Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
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
Smallwood Creek, Inc. v. Build Alaska, LLC
A general contractor hired a subcontractor to provide material for a project at a state park. After the project was completed, the general contractor sent the subcontractor a check described as “final payment.” The subcontractor, believing it was owed more, initially refused to accept the check. Months later, the subcontractor cashed the check but then attempted to repay the amount to the general contractor. The general contractor refused repayment, claiming that the subcontractor’s cashing the check constituted satisfaction of its claim of payment. The superior court granted summary judgment to the general contractor, ruling that the evidence established an accord and satisfaction. The Alaska Supreme Court held there was a genuine dispute of material fact about two requirements for an accord and satisfaction: whether the payment was tendered in good faith, and whether there was a bona fide dispute about the amount owed. The superior court's judgment was therefore vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Smallwood Creek, Inc. v. Build Alaska, LLC" on Justia Law
Duffus v. Baker
A limited liability company (LLC) member sold his interest to another LLC member as part of a settlement agreement, under which funds were to be paid to the selling member and his attorneys. A judgment creditor of the selling member sought a charging order against the settlement funds; meanwhile, the selling member’s attorneys filed an attorney’s lien against the same funds. The superior court granted the charging order and enforced the attorney’s lien, resulting in partial recoveries for the judgment creditor and the attorneys. The judgment creditor appealed, arguing that the attorney’s lien was invalid, or, if valid, should have been prioritized beneath his charging order. The selling member cross-appealed, arguing that the charging order was invalid and, if valid, should have been prioritized beneath the attorney’s lien. Because evidentiary issues prevented the Alaska Supreme Court from determining the validity or extent of the charging order and lien, it remanded the case for the superior court to conduct the appropriate inquiries. View "Duffus v. Baker" on Justia Law
Notti v. Hoffman
A divorcing couple settled their property dispute by executing a settlement agreement that included a litigation waiver. The superior court accepted the settlement five months later. The former wife subsequently sued her former husband, alleging tort claims based upon actions taken in the months between the time the agreement was executed and when it was accepted. The superior court granted the husband's motions to dismiss and for summary judgment. The wife appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the superior court that one of the torts alleged by the wife did not exist in Alaska, so the Court affirmed dismissal of that claim. However, because the settlement agreement was effective between the parties when signed, even though it was subject to court approval, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment regarding the other torts and remanded for further proceedings on those issues. View "Notti v. Hoffman" on Justia Law
Wright v. Dropik
A man filed suit against a former romantic partner to resolve disputes about property acquired during their relationship. The superior court ruled the parties had been in a domestic partnership (a marriage-like relationship) with implications for division of the parties’ property when the relationship ended. It then determined the woman owed the man for his contributions toward a Wasilla property they jointly bought and improved, an out-of-state property acquired in his name that was later sold at a loss, and veterinary bills charged to the man’s credit card. Although the Alaska Supreme Court determined it was error to determine the parties were in a domestic partnership without making predicate factual findings, this error did not affect the superior court’s ruling on the Wasilla property or veterinary bills, and the superior court’s decision on those points was affirmed. But the Court concluded the error could affect the ruling on the out-of-state property, so the case was remanded for additional proceedings on that issue. View "Wright v. Dropik" on Justia Law