Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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Daniel Shearer alleged Brooks Range Petroleum Corporation (BRPC) promised him a ten-year term of employment, then terminated his employment two and a half years later. Shearer sued in the Alaska Second Judicial District, where he alleged the parties had negotiated and formed their contract. BRPC filed a motion to dismiss the case or to change venue to the Third Judicial District, where the contract was executed and where Shearer had performed most of his job duties. The superior court denied the motion, thus retaining venue in the Second Judicial District. The Alaska Supreme Court accepted review of this case to settle where venue for this case was proper. The Court concluded neither Shearer’s tort claims, nor his contract-based claims arose in the Second Judicial District, and the chosen venue was therefore not proper. The Court reversed the superior court’s order denying a change of venue. View "Brooks Range Petroleum Corporation v. Shearer" on Justia Law

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A mother appealed the superior court’s decision to terminate her parental rights to her seven-year-old daughter. She moved to represent herself in the middle of trial; on appeal she contended the superior court abused its discretion when it denied her request on grounds that she lacked knowledge of the legal process, was unable to regulate her behavior in the courtroom, and could not view the case objectively. Finding that the record supported the trial court’s decision that the mother was unable to act with the courtroom decorum necessary for self-representation, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed denial of the mother’s request. View "Jensen D. v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

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Vince B. appealed a long-term domestic violence protective order entered against him for stalking his ex-wife. The couple separated two and a half years prior to their divorce; the proceedings were prolonged and unfriendly. The parties struggled to communicate in the course of their shared custody, often hurling profanities at one another. Sarah’s new boyfriend was a particular source of conflict. In February 2016 Vince dropped the children off at Sarah’s boyfriend’s house while she was not present. Vince struck Sarah’s boyfriend in the face, prompting a call to the police. Several other hostile exchanges in 2016 led Sarah to file two domestic violence protective order petitions. The first was denied; the second was granted, in part based on testimony from the first petition, and was the subject of this appeal. Vince B. argued the superior court: (1) abused its discretion and violated his due process rights in its treatment of his ten-year-old son’s proposed testimony; (2) violated the doctrine of ripeness by warning that future conduct could justify a stalking finding; (3) violated the doctrine of res judicata by reconsidering a claim that it previously had adjudicated in an earlier domestic violence petition; and (4) failed to make requisite findings of fact meeting the elements of stalking. He asks us to vacate the order. Seeing no error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s protective order. View "Vince B. v. Sarah B." on Justia Law

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A commercial tenant breached its lease and owed unpaid rent. The landlord sued and obtained a writ of attachment against any funds owed the tenant from Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS). DHSS replied to the writ by stating it owed nothing to the tenant because a recent audit showed the tenant owed DHSS $1.4 million. Without responding to DHSS’s reply the landlord moved for a writ of execution against DHSS, which the superior court denied after finding there were no funds to attach. The court denied the landlord’s motion for reconsideration, as well as its request for a hearing to examine DHSS. The landlord appealed the denial of its motion for reconsideration and sought a remand for a hearing to examine DHSS. In affirming the superior court, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court was correct in denying reconsideration of its order regarding the writ of execution. View "Arcticorp v. C Care Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2009 Calvin Miller purchased from June Fowler by warranty deed an eight-unit, three-story apartment building located in Anchorage. Miller filed suit to bar the seller’s attempt to foreclose on the property after he stopped making payments. Miller also alleged that the seller had misrepresented the condition of the building’s sewer lines at the time of sale. The superior court granted summary judgment in the seller’s favor on all of the misrepresentation claims on the basis that they were barred by the statute of limitations. During the trial, the superior court denied the purchaser leave to amend his complaint. After a bench trial on the remaining claims, the superior court concluded that the seller did not wrongfully foreclose on the building because the purchaser was in default. Miller appealed these three decisions. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment because the seller failed to establish an absence of material fact issues regarding when the purchaser’s causes of action accrued. The Court vacated the order denying the wrongful foreclosure claim because the superior court erred when it found the purchaser in default. The Court affirmed the denial of the purchaser’s motion to amend. View "Miller v. Fowler" on Justia Law

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Aurora Landau was a dancer at the Showboat Show Club in Anchorage. She filed a complaint against Showboat Show Club Anchorage, LLC, seeking to recover unpaid wages, overtime compensation, and impermissible deductions from her earnings. Her suit also named the LLC’s two members and managers, Terry Stahlman and James Goard. Stahlman, also the LLC’s registered agent, was personally served a summons and complaint for all three defendants at his Anchorage residence, which was listed in the LLC’s state licensing reports as the entity’s principal office and both Stahlman’s and Goard’s member address. One of the owners died while the suit was pending, and Landau substituted the owner’s estate in the proceedings. Judgment was eventually entered in favor of the former employee. A year later the deceased owner’s widow moved for relief from the judgment as the sole beneficiary of his estate, arguing that neither her husband nor the estate had been properly served with notice of the suit. The former employee responded that service had been proper and that, in any case, the widow did not have authority to file a motion on behalf of the estate. The court denied the motion on the ground that the widow had not shown good cause for relief from the judgment. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed on the alternate ground that the widow did not have authority to act on the estate’s behalf. View "Hester v. Landau" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Supreme Court granted this petition for review to consider how the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) affected Alaska personal injury case law allowing a defendant ex parte contact with a plaintiff’s doctors as a method of informal discovery. The issue the Court requested the parties specifically brief was whether the federal law preempted Alaska case law, or, if not, whether federal law otherwise required us to overrule or modify our case law. After review, the Court concluded the federal law did not preempt existing Alaska case law. But the Court also concluded it should overrule the case law because its foundations "have been eroded by a cultural shift in views on medical privacy and new federal procedural requirements undermining the use of ex parte contact as an informal discovery measure." The Court therefore held that - absent voluntary agreement - a defendant may not make ex parte contact with a plaintiff’s treating physicians without a court order, which generally should not be issued absent extraordinary circumstances. "We believe that formal discovery methods are more likely to comply with the federal law and promote justice and that such court orders rarely, if ever, will be necessary." View "Jones v. Drury" on Justia Law

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This appeal was one in a series of successive appeals brought by Kenneth Manning challenging the moose and caribou subsistence hunt regulations that governed a portion of southcentral Alaska. Manning filed this lawsuit in 2013 challenging the eligibility criteria for subsistence hunt permits, the point system for allocating Tier II subsistence permits, and the criteria for establishing nonsubsistence hunting areas. While these claims were pending, the Alaska Supreme Court issued a 2015 decision resolving similar claims brought by Manning in an earlier suit. Manning then moved to amend his complaint in this case and to add an individual official as a defendant. The superior court denied both motions, concluding that amendment would be futile because all of Manning’s claims would fail under Supreme Court precedent. The superior court also denied the State’s motion for attorney’s fees, concluding that Manning was exempt from an adverse attorney’s fees award under the constitutional litigant exception. Manning appealed the denial of his motion to amend; he also raised various allegations of deprivation of due process. The State cross-appeals the denial of its motion for attorney’s fees. The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of the motion to amend because Manning failed to adequately brief (thus forfeiting) his arguments on some of the counts, and the remaining counts would have been futile. And the Court affirmed the denial of attorney’s fees to the State because none of Manning’s claims were frivolous. View "Manning v. Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game" on Justia Law

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A former agent appointed under a power of attorney, successfully defended an accounting of his actions, expenditures, and fees against objections and counterclaims by his former principal. At issue in this appeal was whether the former agent was entitled to reimbursement from his former principal for reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in maintaining that defense. The superior court denied the agent’s request for attorney’s fees because the dispute occurred in the context of a guardianship proceeding and because the request did not meet the requirements of AS 13.26.291, which governed cost-shifting in guardianship proceedings. The agent appealed, arguing: (1) AS 13.26.291 did not apply; (2) that he was entitled to attorney’s fees based on his authority as an agent to hire an attorney under AS 13.26.665(m); and (3) he was entitled to attorney’s fees based on common law principles, equity, and considerations of public policy. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded neither statute applied, but that the agent could be entitled to reimbursement of his attorney’s fees under the common law of agency and as a matter of equity. The Court therefore reversed the superior court’s order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cottini v. Berggren" on Justia Law

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In issuing a divorce decree between Terrace Solomon and Wendy Barnes (formerly Solomon), the issue of custody was reserved to be decided at a later trial. Before the custody trial could be held, Terrace was arrested and held in a United States Army prison outside Alaska. The superior court repeatedly continued the custody trial to allow Terrace’s counsel to get in contact with Terrace and arrange for his telephonic appearance at trial. But after about a year had passed, the court refused to further continue the matter. A short custody trial was held; Terrace was absent but represented by counsel. The court awarded sole legal custody and sole physical custody to Wendy. The court determined, among other things, that Terrace had a history of perpetrating domestic violence, triggering a presumption against awarding him custody. On appeal Terrace claimed the superior court abused its discretion when it refused to further continue the custody trial. Terrace also claimed the court erred in concluding he had a history of domestic violence: he contended the record was inadequate to support that conclusion and the court did not make the requisite findings to support it. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed the superior court’s domestic violence findings were insufficient and thus vacated the court’s determination concerning the domestic violence presumption. The Court otherwise affirmed the superior court’s judgment. View "Solomon v. Solomon" on Justia Law