Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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In 2002, Charles Herron, who was under the influence of alcohol and not old enough to legally possess or consume it, was involved in a single-vehicle accident in Bethel, Alaska A 15-year-old passenger in Herron’s vehicle, Angelina Trailov, was injured. Herron was insured by Allstate Insurance Company. Allstate filed a complaint for declaratory relief in the U.S. District Court in anticipation of Herron confessing judgment in the accident-related personal injury suit. Allstate requested a declaration that “its good faith attempt to settle Trailov and Mary Kenick's (Trailov's mother) claims satisfied its obligation to its insured, and a further declaration that Allstate [wa]s not obligated to pay any portion of the confessed judgment that exceed[ed] the limit of the bodily injury coverage afforded Herron under the [p]olicy.” Due to Herron’s April confession of judgment and assignment of claims, Allstate amended its federal complaint for declaratory relief. The only material addition was the statement that Herron had confessed judgment and assigned his rights against Allstate. The issue this case presented for the Alaska Supreme Court's review centered on the preclusive effect of that declaratory judgment in favor of the insurance company against its insured in federal court in a subsequent state court proceeding. The superior court concluded that the declaratory judgment had no preclusive effect on a negligent adjustment action brought in state court by the insured’s assignees against the insurance company and its claims adjuster. The state action proceeded to an 11-day jury trial ending with a multi-million dollar verdict against the insurance company and its claims adjuster. The declaratory judgment determined that the insurance company and the adjuster acted reasonably when they offered policy limits to settle the underlying claim against the insured. Because the insurance company’s and adjustor’s reasonableness in adjusting the insurance claim was a necessary element of a negligent adjustment tort, the Supreme Court held that the assignees of the insured were precluded from relitigating this issue. The superior court therefore erred in denying the insurance company’s and claims adjuster’s motions for summary judgment. View "Allstate Insurance Company v. Kenick" on Justia Law

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Two separate appeals from involuntary commitment orders, brought by two appellants, one of whom also appealed a related involuntary medication order were consolidated for the Alaska Supreme Court's review. The challenged orders expired while the respective appeals were pending; the issue each case presented centered on whether the Supreme Court should revisit its mootness jurisprudence in involuntary commitment and involuntary medication appeals. The Court held that all appeals of involuntary admissions for treatment and involuntary medication were categorically exempt from the mootness doctrine. After reviewing each case on its merits and finding no error in the orders appealed, the Court affirmed in each case. View "In Re Hospitalization of Naomi B." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants were an adult daughter (believed to be incompetent) and her mother. After retaining counsel, the mother brought a tort action as the daughter’s next friend for in utero injuries to the daughter, which the mother alleged were caused almost 20 years previously in a boating accident. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, but they also offered to permit plaintiffs to dismiss the case with each side to bear its own costs and fees. The plaintiffs’ attorney believed that accepting this walk-away offer was in the daughter’s best interest, but the mother disagreed. Facing a conflict of interest between his two clients, the attorney moved to withdraw. The superior court permitted the attorney to withdraw and ultimately granted the unopposed motion for summary judgment and awarded costs and fees against both plaintiffs. The mother and daughter appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court held that before granting the attorney’s motion to withdraw the court should have determined the daughter’s competency, and if she was found incompetent the court should have appointed a guardian ad litem or taken further action to protect her interests pursuant to Alaska Civil Rule 17(c). Therefore, the Court reversed the trial court’s orders granting the motion to withdraw and summary judgment, vacated the award of attorney’s fees and costs, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bravo v. Aker" on Justia Law

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An Alaskan superior court denied a father’s motion to modify custody because it did not believe it had subject matter jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) to modify an Oregon custody order. The father appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, arguing arguing that the superior court erred in failing to consider the controlling statute that governs the court’s jurisdiction to modify an out-of-state order. The father also appeals an order imposing sanctions, including costs and attorney’s fees. The Supreme Court agreed that the controlling statute, AS 25.30.320, allowed the superior court to modify an out-of-state custody order if it “determines that neither the child, nor a parent, nor a person acting as a parent presently resides in the other state.” It did not appear from the record that the superior court considered this subsection of the statute. The Court therefore vacated the superior court’s order denying the motion to modify for lack of jurisdiction. And because the sanctions order was premised on the court’s jurisdictional ruling, it too was vacated. View "Fox v. Grace" on Justia Law

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A psychologist at a mental health clinic petitioned to have a patient involuntarily hospitalized. The superior court held a hearing on the petition at which only the psychologist gave substantive testimony. The court granted the petition, and the patient was hospitalized. The patient appealed the trial court’s denial of her motion to vacate the involuntary hospitalization order. Because the superior court failed to conduct a screening investigation that met statutory requirements, and because this failure was not harmless error, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s denial of the patient’s motion to vacate. View "In Re Hospitalization of Paige M." on Justia Law

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After a bench trial, the superior court determined that a pilot who flew seasonally for a remote wilderness lodge, was a professional employee and therefore subject to an exemption from the overtime requirements of the Alaska Wage and Hour Act. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed that decision on appeal, holding that the pilot was not exempt, and remanded the case for a determination of the overtime hours actually worked. On remand the superior court framed the issue as whether the pilot, during his time at the lodge, was “engaged to wait or waiting to be engaged.” The superior court applied a multi-factor test and found that the pilot was “waiting to be engaged” and therefore was not entitled to overtime compensation for hours other than those he spent actually performing duties for his employer. The court found that the pilot had worked 6.4 hours of unpaid overtime but declined to award liquidated damages, finding that an exception to the liquidated damages statute applied because the lodge had acted reasonably and in good faith. The court also declined to award attorney’s fees to the lodge despite the fact that it had bettered the terms of several offers of judgment. Both parties appealed. The Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err in its legal analysis when determining whether the pilot was entitled to overtime compensation. Furthermore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s decision not to award attorney’s fees to the employer. But because the superior court made no findings about the lodge’s subjective good faith, the case was remanded for further consideration of liquidated damages and whether the good-faith exception applied. View "Moody v. Royal Wolf Lodge" on Justia Law

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A man sued his neighbors, alleging that an access road on their property caused flooding on his property. After he reached a settlement with the neighbors, the man stipulated to a dismissal of his claims with prejudice. Three years later the man again sued the neighbors as well as the Municipality of Anchorage, alleging that the flooding had continued and asserting new claims of nuisance, trespass, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract. The superior court granted summary judgment for the Municipality on the basis of either collateral estoppel or res judicata. The man appealed; the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Strong v. Williams" on Justia Law

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A divorced mother and father shared joint legal custody of their son. The mother moved for a modification of legal custody, alleging that the father was failing to cooperate on important issues such as counseling, the selection of a middle school, and medical care; she also moved for a declaration that the parents did not have to mediate their custody disputes before filing a modification motion, as required by their custody agreement. The superior court denied the request for declaratory relief and denied the motion for modification of custody without a hearing. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the superior court that the motion for declaratory relief was properly denied, as neither party was seeking to enforce the mediation provision and it presented no actual controversy. However, the Court concluded the mother’s allegations in her motion to modify legal custody made a prima facie showing that the parents’ lack of cooperation was serious enough to negatively affect the child’s well-being, and that the mother was therefore entitled to an evidentiary hearing on modification. The trial court’s order was therefore reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Edith A. v. Jonah A." on Justia Law

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A mother appealed an order modifying custody, which awarded sole legal and physical custody of her three children to the father and limited her to supervised visitation pending the children’s full engagement in therapy. The mother argued the father failed to demonstrate a change in circumstances that would justify a modification of custody and that the resulting modification was not in the children’s best interests. After review of the trial court record, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not abuse its discretion when it determined that the mother’s interference with the children’s therapy amounted to a change in circumstances and that the children’s best interests were served by an award of sole legal and physical custody to the father while therapy took hold. View "Georgette S.B. v. Scott B." on Justia Law

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The superior court terminated a father’s parental rights to his son, finding that the child was in need of aid because of abandonment, neglect, and the father’s incarceration and that the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) had satisfied its statutory obligation to make reasonable efforts to reunify parent and child. The father appealed, arguing these findings were unsupported by the evidence. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the father: the record showed he initiated efforts to visit the child, who was already in OCS custody, as soon as he learned of his possible paternity; that during the father’s subsequent incarceration he had visitation as often as OCS was able to provide it; and that OCS never created a case plan to direct the father’s efforts toward reunification. The Supreme Court concluded it was clear error to find that the child was in need of aid and that OCS made reasonable efforts toward reunification, and reversed the termination decision. View "Duke S. v. Alaska, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law