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Abigail Caudle was a 26-year-old apprentice electrician when she was electrocuted on the job while working for Raven Electric, Inc. Her mother sought workers’ compensation death benefits or other damages related to her daughter’s death. Acting on the advice of attorneys but representing herself, she brought a claim before the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board, arguing in part that the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act was unconstitutional because it inadequately compensated for her daughter’s life, particularly given the circumstances of her daughter’s death, and because it failed to consider her future dependency on her daughter. The Board denied her claim, and the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decision. The Commission also ordered the mother to pay the employer’s attorney’s fees and costs. The Alaska Supreme Court held that the mother’s constitutional rights are not violated by the Act. However, the Court reversed the Commission’s award of attorney’s fees. View "Burke v. Raven Electric, Inc." on Justia Law

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Police entered the defendant Antonio Jordan’s property and found 15 marijuana plants, which when stripped and dried yielded over a pound and a half of marijuana. At trial, the court excluded the defendant’s testimony that he believed he possessed less than four ounces of marijuana (the statutory limit) and failed to instruct the jury that it had to find a culpable mental state with regard to the marijuana’s weight. The jury convicted the defendant of possessing at least four ounces, a class C felony. On appeal, the court of appeals held that the trial court erred both by barring the defendant’s testimony about his subjective belief and by omitting a mental state element from the jury instructions. But finding these errors harmless, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction. Defendant argued on appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court (for the first time) that the alleged errors at trial were structural errors. The Supreme Court agreed conditionally and in part, holding that omitting from jury instructions a contested element of an offense was structural error. Furthermore, the Court held that the restriction on the defendant’s testimony in this case was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, though the Court did not reach the question whether it was structural error. “Our decision of these issues, however, assumes that the defendant’s possession of marijuana in a greenhouse on his residential property should be afforded the same constitutional protections given to his possession of marijuana in the home. Whether this is a legitimate assumption was not decided in either the superior court or the court of appeals.” The Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded to the superior court to consider in the first instance whether the constitutional protections applied. View "Jordan v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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Todd Wyman and Richelle Whitson had joint legal custody over their child, and shared physical custody alternating every two years. Each parent had a child support obligation while the child was in the primary custody of the other parent. In the superior court, the parties resolved all aspects of the child support determination but one: whether Wyman could apply tax deductions for amortization of his commercial fishing permits and quota shares to his adjusted income as the basis for calculating his child support obligation. The superior court concluded that this amortization was not deductible from Wyman’s income. Wyman appealed, arguing that the superior court erred in not allowing the amortization deduction in light of the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior decisions allowing similar deductions for depreciation expenses. The Supreme Court concluded in this case that because Wyman’s fishing permits and quota shares were perpetual assets with an indefinite useful life, amortization of these assets does not reflect an ordinary and necessary cost of producing income and is not deductible from income for child support purposes. We therefore affirm the superior court’s child support order. However, we limit our holding to perpetual intangible assets similar to those in this case and do not address the question whether amortization of an intangible asset with a finite useful life can be deductible as an ordinary and necessary cost of income. View "Wyman v. Whitson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The City of Juneau kept a campground open through the winter to accommodate the local homeless population. A campground resident was shot and severely injured. He sued the municipality for damages, arguing primarily that the municipality did not do enough to prevent alcohol-related violence at the campground. He also argued that the campground’s caretaker performed his duties negligently, that this negligence precipitated the shooting, and that the municipality was vicariously liable for the caretaker’s actions. The superior court granted summary judgment for the municipality on all claims, concluding the municipality could not, under the doctrine of discretionary function immunity, be liable for any decision requiring “deliberation” and “judgment.” It also concluded that the municipality was not vicariously liable for the caretaker’s alleged negligence because his challenged actions were outside the scope of his employment. The shooting victim appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the application of discretionary function immunity to bar some of his claims was error, as they related to “operational” rather than “planning” decisions. Furthermore, the Court found genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment on the shooting victim’s claims for negligent supervision and vicarious liability. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s judgment in part, reversed it in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Lane v. City & Borough of Juneau" on Justia Law

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The City of Juneau kept a campground open through the winter to accommodate the local homeless population. A campground resident was shot and severely injured. He sued the municipality for damages, arguing primarily that the municipality did not do enough to prevent alcohol-related violence at the campground. He also argued that the campground’s caretaker performed his duties negligently, that this negligence precipitated the shooting, and that the municipality was vicariously liable for the caretaker’s actions. The superior court granted summary judgment for the municipality on all claims, concluding the municipality could not, under the doctrine of discretionary function immunity, be liable for any decision requiring “deliberation” and “judgment.” It also concluded that the municipality was not vicariously liable for the caretaker’s alleged negligence because his challenged actions were outside the scope of his employment. The shooting victim appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the application of discretionary function immunity to bar some of his claims was error, as they related to “operational” rather than “planning” decisions. Furthermore, the Court found genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment on the shooting victim’s claims for negligent supervision and vicarious liability. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s judgment in part, reversed it in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Lane v. City & Borough of Juneau" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) found an inmate guilty of making a false statement to a staff member about work he was supposed to do. The inmate was ordered to pay in restitution half the amount of his wages for that work. The inmate appealed, arguing that DOC violated his due process rights by refusing to allow him to call witnesses at his disciplinary hearing. The Alaska Supreme Court recognized prisoners have a constitutional right to call witnesses at a disciplinary hearing and that the hearing officer’s failure to call the inmate's requested witnesses was prejudicial. The disciplinary decision was reversed and the matter remanded for a new hearing. View "Walker v. Alaska Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) found an inmate guilty of making a false statement to a staff member about work he was supposed to do. The inmate was ordered to pay in restitution half the amount of his wages for that work. The inmate appealed, arguing that DOC violated his due process rights by refusing to allow him to call witnesses at his disciplinary hearing. The Alaska Supreme Court recognized prisoners have a constitutional right to call witnesses at a disciplinary hearing and that the hearing officer’s failure to call the inmate's requested witnesses was prejudicial. The disciplinary decision was reversed and the matter remanded for a new hearing. View "Walker v. Alaska Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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A corporate shareholder sought a shareholder list to mail proxy solicitations for an annual director election. The corporation required a signed confidentiality agreement in exchange for releasing the list. After obtaining and using the list, the shareholder later declared the agreement unenforceable, and refused to return or destroy the list. The corporation sued, seeking to that the shareholder had breached the confidentiality agreement and that the corporation was not obligated to provide the shareholder access to its confidential information for two years. After the superior court refused to continue trial or issue written rulings on the shareholder’s two pending summary judgment motions, the shareholder declined to participate in the trial. The court proceeded, ruled in favor of the corporation, and denied the shareholder’s subsequent disqualification motion. The shareholder appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the superior court did not err in determining the shareholder had materially breached a valid, enforceable contract and did not err or abuse its discretion in its pretrial decisions or in denying the post-trial disqualification motion. But because the declaratory relief granted by the superior court regarding the shareholder’s statutory right to seek corporate information no longer pertained to a live controversy, the Court vacated it as moot without considering the merits. View "Pederson v. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation" on Justia Law

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This appeal presented a question of whether odors emanating from a farmer’s storage of septage on his farmland created a nuisance to adjacent landowners when the trial court found the farmer was not engaged in commercial agricultural operations but was actually using the farm’s septage lagoons to store septage from his separate septic pumping and storing business. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s finding that the storage of septage created a nuisance and its conclusion that the storage of septage was not protected by the Right to Farm Act. View "Riddle v. Lanser" on Justia Law

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The Alaska court of appeals recently read Roman v. Alaska, 570 P.2d 1235(1977) as requiring that a sentencing court affirmatively review all probation conditions proposed in the presentence report, even if the defendant has not objected to those conditions. It applied that requirement to Dean Ranstead’s sentence appeal and remanded to the superior court. The State petitioned for hearing. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals that a sentencing court bears responsibility for ensuring that probation conditions satisfy the requirements of Roman and are not otherwise illegal. But the Court found a sentencing court was not required to make particularized findings to support the imposition of a proposed probation condition to which the defendant had not objected. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals’ decision to the extent it vacated probation conditions to which Ranstead did not object. View "Alaska v. Ranstead" on Justia Law