determined that the benefits were a marital asset, but declined to value them or account for their value when dividing the marital estate. The court instead ordered the husband to pay for comparable medical benefits for the wife for the rest of her life. The court also determined that most of the wife’s student loans were marital debt and allocated that debt to her. Both parties appealed the superior court’s decision regarding the husband’s medical benefits; the husband also appealed the superior court’s characterization of the student loans as marital debt. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s characterization of the wife’s student loans as marital debt, but reversed and remanded for the superior court to assign a value to the husband’s post-retirement military medical benefits and to finalize an equitable distribution of the marital estate. View "Grove v. Grove" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Barry H., the father in a Child in Need of Aid (CINA) proceeding sought to dismiss his court-appointed counsel and represent himself. The Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took emergency custody of four of their children in February 2013 after receiving reports that Barry was physically and sexually abusing members of his family. At their initial hearings both Barry and Donna agreed to have counsel appointed for them. The trial court found Barry could not conduct himself in a rational and coherent manner sufficient to allow him to proceed without an attorney and denied his request. After a six-day trial the court terminated his parental rights to three of his children. The father appealed, arguing that the trial court erroneously deprived him of his right to represent himself during the CINA proceeding. Finding no reversible decision, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "Barry H. v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Alaska professional licensing division brought an accusation of professional misconduct against doctor David Odom, M.D., alleging that he acted incompetently when he prescribed phentermine and thyroid hormone for one of his patients. The division sought disciplinary sanctions against the doctor. Following a hearing, an administrative law judge issued a proposed decision concluding that the division had failed to show that the doctor’s conduct fell below the standard of care in his field of practice and that no disciplinary sanctions were warranted. But the Medical Board instead adopted as its decision the proposal for action submitted by the division and revoked the doctor’s medical license. On appeal to the superior court, the case was remanded to the Board for consideration of the doctor’s own late-filed proposal for action. The Board reaffirmed its decision to revoke the doctor’s medical license, and the superior court affirmed that decision. The doctor appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. Because the Medical Board’s decision to revoke the doctor’s medical license was not supported by substantial evidence, the Court reversed the superior court’s affirmance of that decision. View "Odom v. Alaska Div. of Corporations, Bus. & Prof. Licensing" on Justia Law

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A father's parental rights were terminated as to his daughter, an Indian child, diagnosed with sexualized, aggressive behavior. He appealed the termination, arguing he remedied his prior misconduct by completing outpatient treatment programs, and that the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) violated its obligation to provide active efforts to reunify the family by discontinuing his visitation after his daughter returned from an out-of-state treatment program. The Alaska Supreme Court found the superior court reasonably concluded that the visitation was not in the child’s best interest, that the father had failed to comply with substance abuse testing and delayed a critical sex offender risk assessment, and that it would cause serious emotional damage to return the child to his home. The Court therefore affirm the order terminating his parental rights. View "Bob S. v. Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law