Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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A mother appealed the termination of her parental rights to her son on findings of abandonment, mental injury, neglect and parental substance abuse. The mother challenged none of the superior court’s factual findings; rather, she alleged the court violated her due process rights during the termination trial by: (1) prejudging the case; (2) improperly assuming the role of a prosecutor while examining witnesses; and (3) relying on research and evidence outside the record to impeach witnesses and disregard testimony favorable to her. Asserting that the court’s actions deprived her of the right to an impartial decision-maker and amounted to structural error, she sought reversal and remand before a different judge. Although the Alaska Supreme Court agreed the court took inappropriate action with respect to witness testimony and other evidence regarding one issue at the trial, the Supreme Court concluded this did not amount to structural error and that it did not otherwise undercut the unrelated findings supporting the termination of the mother’s parental rights. View "Sarah A. v. Alaska, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

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An expert witness in a personal injury trial varied from his written report, expressing new opinions to justify a bar employee's use of force. The plaintiff sought to cross-examine the expert with testimony the expert had been given to review prior to writing his report; the testimony was contrary to the expert's new opinions. The superior court refused to allow this cross-examination, telling plaintiff she could try to call a rebuttal witness. Defendant objected because the new witness was not on the witness list. The superior court then refuses to allow the witness to testify. The jury found the employee was justified in using reasonable force to defend against a trespass. On appeal, plaintiff argued the superior court erred in precluding her cross-examination of the witness and for refusing to allow her rebuttal witness. The Alaska Supreme Court determined it was prejudicial abuse of discretion to preclude the rebuttal witness due to the defense expert's new and unexpected trial opinions, so it vacated the judgment and remanded for a new trial without reaching the cross-examination issue. View "Johnson v. J.G. Pattee, Inc." on Justia Law

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A taxi driver injured in an accident while working filed a report with the Alaska Workers' Compensation Board. The nature of the relationship between the taxi company and the driver was disputed. The driver retained an attorney for a lawsuit against the other driver, and settled that claim with the other driver's insurance company without his taxi company's approval. Because the taxi company did not have workers' compensation insurance, the Alaska Workers' Compensation Benefits Guaranty Fund assumed responsibility for adjusting the workers' compensation claim. The Fund asked the Board to dismiss the taxi driver's claim because of the unapproved settlement. The Board dismissed the claim, and the Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission ultimately affirmed the Board's decision. The taxi driver appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the Commission's decision. View "Atkins v. Inlet Transportation & Taxi Service, Inc." on Justia Law

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Frank Griswold submitted public records requests to the City of Homer, seeking all records of communications between members of the Homer Board of Adjustment, City employees, and attorneys for the City leading up to the Board’s decision in a separate case involving Griswold. He also requested attorney invoices to the City for a six-month period. Citing various privileges, the City Manager refused to provide any records of communications surrounding the Board’s decision; the Manager provided some complete invoices but provided only redacted versions of some invoices and completely withheld some invoices. Griswold appealed the partial denial of his records request to the City Council; the Council affirmed, and Griswold appealed to the superior court. The superior court substantially affirmed. Griswold then turned to the Alaska Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed with respect to the communications relating to the Board’s decision, but vacated and remanded the attorney invoices issue for further analysis. View "Griswold v. Homer City Council" on Justia Law

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Frank Griswold twice appealed the Homer Advisory Planning Commission’s approval of a conditional use permit to the Homer Board of Adjustment and later appealed the Board’s second decision to the superior court, which sua sponte dismissed his appeal for lack of standing. Because Griswold did not have notice that his standing was at issue, his due process rights were violated. The Alaska Supreme Court therefore reversed and remanded for the superior court to decide his appeal on the merits. View "Griswold v. Homer Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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Paulette Harper sued two New York corporations in Alaska superior court alleging violations of her right of publicity and right of privacy. Her claims related to an allegedly false account regarding her recovery from cancer; she discovered the account in a brochure promoting products by BioLife Energy Systems, Inc., while working for BioLife’s distributor in Colorado. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction, claiming that neither of them has the minimum contacts with Alaska necessary to satisfy due process. The superior court granted the motion, reasoning that although BioLife arguably had some contacts in Alaska, the woman’s claims did not relate to those contacts, and the defendants’ contacts were insufficient to establish all-purpose jurisdiction. Harper appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "Harper v. Biolife Energy Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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Alaska’s medical peer review privilege statute protected discovery of data, information, proceedings, and records of medical peer review organizations, but it did not protect a witness’s personal knowledge and observations or materials originating outside the medical peer review process. A hospital invoked the privilege in two separate actions, one involving a wrongful death suit against a physician at the hospital and the other involving both a medical malpractice claim against the same physician and a negligent credentialing claim against the hospital. In each case the superior court compelled the hospital to disclose materials related to complaints submitted about the physician and to the hospital’s decision to grant the physician medical staff membership. The hospital and the doctor sought the Alaska Supreme Court's review of the discovery orders. Because the Supreme Court concluded these discovery orders compelled the hospital to disclose information protected by the peer review privilege, it reversed the discovery orders in part. Furthermore, the Court held that the false information exception to the privilege provided in AS 18.23.030(b) applied to actions for which the submission of false information was an element of the claim and thus did not apply here. View "Mat-Su Valley Medical Center, LLC v. Bolinder" on Justia Law

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Homeowners Brooke and Patrick Corkery appealed the denial of their application of a variance by the Anchorage Zoning Board of Examiners and Appeals. The homeowners’ house exceeded the 30% lot coverage limit for their zoning district by over 10% due to a renovation performed in 1983 by a prior owner. The Board denied the variance application because it concluded that three of the seven standards required to grant a variance had not been satisfied. On appeal, the homeowners challenged the Board’s interpretation of the variance standards. They also argued the equitable doctrine of laches barred the Board from denying their variance request. Furthermore, the homeowners argued the Board’s consideration of a memo written by a Municipality attorney violated their due process rights and that this violation warranted a trial de novo at superior court. After independently interpreting the variance standards, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the Board’s interpretation. In light of the Court's de novo interpretation of these variance standards, any error in the memo’s legal advice or in the process of the Board’s consideration was deemed harmless and did not warrant trial de novo. The Court also concluded the homeowners could not invoke the defense of laches because, in the zoning context, this defense was available only to defendants in a zoning enforcement action. View "Corkery v. Municipality of Anchorage" on Justia Law

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After prevailing against the City of Kodiak on a Public Records Act claim, Kodiak Public Broadcasting Corporation (known by the call letters of its radio station, KMXT) was awarded full attorney’s fees under AS 09.60.010(c)(1), which provided for attorney’s fees to a claimant who prevails in asserting, protecting, or enforcing a constitutional right. The City appealed, arguing that KMXT’s claim was statutory rather than constitutional, that the award included fees which were not necessarily and reasonably incurred, and that the award erroneously included municipal sales tax on attorney’s fees. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed the court erred in granting KMXT full attorney’s fees as a constitutional claimant and reversed the award of attorney’s fees and remanded for a fee award pursuant to Alaska Civil Rule 82 instead. The Court also agreed that it was error to include sales tax in the fee award, and direct the superior court on remand to exclude sales tax from its revised fee award. View "City of Kodiak v. Kodiak Public Broadcasting Corporation" on Justia Law

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This case concerned the interpretation of Alaska’s usury statute and whether it provided for a maximum interest rate on contract or loan commitments in which the principal amount exceeds $25,000. William Cox argued the statute provided for a maximum interest rate of 10.5% on all loans in which the principal exceeds $25,000. The Estate of Steve Cooper and Dorothy Cooper (collectively “the Coopers”) argued that parties could contract for any interest rate if the principal of the contract or loan commitment exceeded $25,000. The superior court initially agreed with Cox that loans over $25,000 had a maximum legal interest rate of 10.5%, but the Coopers moved for reconsideration and provided the court with statutory history. This statutory history convinced the court that the Coopers were correct and that AS 45.45.010 did not limit the interest rate for contract or loan commitments over $25,000. Cox appealed, challenging the superior court’s decision to consider statutory history when ruling on the Coopers’ motion for reconsideration and the superior court’s decision to grant the Coopers reasonable attorney’s fees under Alaska Civil Rule 82. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's ruling in all respects. View "Cox v. Estate of Steve Cooper" on Justia Law