Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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In this case, Veronica Louise Hudson and Daniel Lee Hudson, a married couple in Alaska, divorced. The major points of contention revolved around the division of marital property and the classification of a severance and bonus package received by Daniel from his former employer, BP. Veronica argued that the severance and bonus pay were marital property, while Daniel contended that they were his separate property. The trial court ruled that the severance and bonus pay were separate property, and divided the remaining marital property equally between the parties. Veronica also challenged the court's order allowing Daniel to make an equalization payment over five years rather than in a lump sum and the court's denial of her request for attorney fees.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska concluded that the lower court erred in classifying the severance and bonus pay without sufficient information, and in its findings related to economic misconduct and the financial condition of the parties. The court also held that the lower court abused its discretion in ordering a schedule of equalization payments over multiple years. The court remanded the case for further proceedings to determine the purpose of the severance and bonus pay, and whether a different division of property is warranted. The court also required the lower court to reconsider the terms of any equalization payment. The court affirmed the lower court's denial of attorney's fees. View "Hudson v. Hudson" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska was tasked with determining whether a judgment against a self-represented litigant, Jon Buchholdt, was void due to improper service of process. Jeremy Nelson, Buchholdt's former client, had sued him for legal malpractice and won a judgment of $200,000, but Buchholdt argued that he was not properly served and therefore the court lacked personal jurisdiction over him.The main issue in this case was whether Buchholdt was properly served with the summons and complaint by certified, restricted mail sent to his law office, which was rerouted to his home and signed by his alleged agent, "Suz Miller." Buchholdt contended that he was not properly served as he never personally signed for the service, and therefore the court lacked personal jurisdiction over him.The court held that Buchholdt failed to meet his burden of demonstrating that the judgment was void. Despite his claims, Buchholdt did not provide any evidence to contradict Nelson's evidence of service or to show that Suz Miller was not authorized to receive service on his behalf. Additionally, Buchholdt had listed Nelson's lawsuit as a contingent liability when he filed for bankruptcy, indicating he had knowledge of the suit.Therefore, the court affirmed the denial of Buchholdt's motions to set aside the judgment and for reconsideration. The court did not find that the judgment was void due to a lack of personal jurisdiction resulting from improper service of process. View "Buchholdt v. Nelson" on Justia Law

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In the State of Alaska, a man diagnosed with bipolar disorder stopped taking his medication, experienced a manic episode, and was hospitalized as a result. The hospital staff petitioned for him to be involuntarily committed for 30 days, which the superior court granted. The man appealed, arguing against the court's decision that he was likely to cause harm to others, was gravely disabled, and that there was no less restrictive alternative to involuntary commitment. The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska held that the man's rights were violated because there was a feasible, less restrictive alternative to the involuntary commitment. The court also ruled that even if the suggested outpatient treatment proposal was not feasible, the State had failed to meet its burden of proving that no less restrictive alternative existed, as it did not consider any other treatment options beyond the man's proposal. The commitment order was vacated on these grounds. View "In the Matter of the Necessity of the Hospitalization of Declan P." on Justia Law

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In this case from the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska, the court examined a claim brought by an inmate, Jeffrey Hout. Hout, who was convicted in 2010 of kidnapping and murder, accused Governor Michael Dunleavy of failing to provide him with proof of various bonds, oaths, and licenses, and alleged that certain people involved in his criminal trial had practiced law without valid licenses. He also filed a Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) Financing Statement seeking to secure a purported debt of $250 million in gold dollars owed to him by Governor Dunleavy and the State of Alaska. The superior court dismissed the lawsuit because it failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, prompting Hout to appeal.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska affirmed the superior court’s decision. The court highlighted that Hout's claims were consistent with the expressed belief system of a group known as “sovereign citizens” and stated that courts across the country have universally rejected these types of claims. The court noted that their jurisdiction to decide the case was derived from Alaska citizens who have provided “consent of the governed” by ratifying the Alaska Constitution. The court rejected Hout's argument that Alaska’s laws do not apply to him unless he provides personal consent to be governed by those laws.On the merits, the court found Hout's fraud claim to be without merit. The primary allegation underpinning Hout’s fraud claim was that Governor Dunleavy was legally obligated to provide him with proof of oaths, licenses, and bonds. The court held that there was no legal basis for this claim. The court also dismissed Hout’s civil rights claim seeking release from prison on the ground that certain officials who participated in his criminal trial were practicing law without valid licenses. The court explained that the proper vehicle for Hout’s claim seeking release from prison would be an application for post-conviction relief. Since Hout had already applied once for post-conviction relief, any subsequent application would be dismissed. View "Jeffrey Hout v. State of Alaska, Office of the Governor" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska, a group of trade associations (Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc., Alaska Trucking Association, Inc., Alaska Miners Association, Inc., Associated General Contractors of Alaska, Alaska Chamber, and Alaska Support Industry Alliance) sued the State and a ballot initiative group "Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share" (Fair Share), seeking to invalidate the State’s approval of a ballot initiative petition. The litigation primarily revolved around the constitutionality of a statute limiting the compensation that could be paid for obtaining signatures on ballot initiative petitions. The superior court ruled that the statute was unconstitutional and dismissed the trade associations’ claims that a large number of petition signatures should be invalidated because the statutory compensation limits had been exceeded.Following this ruling, Fair Share moved for an attorney’s fees award against the trade associations, contending that it was a qualified prevailing constitutional claimant entitled to full reasonable attorney’s fees under AS 09.60.010, or at least an award of partial attorney’s fees under Alaska Civil Rule 82. The trade associations responded that Fair Share could not be a constitutional claimant because it was not a “plaintiff, counterclaimant, cross claimant, or third-party plaintiff.”The superior court concluded that Fair Share was a constitutional claimant because its claim was effectively a counterclaim. However, it also concluded that the Trade Associations did not have sufficient economic incentive to bring their claim, and thus were constitutional claimants protected from an award of full attorney’s fees under AS 09.60.010. The court nonetheless awarded Fair Share partial attorney’s fees under Rule 82.On appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska affirmed the superior court’s determination that the trade associations did not have a sufficient economic incentive to bring their claims. Thus, the trade associations are qualified, non-prevailing constitutional claimants and the Rule 82 attorney’s fees award must be vacated. View "Vote Yes for Alaska's Fair Share v. Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Alaska Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took emergency custody of a child within days of her birth. OCS then filed an emergency child in need of aid (CINA) petition seeking an order confirming probable cause to believe the child was in need of aid and granting OCS temporary custody of the child pending further proceedings. The superior court held an evidentiary hearing and concluded that OCS had not shown probable cause to believe the child was a child in need of aid, and dismissed the CINA case. The superior court later denied OCS’s reconsideration motion, and OCS then appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision in a short summary order (with an opinion to follow), remanding to reopen the CINA case and conduct further proceedings in the normal course. The Court explained its order in this opinion. View "Alaska, Department of Family & Community Services v. Karlie T." on Justia Law

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Owners of neighboring waterfront parcels of land disputed access to a shared cove. The shape and location of the cove’s shoreline changed over the years due to natural forces. The key to determining the neighbors' respective access to the cove depended upon the precise location where their shared boundary line intersected the mean high tide line when the property was surveyed in 1938. There was evidence that the marking monument was not placed precisely at the mean high tide line. After taking evidence, the superior court determined that the mean high tide line in 1938 was roughly 100 feet seaward of the monument. Based on that ruling, the superior court determined the parcels’ respective boundaries and apportioned access to the cove accordingly. The disappointed landowner appealed, arguing the superior court erred by essentially altering the initial survey. The Alaska Supreme Court did not concur. "Because the surveyor set the boundary of the properties in question at the mean high tide line, the court did not err by determining the boundary based on evidence of where the mean high tide line actually was when the properties were surveyed rather than relying solely on the location of the monument. And there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the court’s finding that in 1938 the mean high tide line was located well seaward of the monument." Seeing no error in the superior court’s rulings, the Supreme Court affirmed its judgment. View "Fiehler v. Mecklenburg, et al." on Justia Law

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A man and woman and the man’s grandmother decided to buy a home that they would share. They also decided that because the woman qualified for a mortgage with better terms than the others, the mortgage would be in her name. The grandmother sold her home to provide money to buy the shared home and signed a gift letter to enable the woman to qualify for a mortgage. The relationship between the man and woman deteriorated and she tried to sell the home. She refused to repay the grandmother the money the grandmother had contributed to the home purchase. The grandmother sued her. The superior court determined that the grandmother had not provided the money as a gift. The court also concluded that a written agreement the woman had signed confirmed their oral agreement to jointly buy the home and that therefore their agreement did not violate the statute of frauds. The court ordered the woman to repay the grandmother the money she had contributed to the home purchase, as well as a portion of the grandmother’s attorney’s fees. The woman appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Shields v. Clark" on Justia Law

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In this case, the trial court dismissed a mining company’s claims when its sole filing in the prior year was a substitution of counsel. The Alaska Supreme Court held that the substitution of counsel was not a “proceeding” that terminated the period of delay. The Court also concluded that actions taken by the company after the defendant moved to dismiss for lack of prosecution do not preclude dismissal. “And because the company failed to clearly explain its dilatory conduct, the superior court did not abuse its discretion by finding no good cause for the failure to prosecute.” View "Highlight Canyon, LLC v. Cioffoletti, et al." on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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Wife Connie Stockton challenged a superior court’s order denying relief from judgment under Alaska Civil Rule 60(b). She sought to overturn a default judgment entered against her in 2013, that divided marital property upon divorce from her husband Veral Stockton. Asserting that she suffered from severe depression during the divorce proceedings and that her husband improperly served the notice of default, she argued the judgment was void for lack of due process and, alternatively, should have been vacated due to extraordinary circumstances. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s factual finding that she was not incompetent at the time of divorce and its legal rulings that the judgment was not void and extraordinary circumstances warranting relief were not shown. View "Stockton v. Stockton" on Justia Law