Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
Pederson v. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation
A corporate shareholder alleged the corporation violated his statutory right to inspect certain records and documents. The superior court found that the shareholder did not assert a proper purpose in his request. The shareholder appealed, arguing the superior court erred by finding his inspection request stated an improper purpose, sanctioning him for failing to appear for his deposition, and violating his rights to due process and equal protection by being biased against him. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s order finding that the shareholder did not have a proper purpose when he requested the information at issue from the corporation, but it affirmed the superior court’s discovery sanctions. View "Pederson v. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation" on Justia Law
Reeves, et al. v. Godspeed Properties, LLC, et al.
An Alaska superior court ordered a landowner to temporarily remove a tourist railway it had built across an easement on his land to allow the easement holder to build a paved road capable of dedication as a public right-of-way. The court required the railway, once reinstalled, to be operated in ways designed to lessen interference with use of the road. Further, the court ruled that the landowner would be liable for any increased construction and dedication costs the easement holder incurred as a result of the railway crossing. On appeal the easement holder argued the court erred by permitting the landowner to make reasonable use of land covered by the easement; allowing the landowner to build permanent improvements in the easement; limiting the road width to 60 feet when the width of the granted easement was 100 feet; permitting improvements that would allegedly interfere with the ability to dedicate the easement; and failing to account for time needed to obtain administrative approvals when setting a road construction schedule. The landowner cross-appealed, claiming it was the prevailing party entitled to attorney’s fees. Seeing no error in the superior court’s rulings, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "Reeves, et al. v. Godspeed Properties, LLC, et al." on Justia Law
Sulzbach v. City & Borough of Sitka, et al.
The City and Borough of Sitka, Alaska allowed an independent nonprofit organization to host a public event at a city facility. The nonprofit organization arranged for a volunteer to hang decorations in the facility; a decoration fell, injuring an event participant. The injured participant sued the City, but not the nonprofit organization, for negligence. The City brought a third-party allocation of fault claim against the volunteer. The parties sought summary judgment, and the trial court concluded that, under federal law, the volunteer could not be held financially responsible for the accident and that the City could not be held vicariously liable for the volunteer’s actions. The remaining negligence issues were decided at a jury trial; the jury determined that the volunteer and the city had not been negligent and therefore were not liable for the accident. The event participant appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the trial court judgment. View "Sulzbach v. City & Borough of Sitka, et al." on Justia Law
Husby v. Monegan
Jennifer Monegan was the birth mother of a child born in 2011, and Scout Monegan was the child’s adoptive father. Gregory and Julie Husby were the child’s maternal grandparents and lived in Oregon. Jennifer and her child lived with the Husbys for a time after the child’s birth; the Husbys provided childcare and were significantly involved in the child’s life until he was two and a half years old. However, Jennifer’s relationship with the Husbys began to deteriorate after she started dating Scout. After Jennifer and Scout married in 2013, the Husbys petitioned for visitation in Oregon, where all of the parties lived at the time. Jennifer and the Husbys came to a mediated agreement providing, among other things, that the Husbys would have visitation with the child one weekend per month for 32 hours, as well as unlimited written and telephonic contact.The Monegans moved to Alaska in March 2018. In-person visits occurred less frequently after the relocation: between March 2018 and August 2019 the Husbys visited the child seven times. The Husbys tried to maintain their relationship with the child through letters, gifts, and weekly phone calls, and claimed they were able to do so through the summer of 2019. In September 2019 the Monegans filed a complaint in the superior court to terminate the Husbys’ visitation rights, alleging it was not in the child’s best interests to continue visitation. The Husbys counterclaimed for modification of the stipulated order to allow “reasonable visitation” with the child. The Husbys then moved to enforce the stipulated visitation order. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded AS 25.20.065(a) governed the motion to modify the grandparents' visitation, and when a grandparent seeks visitation over a parent’s objection, the grandparent must show clear and convincing evidence that the parent was unfit or that denying visitation will be detrimental to the child. If the court awards visitation rights to a grandparent, and the parent later moves to modify the grandparent’s visitation rights, so long as the parents were protected by the parental preference rule in the proceedings resulting in the grandparent’s visitation rights, the "parental preference rule" does not apply in later proceedings to modify those visitation rights. Having clarified the applicable legal standards, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the superior court’s order in this case because it was error to decide the motions to modify the grandparents’ visitation rights without first holding a hearing on disputed issues of fact. View "Husby v. Monegan" on Justia Law
Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund v. Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, et al.
A nonprofit entity representing commercial fishers sued the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the Department of Fish and Game, alleging that the State’s fishery management practices in Cook Inlet were unjustified and violated federal law and national standards. The nonprofit sought to depose two current Fish and Game employees but the State opposed, arguing that all material facts necessary for a decision of the case were in the administrative record. The superior court agreed with the State and quashed the nonprofit’s deposition notices. The court also granted summary judgment in favor of the State, deciding that the Cook Inlet fishery was not governed by federal standards and that none of the nonprofit’s disagreements with the State’s fishery management practices stated a violation of statute or regulation. The nonprofit appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court judgment. View "Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund v. Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, et al." on Justia Law
Wayson v. Stevenson
The dispute that arose in this case concerned an easement that lead from the Glenn Highway over residential property to a parcel of land used as a jumping-off point for a Matanuska Glacier tourism business. After years of disagreement over issues related to road maintenance, traffic, safety, and trespass on the homeowner’s property by visitors to the glacier, the homeowner erected a sign stating “No Glacier Access” near the entrance to the road. The business owner filed suit, and the homeowner counterclaimed for defamation based on inflammatory allegations made in the complaint. The superior court largely ruled in favor of the business owner, holding that he had a right to use the easement for his glacier tourism business, that his road maintenance work was reasonably necessary and did not unreasonably damage the homeowner’s property despite minor increases in the width of the road, and that the “No Glacier Access” sign had unreasonably interfered with his use of the easement. The superior court also dismissed the defamation counterclaims and awarded attorney’s fees to the business owner. Finding no reversible error in the superior court’s judgment, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s judgment in full. View "Wayson v. Stevenson" on Justia Law
Layton v. Dea
Orville Jenkins appealed a superior court’s division of property following his divorce. The Alaska Supreme Court rejected his arguments that the superior court: (1) improperly denied his motion to continue trial; (2) incorrectly allocated marital debt to him; (3) improperly authorized sale of the marital home before finalizing the property division; and (4) showed bias against him. But the Supreme Court agreed with his arguments that it was error to: (1) decline to consider whether his wife’s separate property was transmuted to marital property through contract; and (2) find that no portion of earnings on the wife’s separate investments was marital when the taxes on those earnings were paid with marital funds. The judgment was thus reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Layton v. Dea" on Justia Law
Alaska Dept. of Revenue v. Nabors International Finance, Inc. et al.
The Alaska Department of Revenue audited a non-resident corporation doing business in Alaska. The Department issued a deficiency assessment based in part on an Alaska tax statute requiring an income tax return to include certain foreign corporations affiliated with the taxpaying corporation. The taxpayer exhausted its administrative remedies and then appealed to the superior court, arguing that the tax statute the Department applied was facially unconstitutional because: (1) it violated the dormant Commerce Clause by discriminating against foreign commerce based on countries’ corporate income tax rates; (2) it violated the Due Process Clause by being arbitrary and irrational; and (3) it violated the Due Process Clause by failing to provide notice of what affiliates a tax return must include, and therefore is void for vagueness. The superior court rejected the first two arguments but ruled in the taxpayer’s favor on the third argument. The Department appealed, claiming the superior court erred by concluding that the statute was void for vagueness in violation of the Due Process Clause. The taxpayer cross-appealed, asserting that the court erred by concluding that the statute did not violate the Commerce Clause and was not arbitrary. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision that the statute was facially unconstitutional on due process grounds, and affirmed the court’s decision that it otherwise was facially constitutional. View "Alaska Dept. of Revenue v. Nabors International Finance, Inc. et al." on Justia Law
Alaska Dept. Health & Soc. Serv. v. C.A., et al.
In two separate cases, an Alaska superior court decided that it could not terminate parental rights to children with alleged Indian heritage without cultural expert testimony, and that the cultural expert testimony presented was too vague and generalized to be helpful. Although it was error to construe the Alaska Supreme Court precedent to require cultural expert testimony in every ICWA case, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision to require expert testimony based on its explanation that it could not competently weigh the evidence of harm in these cases without cultural context. And because the cultural expert testimony presented did not provide a meaningful assessment of tribal social and cultural standards and was not grounded in the facts of these particular cases, the Supreme Court held the court did not clearly err by giving the testimony no weight. The Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's decision to deny termination of parental rights in each case. View "Alaska Dept. Health & Soc. Serv. v. C.A., et al." on Justia Law
In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Jonas H.
A man appealed superior court orders authorizing his commitment for mental health treatment and the involuntary administration of psychotropic medication, arguing the superior court relied on erroneous facts to find that he was gravely disabled and that the court did not adequately consider the constitutional standards established in Myers v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute before authorizing medication. Because the evidence supported the court’s finding that the man was gravely disabled, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the commitment order. But the Supreme Court vacated the medication order because the court’s analysis of the Myers factors was not sufficient. View "In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Jonas H." on Justia Law