Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

by
The City of Cordova evicted commercial tenants from city-owned land and was granted a money judgment against them for unpaid rent and sales taxes. The tenants left behind various improvements, as well as items of personal property related to their operation of a marine fueling facility on the land. The city pursued collection of its money judgment for several years before suspending its efforts; about eight years later it resumed its attempts to collect. The tenants, contending that they had reasonably assumed by the passage of time that the judgment had been satisfied, moved for an accounting of their left-behind property and the amount still owing on the judgment. The city informed the superior court that it had executed only on bank accounts and wages and that several improvements had reverted to city ownership and therefore did not count against the judgment. It claimed not to know what happened to the rest of the property the tenants identified as having been left behind. The superior court found the city’s response sufficient and allowed execution to continue. The tenants appealed, arguing that they were entitled to a better accounting of their left-behind property and that the city was estopped from contending that the judgment was still unsatisfied. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed in part, holding that it was the city’s burden to produce evidence of the property’s disposition and that it failed to carry this burden. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held there were genuine issues of material fact about whether the city was estopped from contending that the judgment remains unsatisfied. The Court therefore reversed the superior court’s order accepting the accounting and allowing execution to continue. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Beecher v. City of Cordova" on Justia Law

by
A mother moved to modify an existing custody arrangement with her ex-husband. She asked that she be given primary custody of their daughter and that the ex­ husband’s visitation rights and legal custody over her son (the ex-husband’s stepson) be terminated. The trial court denied her motion and found that, given the recent intervention of the stepson’s biological father, the ex-husband’s obligation to pay child support was terminated. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the modification motion with regard to the daughter. However, the legal intervention of a previously absent biological parent constituted a substantial change in circumstances as a matter of law, and accordingly the Court reversed the trial court’s denial of the modification motion for the son and remanded for best interests findings under AS 25.24.150(c). Finally, the Supreme Court held that a psychological parent’s child support obligation continues so long as that parent maintains some custody of the child, and reversed the trial court’s absolution of the ex-husband’s child support obligation. View "Moore v. McGillis" on Justia Law

by
A mother appealed a superior court’s decision to modify a long-term domestic violence protective order against her ex-husband. The protective order was issued by a magistrate judge, based on his findings that the father had committed acts of domestic violence. But the superior court, during the parties’ subsequent and separate divorce and custody case, concluded that findings of domestic violence were not supported by the evidence. When modifying the protective order to accommodate a change in the parties’ living arrangements, the superior court also modified the order’s factual findings about domestic violence, noting its own conclusion that such findings were not justified. The mother argued the superior court erred by modifying the factual findings of domestic violence underlying an unappealed final order. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed the superior court lacked the authority to modify the factual findings on which the order was based. As such, the Supreme COurt vacated that aspect of the protective order. View "Ruerup v. Ruerup" on Justia Law

by
Kaleb Basey was the subject of a joint criminal investigation conducted by the Alaska State Troopers (AST) and the Fort Wainwright Criminal Investigation Division. He was a party to two federal cases stemming from that investigation. First, Basey was indicted by a federal grand jury in December 2014 and was the defendant in a federal criminal case. Second, Basey brought a federal civil rights lawsuit in January 2016 against more than a dozen named individuals, including AST officers, based on their alleged actions during the investigation and his arrest. Basey filed two public records requests with AST seeking records related to his specific investigation, records related to AST’s use of military search authorizations, and disciplinary and training certification records for two AST investigators who were defendants in the civil case. About a week later AST denied Basey’s requests on the basis that all of the information he requested pertained to pending litigation. Basey appealed to the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety; the Commissioner denied the appeal. The denial letter stated that the requested records “pertain to a matter that is currently the subject of civil and/or criminal litigation to which [Basey is] a party” and that pursuant to AS 40.25.122 the records “continue to be unavailable through [a public records request] and must be obtained in accordance with court rules.” Basey subsequently filed a complaint to compel AST to produce the records. The State filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that two statutory exceptions justified the denial of Basey’s requests. On appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court, Basey argued AST had to comply with his requests for the records he requested. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the State could not establish disclosure of these records “could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings” or that either of these pending actions “involv[es] a public agency” as required by the statutory exceptions the State cited. View "Basey v. Alaska Dept. of Public Safety, Division of Alaska State Troopers" on Justia Law

by
Paternal grandparents sought a court order for visitation with their grandson. The superior court denied their request because they did not allege that the child suffered any detriment from a lack of court-ordered visitation. Finding no reversible error in that denial, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed: “[t]he balance of interests that due process requires was resolved in favor of the parents, and the result is the ‘showing of detriment’ test which the grandparents here have failed to even argue they could satisfy.” View "Jordan v. Watson" on Justia Law

by
A mother and son disputed ownership of a house in Ketchikan. The son contended his mother gave him the property following her husband’s death, and that he spent years repairing and renovating it on the understanding that it was his. His mother argued the house was still hers, and agreed to transfer title only if her son repaired the property and paid off the mortgage, which he failed to do. Following a bench trial on the son’s quiet title claim, the superior court found that he failed to prove his mother’s intent to transfer the property. Because the superior court properly applied the relevant legal doctrines and did not clearly err in its findings of fact, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed its judgment. View "Dixon v. Dixon" on Justia Law

by
An undeveloped greenbelt buffer runs between Bill Yankee’s property and the back of Chris and Ann Gilbertos’. The two properties are in different subdivisions and therefore subject to different covenants: Yankee’s property is in the Nunatak Terrace Subdivision whereas the Gilbertos’ is in the Montana Creek Subdivision. Yankee complained about the fence to the Director of Juneau’s Community Development Department, but the Director responded that the fence was allowed, citing longstanding policy. Yankee then appealed to the Planning Commission, which affirmed the Director’s decision. Yankee next appealed to the Juneau Assembly, which rejected his appeal for lack of standing. Yankee appealed this decision to the superior court, which affirmed the Assembly’s reliance on standing as grounds to reject the appeal. Yankee then appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, which concluded the Director’s decision was an appropriate exercise of his enforcement discretion, not ordinarily subject to judicial review. On that alternative ground the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s dismissal of the appeal. View "Yankee v. City & Borough of Juneau" on Justia Law

by
A trial court determined the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) failed to demonstrate it made reasonable efforts to reunify a family. Nonetheless, the court terminated Kylie L.’s parental rights to her daughter, finding that OCS’s failure was “excused.” The mother appealed, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s “excuse.” View "Kylie L. v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

by
Divorced parents reached a custody settlement giving the mother sole legal and primary physical custody of their son; the father had visitation at the mother’s discretion. After the father later requested joint legal and shared physical custody, the mother sought authorization to relocate with the child out of state. At a combined hearing on both issues the father presented evidence that the mother may have committed domestic violence against a former boyfriend. The superior court denied the custody modification request for failure to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances. The court granted the mother authorization to move, finding her reasons for relocating legitimate and determining that the child’s best interests were served by staying with the mother. Under the court’s subsequent order the mother maintained sole legal and primary physical custody, with limited visitation by the father. The father appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the determination that the mother’s move was for legitimate purposes; however, it vacated the underlying finding that no domestic violence occurred between the mother and her former boyfriend and remanded that issue for renewed consideration. Necessarily, the Court remanded the custody and visitation decisions for renewed consideration. View "Bruce H. v. Jennifer L." on Justia Law

by
After a mother and daughter were involved in a car accident, they (and the father) sued the employer of the other vehicle’s driver. The employer made separate offers of judgment to the mother and daughter under Alaska Civil Rule 68, which they rejected. At trial all three plaintiffs were awarded damages. With respect to the mother, the superior court awarded partial attorney’s fees to the employer under Rule 68 because the mother’s award was less than 95% of the offer made to her. Mother appealed, arguing that the offer of judgment was not a valid Rule 68 offer and that the superior court wrongly excluded certain costs that, when included, would have led to an award of more than 95% of the offer of judgment. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court found the offer of judgment was valid and that the court did not err in excluding costs not covered by Alaska Civil Rule 79 when comparing the offer to the mother’s recovery. View "Whittenton v. Peter Pan Seafoods, Inc." on Justia Law